Rose and I are walking Lucy, one of Rose’s canine clients, in the snowy woods behind our house. Rose is bouncing along and inventing icicle jokes.
“What do you call an icicle in the spotlight?” She gives me about 2.3 seconds to answer before blurting out, “A LIGHTSICLE!”
She jumps over a pile of snow and asks, “What do you call a fancy icicle at a dance with a boy?”
I am honestly stumped just trying to decipher the question.
“You know, the dance? A raltz?”
Rose beams up at me, encumbered neither by notions of accuracy nor by perfectly engineering the consecutive steps that lead to a joke’s successful punch line.
I have dreams for my children, some of them grand (to acknowledge and allow all the various feelings that trample through their minds unbidden) and some mundane (embrace the use of utensils at the table). I get confused about when to press in, and when to sit back and hand their life over to them like a package they can unwrap and squander, or even cash in at a later, more appropriate date.
But the more we lurch forward in this growing up together, the more I see how pressure on children increases directly with age. Within every school grade the seed of “preparing for next year” is already planted, as if education weren’t an individual path to explore for the rest of our lives but a hurried race to some future, declared finish line.
Children are expected to follow directions, achieve a respectable grade point average, exhibit good manners, do a sport, play an instrument, learn a language, harness their talents, make a difference and become well-rounded while also mastering a specific skill. There is nothing inherently wrong in leaning gently toward these goals. And yet, I now see that my job as a parent is not only to prepare my children for some unknown future, but to preserve the fragile seed of innocence and playfulness within, to allow them the lightness of childhood.
When Rose was 5 and Col 7 and we found, after a few days of warmth, our backyard snowman slumped over and headless. Rose said, “The inflatable snowmen are gooder than the snowmen that we make.”
The proper response would have been something like, “Why do you like the inflatable snowmen better, Rose?” stealthily exchanging her grammatically incorrect word for the proper comparative adjective.
Before I could answer Col chimed in, “The inflatable snowmen can exflate, Rosie, so the ones we make with snow are gooder.”
It was like the PG version of Cheech and Chong, except who needs mind-altering substances when you have the fresh and earnest minds of little people?
Right now, the kids are playing a game of their own invention (don’t look for it at Toys R Us anytime soon):
Rose: “OK. Let’s play that you can’t say the word ...”
Rose: “Yeah. For the next whole hour you can’t say banana, or you lose.”
Col: “OK. Starting now.
Rose: “So ... do you want a snack? One of those yellow things? What do you call them?”
I want to say to them, “Be silly and incorrect while you can! Let’s do the raltz and not exflate and play goofy, imaginative games for the sake of feeling good with no particular finish line. You figured out how to get your shoes on the right feet, you’ll get the rest. Enjoy childhood.”
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, “6512 and growing,” on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.