Spring is a complex thing. Part of a natural process, one-fourth of nature’s annual cycle…A time for children to leave the indoors and rediscover the outdoors, as long as we their parents let them…A theme in art and literature…A time for children to abandon their digital screens and dig in the dirt, as long as we let them outdoors…An image of renewal…A time for children to….Well, there’s a theme there, as long as we let there be one.
Children — along with bluebirds and other wild creatures — need to find themselves in the leaves, trees, and wilderness of the outdoors, no matter what it looks like: lawns, parks, pavement, streets (safe ones), and any area where sky can be glimpsed. Is there stranger danger? Yes,but it’s roughly equivalent to the chances your child will be struck by lightning, though we feel it is more like 50-50, given the media.
Spring can remind your children — and yourself — that renewal is ongoing, that it is safe to be alive, that despite the risks of being alive, it is far more amazing to run and jump and laugh than it is to hunker down inside — and inside of yourself — and be afraid.
We have triplet children and dual cats — three nineteen-year-old college freshmen who adore the pair of ten-year-old cats my wife and I tend to at home. It’s amazing how close and how complex are the many relationships exist between and among those five “creatures”: the love, warmth, and silliness that have gone on for years are so much a part of the family that with the kids away at college, the cats have grown to feel like two more “children.”
The pair of felines also help our three human children seem closer to home. They sit in our laps, cry for attention, need to be fed, and often follow us around the house — all actions reminiscent of our children’s childhood behavior, behaviors that as a father I truly miss. (Certainly toilet training for the cats was a lot easier!) But in the end, cats do not write letters (our kids do!), phone home, or wrap their arms around us after the exchange of Christmas presents and tell us they love us.
Cats’ reputation as aloof and distant hardly fits our own two felines. When our children come home for spring break, our cats will be found curled around their necks, perched on their laps like blankets, or trailing them from room to room — just as they do with my wife and me now. It’s nice, frankly, because I miss the toddler stage when one or more of our “babies” curled around my legs, or fell asleep on my shoulder, or slid down a slide into my arms. If I ever had to choose, between our two cats and our three children — I do think I would decide on our three amazing children.
We all encounter adults struggling with children virtually every day: frustrated moms with kids grabbing Fruitless Loopies on the cereal aisle…dad at Target on Saturday with twins in tow, his wife at home exhausted and finally able to take three sips in a row of her own grape juice…tired teachers with tiresome students…a mother dalmatian with a hundred and one hyper-spotted pups trying to roast her roost.
Teaching children isn’t easy – I spent nearly forty years of my semi-adult life professing to be an educator myself. I helped my wife raise three splendid triplets (three triplets — as though triplets come in any other number!), who are now freshmen at three different colleges. Buttoning onesies on three squirming one-year-olds while my wife attempted to grasp a minute’s sleep was like wrestling greased squid.
But in retrospect — it was really all much easier than I made it out to be at the time, both the formal classroom teaching and the child-rearing. Children learn far more from what we do than what we say – we all know that, though we can be immeasurably dense about that lesson at times. If we are frustrated, tired, angry, conflicted, and impatient – children will tend to react with something less than joy and happiness. They tend to mirror our own emotions with what neuroscientists are — surprise! — calling “mirror neurons.” So, shouldn’t we approach our own lives, and theirs, with greater ease and less struggle — and learn to live our precious time with them in as much harmony and joy as humanly possible? Or at least try….
Beginning to blog again is like having our triplet children home visiting: we sent all three off to three separate liberal arts colleges this past August — it was oddly like sending them off to school when they were four! Then, fifteen years later, at nineteen, they vanished from our household. But now, instead of returning after a few hours — they don’t come home until a few months have passed by.
Re-beginning this blog about raising children and parenting and “raising amazing learners” after such a long time of letting it sit on the shelf untended, well, it reminds me of a child who hasn’t been home for awhile….but now, has come home to announce, “Let’s talk!” Things have changed…but they haven’t changed all that much. With this blog, the same thoughts and ideas are there – but they haven’t been recorded for way too long a time.
