Monday Musings… Oh, To Be a Kid Again!
"Grandma! I'm back!" These are the words that greeted me recently as I opened the door to my home. With her hands on her hips and an impish smile on her face, my granddaughter wasted no time telling me what she wanted next: “Let’s race!” Looking down at her sparkly Paw Patrol Skye shoes, I knew she meant business. It was time to put the bags down and play. After all, she’d been waiting for what probably seemed like an eternity for me to get home.
Being called Grandma is probably one of the best unearned titles ever. And it’s not because I didn’t have to go through the labour for these little ones. You see, so many say they enjoy this stage of life because “you can load them up with sugar and send them home”. But that’s not my mindset. I truly feel blessed because I get to receive what I didn’t plan or work for: this unscripted, totally natural love reaction from a child; and secondly, I get to have a boatload of spontaneous fun!
One of my unexpected discoveries as a grandmother was that I am the perfect height to walk and hold a toddler’s hand. There’s no need for me to bend down – quite a delightful perk of being short! I also fit pretty compactly in a linen closet as our many games of hide and seek have testified. This past week my granddaughter found a new challenge for us: trying to squeeze us both in behind Grandpa’s chair. It was a tight fit but we made it! In her eyes, I am “Abel’s size”, so she thinks if she can do it, then I can too 😊
But let’s talk about racing. My granddaughter loves to run and who better to do it with than someone other than her sleep-deprived parents or her grandfather, the grill master, who is often preparing a culinary feast for all of us. So, I am an obvious choice. At the starting line of our latest race, I got it in my head that we should time it, so I opened up the stopwatch on my phone. Our goal: see who could run around the inside of the house faster. I pressed the start button and off she went from the living room, through the kitchen, into the playroom and back to the starting line. 13.34 seconds! Awesome! “Grandma, you’re turn!” So off I went. 11.27 seconds. Whew! Glad to know I still have those Speedy Gonzales legs.
We continued our race for another 10 minutes. We both kept trying to better our time. Then her dad pointed out to me that my granddaughter went the long way around the kitchen table, while I had taken a short cut, unintentionally of course. Oops! Alright, next lap I’ll match her track. Well, sure enough, my new time was 14.18 seconds! What? A four-year-old beat me! I chalked it up to the tight fit around the high chair, the dog standing inconveniently in my path, and having to jump over the pile of toys in the playroom. Surely that accounted for the difference. So, we raced again minus the obstacles, and she beat me AGAIN! I mean I was givin’ er, but my granddaughter won every time.
After that humbling one-hour long game, dinner was ready, and during it, I kept thinking about her boundless energy and the stamina to keep going and keep improving. There was no huffing or puffing on her part. Not even one ounce of fatigue. Just sheer delight and legs that could hurdle over every obstacle. She had a remarkable instinct to know how to run efficiently and to discover ways that could shred seconds off her already fast time.
So, why can little kids so easily push past adversity while adults struggle? What has happened to us? When do we mentally and physically cross the threshold from excitement to exhaustion, from fun and games to serious all-out-war competition? What is the tipping point that moves us from energy and innocence to fatigue and cynicism, from being open and care-free to hiding inside the shell of ourselves?
We could have a lengthy discussion about cognitive and physical development and the growth curves that are expected of us as humans; but isn’t it odd to think that what we call ‘growth’ actually can cause mental setbacks and emotional decline?
Right now, my granddaughter’s biggest worries are having to finish food she doesn’t like, or trying to get the plastic off the new Play Dough jar, or having to go to bed when she’s not tired. But in the next few years, things are going to change. Her palate will adapt to new foods, she’ll be able to use scissors more effectively, and she’ll want to go to bed after a long day at school, and in the midst of that, the excitement she spontaneously has now, will give way to the awareness that what other people think about her is going to matter more than what she thinks about herself.
When you’re 4, it’s all about you. You believe you are the master of your universe. This is easy to observe as we notice the roles children take on in the games that they make up. Yes, they are egocentric and that leads to issues in sharing for sure, but there is a confidence, an instinct to win, and a perseverance to achieve what is important to them. Those attributes and attitudes slowly get whittled down, through discipline and education, all in an effort to maintain social order. The world is full of “don’ts” , and I get the necessity of that, especially when it comes to safety, but I think there has been an unintentional consequence that actually has affected the mental and emotional well-being of so many.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for parents to forgo disciplining their children, or to embrace unschooling. I’m simply wondering how we can raise children so they maintain that wonder, that energy, creativity and perseverance, so when they are adults they can be confident, courageous, and able to catch the arrows that the world is surely going to throw at them, and stop the pointed tips from penetrating their hearts and minds.
I think part of the answer comes when you let a child discover new things on their own, without adult interference (barring safety concerns of course). It’s one thing for parents to guide, it’s another to finish the task because it’s faster and easier. That goes for building a tower, to tying a pair of shoes, to climbing up a hill. How often do you let the tower fall? Do you go out and buy Velcro shoes instead of laced ones? Or do you pick the child up and carry them the rest of the way up the hill? The more you do for a child, the more they come to expect it; and then we wonder why they give up instead of working through that math problem, or they get frustrated when they can’t score that soccer goal, or they won’t cut the grass because it’s too hard. I know this is all in the parents’ mindset of being helpful, but in the end it’s actually a hindrance. It’s like keeping the child in perpetual Pull-ups. They never have to worry about the mess, they won’t feel it. You, not they, can just pull it off when it’s too heavy and put on a fresh one. That’s not going to cut it with the big dumps that are going to come their way in the teen and adult years!
So, why I like playing with my grandchildren is that I get to see how they delight in conquering obstacles and challenges on their own, and how they push past fears they thought they couldn’t conquer. Recently when 2-and-a-half-year-old Harrison fell, he brushed himself off, kissed his knee, and proclaimed to all of us “I’m fine!” He didn’t need us to rush to his side. He handled it all on his own.
When challenges come your way this week, think back to your childhood and how you overcame adversity, without the help from others. Can you regain that childlike confidence, that instinct to win, that perseverance? Back then you didn’t major on the minor issues, you pushed through. When you thought things wouldn’t work out, that you couldn’t possibly fit into that confined space, you did and it worked out. See if you can brush off some of those petty annoyances, or even the bigger worries, by taking stock of the fact that whatever challenge is looming, it’s likely not the end of the world. When you see the results of your changed mindset, you’ll boldly declare, like Harrison: “I’m fine!” And then... you and I can race around the house to see who’s going to get the better time!