Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Let Her Be Three

We are on one of our long road trips, and three-year-old Ainsley begins prattling on about -- oh, I don't remember what -- Angelina Ballerina or Eeyore, Olivia the Pig or Elmo. These are her people. Naturally Tim, her fifteen-year-old brother, feels positively compelled to tease her.

It's gentle teasing, the variety that stems from deep affection and a twelve year age gap.

I turned to Tim and softly asked, "Can't we just let her be three?" 

Wasn't it just yesterday that Tim was three? When he was about the age Ainsley is now, a neighbor popped by with a few Barney tapes that needed a new home. My friend's youngest child was not much older than Tim. Through the wise counsel of her older brother and sister, she had learned young that Barney is uncool, way uncool.

Older siblings are helpful like that.

I recently posted White and Nerdy in which I mentioned complications that arise when a family has a wide span of ages. At the crux of the matter lies this simple truth: You can't replicate the protective bubble your oldest children are born into. Oh, how I remember being the mother of one and then two children and finding myself absolutely mystified by some of the challenges faced by larger families. Baby proofing and media selections, household maintenance and clothing -- really, these things seemed not so difficult when I had all littles. 

Now I'm trying to stop Ainsley from teaching the moves to Gangnam Style to her pre-school pals.

Eleven-year-old Kolbe recently asked the meaning of the line "For Mature Audiences Only." I explained a few issues of language and theme and then we discussed how some movies (or games or songs) labelled "M" are not "For Mature Audiences Only"; they aren't appropriate for any audiences at all. Vulgarity, nudity, gratuitous violence -- there's nothing mature about much of what goes into many films rated "R" or games rated "M."

But other issues clearly are appropriate for an older audience. Glory, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ -- these are among films that I certainly did not enjoy in the typical sense of the word, but they are great films that employ disturbing images to an appropriate end -- depicting somber events in a realistic manner. They are suitable for mature audiences.

And just as there is a time to introduce older children to more serious media, to more sobering themes, there is a time to make every effort to keep our little people little, to protect their minds and imaginations, their hearts and their souls, from the bigger, often darker world.

A time to let Ainsley be three. 

A time to let John be six.

Soon enough they'll be twelve and seventeen and twenty-one.

I laughed as Ainsley squealed with delight over our friend's very impressive collection of heels. That's one life's many joys that three-year-old girls flat love. They love butterflies and unicorns, dress up clothes and most anything that sparkles.

John, at six, is at an age of wonder. He finds unbridled excitement in a wide array of creation -- bird's eggs and horse shoes crabs, lizards and turtles. He has a need -- and, truly, I believe it is a need -- to shout as he discovers treasures and then -- and I think this is equally as important -- to share them with the people he loves.

"Come see my fort, Mama!" he yells. "Come see my fort!"

"Mama! I'm a mummy wrapped up in a blanket," he shouts. "Come see!"

His Godmother called a few weeks back. She had found baby birds nesting in the cup holder of her exercise bike on the back porch. Did John want to come see them? We drove out to their house and spent the afternoon watching the birds and eating good food. For John's birthday, Kathy bought him a dinosaur egg that you immerse in water and watch as it hatches.

Every morning John was out of bed like a shot.

"Mama, let's check out my egg," he'd yell, his voice revealing just the faintest trace of his pre-school lisp, his bite still just a touch sideways.

To John's delight, the egg did indeed hatch, and we are now the proud owners of a six inch long stegosaurus.

In my Montessori training, we learned about "the absorbent mind" Maria Montessori found in young children who take in the world like a sponge  We learned about "sensitive periods" -- times during which children learn skills, most notably language, with little effort. Beyond those "sensitive periods" children can still learn, of course, but that learning is more conscious, requires more exertion, and may not reach the heights possible during the sensitive periods. In the atrium, children will return to the same work over and over again. My own children have begged for the same stories so often I could recite Caps For Sale in my sleep.

We've recently embarked on an overhaul of several rooms. As I waded through a daunting stack of papers, I found a letter a much younger Tim had written to Neil Armstrong:

Dear Mr. Armstrong. My name is Timmy. I am seven years old. When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. What was it like on the moon?

When you look at a nearly grown child, a child who no longer calls you to share his every excitement, one who just might -- only occasionally -- answer in monosyllables and/or grunts, well, it's easy to question what exactly happened to all that wonder.

This was a boy whose art papers depicted rockets and space suits, a boy who went to bed every night with My Big Book about Space, a boy who regularly prayed for Alan Shepard, a boy I once heard say, "Houston, Tranquility Base. We've skipped the moon, and we're headed for Mars!"

Where does the awe and wonder go?

But then we spent a week touring the Smithsonians, and I listened to Tim answering the docent's questions and exchanging arcane facts concerning space travel. And then I spotted a list on the printer tray and found that it outlined NASA's requirements for becoming an astronaut. And I watched Tim spend the summer devouring C.S. Lewis' space trilogy. 

No, I don't think it's inevitable that wonder should die. My twelve- and fifteen-year-old sons no longer come running when they spot the trash truck rumbling down the street. And, really, isn't that a good thing? 

But wonder doesn't die. 

It seems to go slightly dormant. 

But it doesn't die.

And I'm convinced a large part of letting kids grow into the people God intends for them to be lies in letting little people be little.

So we're going to let the three-year-old be three.

(She actually just turned four!)

And we'll let the six-year-old be six.

He'll carry around his stegosaurus and his rock collection. She'll carry around Madeline and Raggedy Ann.

She'll dream big dreams of growing up to be -- in her words -- "a  princess in a not-itchy dress." He'll continue to insist that one day he'll be a monster truck driver.

Together they'll build impressive forts and stomp in huge puddles.

And we'll enjoy their antics, gently roll our eyes at their dramatics, and exert the extra effort it takes to keep their little worlds little.

On a note that has nothing but somehow everything to do my subject matter here, Elizabeth Foss recently posted this piece on children leaving the nest. Motherhood, Elizabeth reminds us, is not a job; it's a vocation. Helping our children -- through training, through encouragement, through prayer -- become the people God intends for them to be. As Maria Montessori might say, "It's a big work."


Anonymous said...

I love this. Beautiful!

Kelly Dolin said...

Thank you!