I am a retired educator, still writing about education, married to an Episcopal priest who continues to be an amazing mother to our trio. I read, I cook, I study, I watch birds, and I learn about a camera smarter than I’ll ever be. And I am dedicated to learning enough about blogging to have the hope that someday my thoughts will cover at least a three-block area! Having taught English at a variety of levels, I love to end sentences with prepositions, start them with “And,” and read other people’s writing. But watching children grow and learn and develop into amazing human beings remains the greatest joy ever! Beginning again is a treat!
The end of 2013 and the start of 2014: they are only dates, only points in time. But tradition and annual repetition have led us to declare such points important.
We make a lot out of beginnings and endings. Rightly so, as man is the meaning-making animal. Through such rituals as New Year’s Eve ceremonies and the making of resolutions, we teach — directly and indirectly — our children to create meaning themselves. Sometimes we forget they are also tuned into what we are teaching — or put more accurately, they are always learning from what we are doing, whether we know we are teaching or not.
May 2014 be a year in which our children learn joy, optimism, and how to make meaning that is uplifting, saving, and powerful. That would be a dynamic beginning.
The back deck: as the birds feed, three high school seniors sit at their desks, as Dad reads a novel. Their work: Spanish, math, English, economics, much more. The birds’ work: eating, eyes out for predators. Dad’s work: bad jokes, quiet worry over college tuition, dinner preparation.
Or, better put: this all is as it should be. Triplets? Three college tuitions? Predators: limited time and money? Mom works over the family budget….Time to fix the vegetarian burritos. The bird feeders are full and the bluebirds have their mealworms.
As the onions are sliced, a daughter sings her way down the stairs in her sweet high soprano voice. Nothing in the world could be arranged more fittingly — or more beautifully.
Raising children involves stress and strain as well as joy and exhilaration. With our good intentions, we often micro-manage our child’s every movement and action — correcting, responding, and redirecting. All too often, a “No” comes forth far more frequently than a “Yes.” Or the “Good Job!” cliche accompanies a simple action that scarcely needs a response, which only rewards the trivial.
Try letting a few more of those little actions go by without comment or conflict. Let a smile suffice for something small that is well done. And a child doesn’t have to see a mean-spirited grimace to know she did something inappropriate. A deep-rooted peace in the household can come about from parents who know what conflicts to tackle and which to let fade in the breeze.
You may be amazed at how “natural” you and your child will feel over time, as you let the minor things – good or bad — take a back seat so the truly significant occupies your energy.
Thought: In autumn, watch the trees — the leaves fall when they need, whether the wind is light or large. Spring always returns and renews.
When a child goes off to school, some part of his parent goes happily along with him — while another part is saddened about the separation. Whether eight or eighteen, our children always seem to belong at home with us, at our side — even though we know the right thing is raising them to be independent.
A child goes through many seasons of life with us — but sometimes without us. When she grows an inch taller, or grows more toward her friends than toward us, or when she leaves home for college, we mourn the loss of innocence, grieve for the absence.
But we also discover that our children have created another kind of new life within us, something permanent and, in a unique way, unchangeable. When it comes to our children, change is a dynamic that empties us out and fills us up, that frightens us as it generates joy. Thank goodness we are — usually — equipped to handle the wild ride with love and grace.
How do we raise our children well in a complex time, when parenting books are so plentiful we choke on their advice? How do we teach our children about the world, when that world seems to be a thick forest of confusion and conflicting paths?
Perhaps: we simplify. We listen more closely to our instincts. We strive to worry less. We put more trust in ourselves – and in our children.
Yes, we are busy, jostled, overloaded, stressed, and anxious. But is that the lifestyle and the mindset we want to teach our children? There is no simple plan to simplify, no quick way to gear down and relax and watch the clouds for hours. Yet we can ask ourselves what it is we truly want our children to learn, versus what we as parents and teachers are inadvertently teaching them.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “You never step in the same river twice,” because change is perpetual, and everything keeps moving on. A child is a wondrous flower taking new form every day. We need to nurture, care for, love, and teach our children. But we are trying too hard to control and direct and protect every moment of our child’s life. That’s not how a healthy flower thrives. Nor is it how the river flows.