There is one obvious, yet defining characteristic of my kids that makes life with them both wonderful and exasperating: they are not adults.
As we bombard them with intense and on-going etiquette training, behaviour instruction, and safety awareness, the results are almost always the same: they resist, we withdraw, and both parent and child are left looking at each other with that sort of “What could you possibly have been thinking?” look on our faces.
Consider the child versus adult perception of a patch of ice. At all costs, in typical adult fashion, I avoid the slippery, injury-inflicting rock-hard mass. Motivated by an image of myself, splayed on the ground, whatever I’m carrying scattered around me, I strategically plan my steps to go way around.
My 11-year old son, on the other hand, will go out of his way (and then some) as he is beckoned by the slick, glistening surface. He picks up speed and gains momentum as he approaches this brief opportunity for some unbridled sliding fun; a thrill that simply can’t be missed.
To Nick, the uncontrolled flailing of limbs is exciting. To me, it’s almost certainly the beginning of a week-long recovery period from bruising and muscle pain.
Puddles hold an undeniable appeal for my daughter, Elena. Although I am a firm believer in the value of the “learn by doing” approach, I can’t help but think that my eight year old already gained an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships way back in infancy.
When walking together during or following a rain, I watch her out of the corner of my eye, ready to jump away as she indulges her urge to puddle jump. Every now and then, I think that this time, she just might bypass that really big, deep puddle. But as she reaches the “shore” it becomes clear that she remains unable to resist. With waterproofed hoof, she pounds down with as much concentrated force as her frame allows, showering a large expanse with gravel, mud and water.
Here, she sees an opportunity to surpass her “personal best” for Area Covered, and I see the beginnings of a sandbox in the doorway of my house when the boots and rain coat comes off.
Collecting, examining and adopting backyard critters are activities that my kids often enjoy; avoiding, banishing and expelling are generally the adult reactions when these beasties make their way inside.
The kids routinely present us with frogs, crickets, salamanders, worms, and snails, while enthusiastically suggesting that we build indoor homes for them. Although I am truly thrilled with their discoveries and their accompanying fascination, I draw the line at the door; they are not coming to live inside.
The kids see an indoor sanctuary in which they care for and observe their newfound pets, and I see pests escaping and multiplying in the duct work.
If my kids had a switch, it would almost always be set to high speed. They run everywhere they go – there’s not time to walk. Even if they have an entire afternoon to play, they can’t waste a precious second by walking to their destination, whether it’s to a neighbours’ house or into our own back yard.
Most adults I know don’t often run; they saunter. Like a car engine, they seem to need a bit of time to gradually increase their motion to optimum speed. Kids, literally hit the ground running. Adults tentatively step on the ground, stretch and groan a bit, and begin to slowly move forward.
(It has to be noted here though, that when there is a need to arrive somewhere on time, the adults and children switch roles, as the kids dawdle and the adults move at mock speeds. Funny how that is.)
Obviously, there many non-negotiables, but I do my best to not exert the unnecessary aspects of my “adult-ness” onto my kids. I really don’t care much about cleaning the hall entrance (probably needs it anyway) and when Nick falls on the ice, any injury he suffers is but a memory a mere two or three seconds later.
Once we even kept a “pet” spider on the inside of a window. The kids begged me to allow him to stay in his web, and unable to come up with a good enough reason not to, I agreed not to “move him outside.”
With wide eyes (theirs with arachno-fascination, mine arachno-phobia) we all experienced a close up lesson of the habits and behavours of an unusual species that we live in harmony with, but really can’t begin to understand.
originally published in the Waterloo Region Record