Monday, October 29, 2012

Just Being Kids

I am sad. Not for me, not for my kids, but for childhood in general. Our chemistry class has wrapped up for the semester and many of the kids were sad we wouldn't be having class again until February. I didn't at all get a bloated ego and think it was because I was such a wonderful teacher, I know its because the kids play outside with each other after each class. And when I say "play", I mean full force, go for it, running and being a kid without adult intervention play. I sat back and thought about it and that was the first time I have seen kids just playing together outside of my three in almost ten years. That is no exaggeration.
My husband and I play with our kids all the time. We swing with them on the swings, play soccer and football in the yard, and even have family races. However, in a neighborhood full of families with kids, we never see other families out playing together. I think most of the reason is because kids are too darn busy. Yes, not parents, but kids. After school there is soccer or gymnastics or football or cheerleading or some other organized activity. Even home schoolers are guilty of have amazingly over organized children.
For several years now one child or another had to decline a birthday party invitation because they "had" to go to practice or play a game or do some other really grown up stuff to do. It's sad because birthday parties are the only time they see some of their friends. It seems you have get on the "schedule" of other children today and "just to play" isn't a good enough reason to get penciled in. "Just playing" isn't seen as important and can always be interrupted at a moments notice if a coach calls an extra practice (for whatever reason he sees fit), or there is dress rehearsal for a dance recital (no matter how far away the recital might be) - being friends, being kids, having unorganized fun has been put on the back burner in an effort to teach kids "responsibility". However, what is more responsible than being a friend? What is more important than teaching kids to control their own life and not get bogged down in meetings and schedules and "stuff" and neglect the development of health relationships with PEOPLE instead of teams or clubs or organizations. By the way, we aren't talking about teenagers, we are talking about children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old.
What are we really teaching children? Are we teaching children that being an individual is less important then being part of a team? Are we teaching children that other people get to control their time and tell them where they need to be, when they need to be there, and what they need to be doing when they get there? Isn't that the part of "your" life that you hate so much now? I don't know one person that enjoys meetings. I don't know one person who likes it when the boss changes the schedule, or cancels your vacation because something "important" came up. I see adults absolutely hate all the weddings, retirement parties, banquets, and galas they "have" to attend, when they would really rather be home enjoying the house they worked so hard to buy, or smelling the roses they wished they had time to plant. Why do this to our children? Why take away the few precious years of freedom you get and force them into the roles we despise ourselves.
Many people say their kids "want" to play sports or be involved in drama and dance or any of the other myriad of things that are finding their way onto the schedule of children. The truth is, you child does want to play soccer - just play soccer. They don't have to go to the Olympics or even the state championship. They want to join that league soccer team because all the other kids have parents that will only respect a good soccer game if it is league (adult) sponsored. Admit it - would you interrupt your child playing basketball in the driveway with their friends for them to wash the dishes? Now, would you pull them out of basketball practice at school (with a coach and uniforms) to wash dishes? What changed? Isn't it just basketball? Why have more respect for a basketball game organized by adults - where children are forced to play a certain position and get pegged by "talent" but not respect a game where kids are looking at each other as equals and anyone with the ball can try and make the shot and the teams were picked by kids who value people for who they are, not just what they can do? Your son probably picked Little Johnny to be on his team because Little Johnny is a nice guy while at school he may be "teammates" with Big John - the school bully.Yet the message they are getting at this young and tender age is that liking people just for being people isn't enough, that spending time with friends and family isn't important, that doing what you like in the moment isn't a priority. What is important is having a boss (coach), hanging out with the people you are assigned to (co-workers) and your "real" friends, the ones who you chose on your own should be put on the back burner while you go out and win a trophy.
Another issue this lack of free time has brought about is children that don't have the capacity to self direct. They don't know what to do unless they are being told what to do. This is why children appear so wild and out of control when adults aren't around - they never learned how to self direct. If a child has had their entire day mapped out for them since they were three years old, never having an opportunity to play with no adult intervention - when do they learn how to be free, independent people? I am not saying adults shouldn't be there watching, observing, and making sure everyone is safe - but let them make up their own games, with their own rules, and their own teams. Why not give them a few hours each day (yes, multiple hours every day) to find their way.
Finding their way leads me to yet another big thing children miss out on when they are over scheduled - alone time. Yes, I started this post about kids playing together and that is important. But sometimes there is no one to play with, what do you do then? If children are always scheduled and organized - they are always together. No time for being alone with ones own thoughts and ideas, no time learning how to entertain oneself, no time to appreciate the differences of playing alone versus playing in a group. Both are fun, both are important, both are necessary.
