In the Land of the Young Child

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snools

by Chris Baron

this morning

you called me in

at 5:30

told me

you had found

a “snool”

your tiny

two-year-old hands

held open

lifted up

before your

smiling, sleepy face.

“what color is it?”

i asked

“it’s a blue one.”

in this early light

your eyes sleepy

and almond

like your mom

you looked like

someone from a dream

a boy i might hope to know

who’d imagine

“snools,” share them

with me when you could.

“i dropped it!” you said,

and looked down

threatened tears

but this is part of the life

of “snools”

they are often dropped

and found again.

When I first read this poem my heart utterly swelled. I appreciate the simplicity and authenticity that the author depicts in this exchange with his son, and really, what better way is there to capture the magic that happens around young children than with poetry? I have lived so many moments like this one with the children I have worked with, and now experience them with my own children.  They are the joyful moments that help us to regain balance after weathering the not-so-joyful ones. They give us a peek into the land of the young child. I especially love hearing the playful and inventive language that immediately invites you into the world of their imagination. I try to be mindful not to laugh at how adorable or endearing I find their earnest investment in the imaginary and I feel so trusted when they come to me with their discoveries or worries.

As I get older and the memories from my own childhood get lost in the fogginess of the past, I realize that even though I thoroughly appreciate the children and their ideas…I often forget what it really feels like to be a kid. I forget how light and full of energy my body felt, or how I really believed that if I ran hard and fast enough I could somehow defy gravity and take flight. I forget how scary it can be to be with someone who isn’t your mom or dad, how everything in the adult world looms so much larger than you, and how it can seem confusing when a grownup gets mad about something you’ve done. It is this forgetting (along with the constant hustle of modern, working, family life) that can make it feel extra hard to connect with children sometimes. It is so difficult to feel motivated to be playful when you are tired, and thinking about practicalities. It can even feel impossible when we have a rigid schedule and lots of responsibilities to consider…we are always bogged down with “to-do’s.”

“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.”

―Jean Piaget

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But how can we do this?

First comes mindfulness. Just being mindful of our own state in any given moment can mean the difference between reacting versus responding to needs (either our own or our child’s.) Mindfulness often gets mistaken for a sort of tranquil or meditative state, when actually you can achieve mindfulness in the midst of anger, frustration or fear. Tuning in and being present with the emotion that is swelling up inside you enables you to gain a different perspective, perhaps be more cognizant of your own patterns and personal triggers. The more awareness you have of your emotional state the more easily you can learn to respond with empathy, and calm. It takes practice, deep breathing and patience but the benefits are clear,  a better understanding of yourself and a deeper connection to your child.

I love how the father in the poem asked a simple question when his child said he’d found a “snool.” He accepted the invitation to believe in a “snool” just by asking “what color is it?” This may seem inconsequential, but really I think it speaks volumes about how this father perceives children. It is always a choice how you will engage with the magical thinking that children possess. You can inquire and participate…or just observe and talk with the child about what they think and feel. Most importantly the exchange should be authentic…children are extremely attuned to inauthentic enthusiasm, or empty questioning. The more we practice mindfulness the more our exchanges with young children will reflect our truest beliefs about their capabilities, and how deeply we respect them.

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If we approach our interactions with children (or anyone, really) with the intention of understanding them better or even just listening…empathy blooms, connection goes deeper, and the magic that they bring into our lives everyday doesn’t just go unnoticed- it can transform us.

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