I spent a lot of time this weekend just watching my kids. It was really beautiful and spring like for one of the first times all year – almost a month later than usual for us. One of our favorite things to do in our neighborhood is to go “down the hill” as we call it to a little shopping district that involves passing through at least one playground/park area, the public library with a typical destination that includes a trip to a little locally owned ice cream shop. Sometimes lunch at the beer garden or other restaurant is involved. Sometimes there’s significant intent – we need to drop off books or pick up holds at the library or grab something specific at the hardware store or get a gift for someone at the fair trade shop. Sometimes it’s as simple as “okay honey, you stay home and get work done around the house, I’ll take the kids to the park and get out of your hair”. And so it was on Saturday
I’ve written before about how amazing my 10 year old son is with his almost-4 year old sister. Well, Saturday was no different. He engaged her regularly in ways that allowed me to just sit and relax and take them in – literally watching them, rather than constantly involving myself directly in their play. She is experimenting with a “pedal bike” as she calls her new-to-her 2 wheeler with training wheels which are as much for us as for her, but on this day she chose to ride her balance bike on which she can just about keep up with her scooter riding brother. When we reached the playing fields, awash in baseball and soccer players, she stopped to ride her bike around the basketball courts. They organically flowed into a game of cops and robbers and chase and tag, both laughing exuberantly and him letting her get the best of him more than once, to her absolute delight.
It is amazing to watch them together. She loves his attention and he basks in her admiration. They push each other in different ways and he takes the responsibility for looking after her very seriously, even when they are mostly just enjoying themselves. Knowing that we trust him to care for himself and for her has boosted his confidence and bolsters his sense that his strengths are really strengths, even if they don’t involve athletics and other typical markers of male pride. And while I am perfectly happy most of the time to actively engage, and play the monster or tag or help build a sand fort, there is something special about being able to sit back and watch them explore the world on their own without my guidance or even active approval.
When they were done with tag, they moved on to the playground where they played shop, engaging me as a customer. Then she hid under the equipment while he was a monster. And I noticed something else about her play in particular – she is learning from him. There were several younger kids who were significantly smaller than her, and she was fascinated (she’s at the point where she’s agitating for a younger sibling and is noticing babies – which means any child obviously younger than her). And she tried to engage these younger kids, but gently, and appropriately, even protectively.
Later, after my son had been joined by his best friend and moved on to his own thing involving Nerf weapons and eventually several other kids from his class in some sort of epic battle with no parental supervision, I watched her carefully offer a tool to a barely walking boy in the sandbox and gently show him how it worked. When she was joined by some older kids who were fascinated by the pool of water we’d created, she held her own, letting them engage with “her” creation, being neither possessive nor letting them railroad her. It was like watching both sides of the influence he is to her – both the lesson in gently engaging younger kids and being appropriately assertive with older ones.
For my part, I mostly sat and watched. Sure I fiddled with my phone a bit. I took pictures and texted my husband with updates and might have flipped through some emails or facebook updates. But I also tried to just take it all in. To be fully present in this moment where I was with my children but they didn’t need me, something both bittersweet and truly glorious. We have so many dreams for our children and so much invested in their futures. It can be all encompassing, the desire to give them a happy childhood, full of opportunities and activities and tools for future success, all of which can be important. And then there’s those moments when you realize that they’re going to be okay, not just because of what you do, but also what you don’t, and just smile and let them be.
All images (c)2014 emandink, all rights reserved