Diego is now fifteen months old, and life is changing quickly. He plays now. I mean, he REALLY plays! He demands time outside when we get home each afternoon, and he and I spend about 30 minutes to an hour finding things to do in the backyard. I have always felt dismayed about our backyard. Grass refuses to grow for longer than one season, and the overgrown trees drop a layer of leaves that quickly becomes unmanageable if I miss a day of raking. But now, suddenly, I am finding myself keeping up with the raking, because my little boy drags me out to “play” (do yard work) every day. As I pull weeds, he pulls grass and leaves; as I rake, he pushes an old broken rake around; as I examine the growing grass and plants, he climbs up on anything and everything. He is learning to throw rocks. I am learning to soak in the fresh air and bits of sunshine. He has discovered the joy of chasing after lizards. I have discovered the joy of exploring the world through my son’s young eyes. Does anyone, as an adult, truly understand how miraculous airplanes, birds, spiders, and the moon are? Diego understands that these are miracles.
Diego’s love for the outdoors has taught me two things:
1. He doesn’t need more toys. In nice weather, he hardly touches his toys, because he spends all his time outside. The living room is a minefield of noisy, high-tech “educational” toys, but he is too busy exploring the real world to bother with fake computer sounds and colors.
2. The time I spend exploring with him is the best thing I do. It forces me to slow down, ignore the TV and my phone, and just enjoy his company.
I was reading a blog post recently about life being too busy (http://onbeing.com/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/7023), and I completely agree. We over-schedule our lives, and we have a difficult time relaxing with our loved ones, or alone. As a child, I was lucky enough to have only a few activities, and the rest of my time was spent playing with my sister and neighbors, and with my parents. We were forced to be creative and to make up games, put on plays (which we wrote), ride our bikes, ride horses, have lemonade stands, try different sports (in an unofficial setting), and find ways to get along with one another. We climbed trees and fences, braved open fields, and dug tunnels. We had clubhouses and secret hideouts. The weeping willow in our backyard was an exotic jungle that we cut through with our machetes (sticks). We camped in the backyard and got freaked out by the nighttime bugs that were attracted to the tent. We were explorers and directors and entrepreneurs. If we got bored, we had to find something to do.
I hope Marco and I can arrange our lives so that Diego has the opportunity to learn how to overcome boredom; to learn to entertain himself, and to get along with others. Free play is the best activity for kids. There are many articles and studies that argue as much. Here’s one that stresses the importance of free play in a child’s development: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/.
As a psychology grad, I have often read and thought about the two hemispheres of the brain. There is an emphasis in our society on the left hemisphere’s logic, planning, and focused attention. We must attempt to also stimulate the right hemisphere’s creativity, joy, intuition, and “big picture” awareness. There is a stimulating TED talk on this subject by Iain McGilchrist: http://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain. He ends with a wonderful quote from Albert Einstein that has inspired me to continue to find ways to access the right hemisphere:
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
I hope I can instill a love for the “sacred gift” in Diego, and inspire him to always see the miracles that exist in everyday life.