A frustrating morning this week rendered my children to a “different room, anywhere other than right beside Mr. M,” who was being suffocated by sibling presence. Soon I heard them skitter upstairs. Then silence. A worrisome silence.

I finished my task and opted to sort laundry on my bed so I could spy prevent disaster. What I found changed the pace of the morning from monstrous to magical. They had shut the bedroom door. They shut me out. closed door

When they came out, unknowing of my presence, they donned bath towels as raincoats, pushing a stroller to take Lady C “to a friend’s house.” Then they dropped Miss M off at “school.” When I peeked into H Boy’s room, they had made a bed on the floor with the girls’ blankets and he had been “reading” to them before bed.

Soon they returned “home.” The next time they emerged, Miss M had a baby stuffed under her dress. “Bye grandma and papa, we’re going to the hospital!” I hear them say. Apparently Lady C was stuck at home with the grandparents because I heard H & M go into another room and then an uproar of laughter: “I pooped it out!” I hear. And then there was a baby. (So. That’s how it happens.)

I kept folding, trying to remain invisible because the truth of the situation rose to the top: while I should be intentional about playing and interacting with my kids at home (and I’m trying to do a better job of this), in their time without me my kids become more imaginative and cooperative. They stick with their play for much longer spans of time when I’m not involved. They try new things, find creative props and tell their stories of life using lenses I simply don’t know how to operate.

PlaytimePlaying House

This is such a good thing.

I half-jokingly say that the best thing I could offer my kids in life is siblings. On this morning, it was simply a true statement.  At one point I told myself, “this is the childhood I dreamed for my children. Right here.” Because it is. When I look back at my early years, I see my sister and I lining the staircase with stuffed animals to play school and getting out our Barbies to live in their piano home with my dad’s basketball trophies serving as doors, beds and furniture. We ventured outside on rusty grain augers and “shredded” snow in the winter. We climbed a dirt hill where one of our cats hid her kittens and affectionately and appropriately called it Kitty Peak. Our industrial-sized gas tanks became horses named Silver and Goldie (which, ironically, were both silver).

Play, play, play, my children. Go. Create. Do. Find the ordinary and discover it with new ideas, see it with imagination goggles.

They rarely do this in my presence, just as my parents were mostly absent from my own adventurous memories (though I can look back to plenty of examples of quality time filled with love and play). I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the responsibilities we carry as adults and our inability to set that down at the door. We’re always thinking of the pick up involved after or the unlikelihood that this could actually work. We feel the need to correct and make everything into a teachable moment. I wonder if sometimes our teaching results in less learning than these episodes of creativity the kids embark upon by themselves.

I just read a fascinating article on children’s learning styles around the world and literacy, but what jumped out at me was the author mentioning how often kids want to learn in private: “When I entered the room they looked up like kids who were caught doing something illicit. This is another thing you learn about kids when they don’t go to school. They don’t want to be watched all the time. They don’t want to be scrutinized and measured. They often don’t even want to be praised or encouraged. They have a remarkable sense of dignity and autonomy, and they defend it fiercely. They want their learning to be their own.” 

So while JJ and I converse about my participation and engagement with our kids (as opposed to work, which I am prone), I agree. Treasure these days with them, sit at the table and make a mess.

And yet.

Send them to the basement. Direct them upstairs. Shut the door. See what magic they come up with on their own.

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