I understand - there is so much available for children to do today. My children are involved in multiple activities. However, they also get multiple hours each day for self directed, self managed play. I noticed an amazing thing happening in their behavior - the more self directed time they had, the more their behavior improved overall. Self direction and self management are therapeutic and some of the best learning a child can do. I fear greatly for children that have every hour of their day mapped out for them, what happens when the map maker is no longer there? What happens to children who have been taught to value organized interactions over personal relationship development? What happens when the team is gone and they have no deep friendships to carry over into adult life? How does an adult child value an aging parent who simply contracted out every learning experience to someone else? How do they value siblings they never got a chance to know - because they were always assigned to different teams or clubs, or scout troops because they were different ages? Being young is a temporary thing, but family isn't and friends don't have to be. Why are as parents putting so much emphasis and value on temporary teams, clubs, and organizations instead of encouraging our children to develop relationships that can last a lifetime? Think back on your childhood. What are the memories that matter to you? Sure, I won some trophies when I was little, but that isn't what I look back on and cherish. What I remember in the core of my being is my time playing with my sisters and my friends. I can remember playing double dutch, riding bikes, playing kickball, have slumber parties, making up dances to songs, having singing contest, and even "playing the dozens". It all happened outside of school and while we had adult supervision, there was little to no adult intervention.
I am not saying organized activities are bad, but think about how much of your child's day is scheduled. If they don't have at least a few hours every day where they can just be a kid, maybe think about easing up a bit. There is just a short window of time. My mom is now 71, I can still remember her teaching us cheers they used to do when she was little. I still remember her building a huge white boat out of Legos with us. I still remember playing cards together. No pictures or videos to spark the memories - those experiences are a part of me. I am 37 years old and I remember those times like it was yesterday. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Birthday Suprise - Role Changes

We have reached a new milestone in our home – we have a seven year old! While every birthday is special, I know in my heart that this one is different. I can see it in his eyes, in his smile, in his deeper thinking. My “snuggle bunny” is no longer a little boy. He no longer needs me for everything; he understands that momma is good for some things, many things, but not everything. I always knew he was what this world would categorize as a “genius”; I just didn’t realize his internal knowledge would even allow him to peg me correctly.
We have finally reached the point in our relationship where I know I can’t be his everything. It is time for me to step aside and let my husband step into his role as primary parent. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much necessary in the life of my son. I love him and he loves me. He needs me and will need me for a very long time. I am still the primary home schooling parent and there is much I still need to teach him, even in terms of life.
However, I can also admit he has reached some places where the area is too gray for me to be a good guide. I know, inside and out, all there is to growing into a woman; I don’t have the knowledge necessary to help him become a man. This road is too important to be left to chance; I could only impart “book knowledge” and that is not nearly enough. Add to that my son being a Black man, with all the nuance and rules and baggage I just don’t quite fully understand. I look at my son now and I start to see the shadows of my husband in his eyes, he is very much his daddy’s son. His dad can tell him about being a “nerd” and loving it, being who you are and not falling into traps of what society tells you to be, being quiet and kind – but still knowing how to put a bully down and his back. My husband is the absolute perfect embodiment of being meek and mild, yet strong and capable. He is like Professor X without the wheelchair, or maybe the Hulk without the emotional problems – just a kind, gentle,  brilliant man who can pull out a good can of “whoop ass” if he needs to protect his family. He can teach the balance that I am not required to have in a way that has our “family seal” if you will.
My job isn’t done in the least, but it has changed. I, however, don’t at all feel the push to pawn him off on society and turn him over to “friends” for “socialization”. He still needs two parents in his life; my husband and I are just switching roles a bit. For over seven years (yes, I include my time being pregnant) I was everything to my son. I rubbed my belly and spoke soft words to him as he grew; I nursed him exclusively for six months, and then continued to nurse him for a year. I monitored his time with the nanny like a hawk and was the absolute helicopter parent for his one year in private school. I swooped in like a momma eagle when we knew it was time to home school and I thrived in my job as “everything”. Now, I move from being “everything” to being essential. I see “essential” like the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need to live. We need 20 vitamins and minerals, but the body produces only 11; we have to get the other 9 from the food we eat. What my son needs from me he can’t get anywhere else in the world. There are some essential things that only a momma can impart and to not give him what he needs from me will leave him under nourished in his development. It’s time for me to concentrate on those things. If I tried to continue to be everything, I would flounder in those things that can only exclusively come from mom. I guess my role hasn’t really diminished, but shifted.
It’s still hard, leaving the role of everything. But, there is no time to shed tears or long for that baby in my arms once again. There are those essential things I need to start to focus on, to impart, and to give. These seven years have been great, but I guess it’s time for the both of us to grow a bit.  
