Children have always fascinated me. Their behaviors, their attitudes, their perception…
Things change as they grow older, but especially during those first two years, they are trusting, innocent, pure, playful, in the moment. Present and excited about the current moment. Easily entertained and easily distracted, they are also capable of surprisingly Great Focus. They can forge deep, deep connections with those soulful eyes… looking straight through people’s outward appearances and into their souls.
Contrary to appearances, they wield immense Power in their utterly complete dependence on adults. Power…as if they arrive in complete surrender to their Source. They arrive, helpless, completely dependent and yet so powerful in their demand for unconditional love. They ASK, with no thought to ego or expectation or exchange or condition. They are whole and perfect, powerful in their Presence.
I have had the great privilege of witnessing my daughter’s childhood, being there for her and for me. I always knew that I wanted that pleasure — the pleasure of being almost completely available to witness my child’s early years, without any financial pressure. I am grateful for that choice.
I did not mean to influence or teach or mould her in any way. My intention was not to groom her. My desire was just to bask in her Glorious Presence. That grew more difficult in time. Demands on my time, other family needs, my own personal needs began to invade my time with her. My ego got the better of me many many times. I made unnecessary judgments. I blamed circumstances and mistook my choices for ‘situational requirements’. I was nowhere close to the ideal I wanted to be and often floundered in guilt instead of making different choices. Nevertheless, there were moments of Presence and Joy. I collected these and celebrated them.
A had the same fear of going underwater that I did as a child. I intuitively knew not to push her. By 8 years old, many children feel pressure from parents and society at large to be able to do certain things — maybe basic swimming, go underwater, show an interest in sports, be able to write, read, etc… These expectations (much like curricular expectations in school) sometimes meet the child where they are, but often do not. I hear academicians say that teachers must have high expectations of their students — but that means that teachers believe in the capabilities of their students, not that we push them to do what they are not ready to do. And those capabilities are different for each child. I believe that children have their own understanding of their readiness for challenges. It is a delicate balance to strike… we must support them while they decide if they are ready for a challenge, without unduly influencing them because of our own expectations.
One summer, A decided that she wanted to be able to swim underwater (1st ingredient — intrinsic motivation for a goal). It felt like the Universe conspired to not just make it possible, but to make the process enjoyable. At her own insistence, she spent every afternoon in the pool with her cousins (2nd ingredient — environment with resources). Two of her cousins were much better swimmers than A. They astonished me with their skilled facilitation. They knew exactly when to push A and when to give her room to relax, when to encourage her and praise her and when to give her critical feedback (3rd ingredient — environment with helpful multi-age peer-facilitators in a healthy, social setting). I did not interfere (4th non-ingredient — remove all traces of adult ego and external pressure to perform). I did celebrate their effort and their joy (5th ingredient — celebrate the learning). We cheered together when A managed to put just her nose into the water. We laughed together when the youngest cousin insisted on repeatedly dunking her own head into the water and come up spluttering and gasping for air — just to show A that she didn’t need to know how to breathe underwater! The goal is important, but not more important than the learning. Throughout her learning process, she continuously challenged herself to modify her sub-goals to work towards her main goal (6th ingredient — self-assessment). I did not decide these sub-goals for her; she decided them, in consultation with her peer-facilitators (7th ingredient — time and space to figure out one’s own pace of learning, in collaboration with facilitators). She discussed her learning with me whenever she felt like talking about it. She would explain what she thought was going well and what she wanted to do change (8th ingredient —self-reflection). By the end of the summer Avni was swimming underwater — a skill she continued to build upon in the following summers.
What ingredients would you add?