Here are those 9 Essential’s that will be coming from me:
1.       A healthy dose of cynicism/skepticism. I know, you were probably thinking I would start with something about being loving, sweet, and kind. That will come, but the best thing I can impart in my son is being a skeptic and having the drive to find out for himself what is true.
2.       Moving toward perfection. My son can be a perfectionist and that is hard. I used to tell him that it was okay, that what he did was good enough. However, “good enough” isn’t good enough anymore, he is older and ready for challenge. I need to teach him that good work takes time.  I need to teach him that sometimes you try and fail and need to try again, sometimes what you have is good, but you can do better. Sometimes we start with a draft, but we keep tweaking until we get ever closer to that picture in our mind.
3.       Fun is necessary. What is the point of life if you aren’t enjoying it? Having fun should be a part of everyday. Enjoy being human. Being human is about having emotions, thoughts, desires, ambitions, dreams, highs and lows, and everything else in between. You are not an animal that has to rely on instinct; you are an individual with freewill. With freewill comes a consequence (both good and bad) from your decisions – so choose wisely. However, enjoy and embrace even the lows.
4.       Family matters. I will continue to foster and encourage good, healthy, and strong sibling relationships. I am amazed at how children are encouraged to abandon their siblings and cling to friends. However, as people grow – that sibling relationship stays constant. Anyone with older parents knows that siblings often times have to come together to make some pretty big decisions (like whether or not to pull the plug on a parent). You need a good, healthy, strong relationship for the road ahead that life offers. Your siblings can be lifelong friends, lifelong enemies, or turn into casual acquaintances. I want to encourage my eldest to look at his siblings as potential best friends he can have for the rest of his life. People that loved him before he could do anything great. His brother and sister have looked up to and admired him from the day they were born, they were his fans before anyone knew he was a genius – they will be there the when the world becomes unimpressed that he took an “anatomy of the human brain” course at four years old.  Of course, Mom and Dad will always be there for you, always love you, and always do what we think is best for you. However, we are not perfect. We have and will continue to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge those mistakes or question our decisions. We can handle it and no one should be followed blindly. You needed to trust as completely as a baby; you are no longer a baby. We want you to be better than we are, and the one way for you to do better is to not only take on what we have done well and do it for yourself, but to learn from any mistakes we make and not duplicate them.
5.       Un-school on purpose. Learn those things you want to know. Follow your passion, find your flow. The people that become great are the ones who dug deeply into the things that ignited their fire. It’s easy to learn the things you “have” to know in life and when all else fails – pay someone to do those things for you. It’s amazing how much other stuff you learn while trying to unlock the keys to the things that make you feel alive. The world has enough cogs and people that simply do what is required of them. Society had enough pegs that are fine with being banged on the head with the hammer of life until they fit neatly into the slot predesignated for them. Embrace this unique opportunity you have of blazing your own trail. You have everything anyone with a passion could have ever desired – an amazing mind, a family to support you emotionally and financially, an opportunity to find a dream worth following and to pursue it, an environment where mistakes are allowed, and most importantly – time. Many people find out much too late that life unfulfilled is barely worth living and many people regret the risks not taken in the safety of youth. Einstein, Picasso, Da Vinci or Steve Jobs couldn’t have hoped for a better environment than what you have available to you right now. Take this opportunity and run with it.  
6.       To thyself be true. Know who you are, what you enjoy, what you desire, what makes you happy, what you do well, and what you need to work on. The person you will spend the most time with is yourself – learn you and love you first. There is no box he needs to fit into, no mold he needs to be pressed into, and no preset path he needs to walk, job, or run. Embrace being unique and an individual. Everything society will tell you to do will try to get you to conform, resist it with everything you have. It is what makes you human – free will and uniqueness. Don’t ever give it up. However, you can be true to a person you don’t know. Invest the time and energy of getting to know you – even as you change, develop, and grow.
7.       You don’t have to “believe” you can “know”.  This is akin to number one, except this will deal with his own set of truths. One need not rely on faith or belief; he should know what is true and search until he is satisfied with the answer. We are not going to pass on “faith” to you, but knowledge. Knowledge that should be checked, questioned, and checked again. Love requires a choice and you have been given the amazing gift of freewill – use it. Relationship is 100% you own decision.
8.       Health before wealth. Being healthy matters a lot. Wealth is easier to get when you are healthy and it is easier to enjoy when you are healthy. No use making a lot of money only to have to sit around sick watching other people spend it.
9.       Love on purpose. Don’t fall in love; jump into it with both eyes open understanding everything involved. Give your time, energy, and heart only to people that first show they are worthy of it. Appreciate those that care about who you are as an individual, with no sign of reward from their efforts.