Although these are re-runs, they seem to be particularly relevant during the current America Isolation Crisis. It has been somewhat difficult for my wife and me, and we have it easy as pie compared to all the folks with kids stuck at home. Out of school, and basically with nowhere to go. Is it possible to somehow take advantage of the current situation and fill our households with some joy and amazement? With great purpose and effort, we should be able to do a few things we haven't done before.
* P.S. If you get intimidated by too much to read, relax. You can read this in segments. Follow the roman numerals. If you're scared, read them one at a time.
The Entertainment Director
Man I was tired. I had just seen five kids in a row, including two hyper little animals that took all my energy to (hopefully) do some good work with. It was one of those exhaustions that you can hardly move your jaw to speak. It was finally time to head home (a very short commute, fortunately), and as I pulled in the driveway, there was my eleven year old son waiting for me with a basketball tucked under his arm. I was so tired. I thought: “son, don’t you have any friends? Do I always have to be your entertainment director?” Of course, I would never say such a thing, but I was worn out to the bone. I told him we needed to have supper first, hoping I could find a tiny drop of energy in the meantime.
During supper I mentally recounted the five kids I had just seen. It then occurred to me that something was all screwed up with my priorities if I expended all of my time, creativity and energy with everyone else’s kids, and then I stiff my own kids. What’s wrong wit dat picture? I either needed to reduce the energy I put into my counseling kids so I’d have more when I get home, or I needed to create new energy once I got home. We know that during a long workday, if we take a break, we have to restart ourselves to get up to speed again. Going home was no different, except being a good father was way more important than restarting myself back when I was a busboy. So that’s what I started doing: mentally creating energy for my family. Now, many years later, and clearly less stamina, I wish for the same experience with my grandsons. I have a vision: when they are here for a visit, they crawl across the floor, dragging themselves exhaustedly towards their beds, begging to finally get to sleep after an amazing day with us. It doesn’t always happen exactly like that, but I sure would like it to.
So what to do about our kid’s needing us for memories for inspiration, as an example of how they might want to be someday as a parent? Most families I know use the wonder of electronics as their kid’s entertainment director. TV, video, and phones are the staple of most busy parents way of keeping their kid’s occupied. All are okay, but to replace you as their entertainment director? We all need to apply our work ethic at home. Work hard for your employers, but don’t forget your loyalties to your family. It’s two jobs, and really, what else are you going to do with your time? Watch the incessant drone of the 24 hour news station? Really?
Through The Eyes Of A Child
I would like to briefly enumerate a few of the things we teach our kids. We helped them to walk, taught them language, how to flip a light switch, and how to use a toilet. We also introduced them to the use of utensils and hopefully manners, how to share, and on and on. So how ‘bout the flip side: when they teach us? A few years ago, one tiny grandson almost twisted out of my arms to listen to a new sound: wind chimes. I wasn’t listening, but he was joyous at this incredible sound. So here we are, eight years later and I pulled out two quarters. I had forgotten about the “skill” of coin flipping. Pull out a quarter and flip it in the air. Exactly how did you do that? Balance it on a finger with an edge sticking out. Put your thumb under it and flick it up. Not too high; maybe five inches or so. Now catch it and flip it upside down on the back of your other hand. Heads or tails? It’s a huge new skill for a kid.
Now, have two players doing the same thing. You now have the game of “flips”. This is also known as “match or no match”. Are the coins the same (both heads for example), or different? You go back and forth with who gets to call. I conveniently left out the gambling aspect of this game that landed me in the 8th grade principal’s office a number of times...
Now you can progress to spinning your coin on a table top. Observe how you did this and teach the child. Usually the coin ends up half-way across the floor the first dozen times or so. Once they have it down, try to put your finger on the top of the spinning coin to stop it standing up. This one takes many, many tries to luckily finally get it [a big coin is easier than a small one]. We burned up over an hour of joy-filled entertainment / new skill.
The kids departed back to their parent’s house and were quite pleased with their new skill and game(s). However, it was clearly me that benefited the most. I love the song that sings of the beauty of looking “through the eyes of a child”. I may have instructed them on coin flipping, but far more importantly, they taught me the joy of their amazement of this new game and skill. It’s a nearly forgotten world of joy and delight that is pretty easily accessible to we adults. My senses have been somewhat heightened since this fun little experience. I have been hearing birds more distinctly, and the colors of the new leaves on the springtime trees seem more vivid. Fantastic contrast between the bright new leaves and the blue sky. It may be that the excitement and wonder of children is contagious to we adults. I’m more than ready for another experiment.
I have been asked for more parent-child notes. So I present to you a game, and frankly, a great one: Baseball Catch. I know, I know, football season is still rolling, and I expect a potential flood of depressed Dallas Cowboy fans any day now in desperate need of counseling. Still, America's Game (baseball) is just around the corner. So here's how the game goes:
1 baseball or softball
2 people (at least), preferably an adult* and child (or children)
1 baseball glove per person
1 yard without a lot of rocks or holes
* the adult must do a fun play-by-play with every play
Stand apart in the yard. The distance should be intelligently calculated by the adult to be appropriate for the age of the child. The first person, usually the parent, plays the imaginary role of a batter AND a baseman. The parent throws the ball in numerous ways to the child (smooth grounder, choppy grounder, fly ball, etc.), then magically becomes the baseman. The object is to throw the batter out and get three outs. Then the kid does the same thing to the parent. Back and forth.
So here's what it sounds like:
“Nobody on, nobody out. The first hit is a grounder to Adele. She scoops it up perfectly and fires it back to Daddy! Yeeeeeeer OUT! One away. Batter two comes to the plate. It's a mile high fly ball! She's under it. No sweat. Fielded nicely. Two out. It's a choppy grounder! She bobbles the ball, but fires it to first! Safe! Tie base goes to the runner. There's a woman on first, two away. It's a very slow grounder! Adele runs up to it, fires it to second for the force out. Yeeeeer OUT! Three away, and Adele's at bat.”
The kids normally don't do the animated announcing, so the parent can even do it when the kid is “at bat”. Any “hit” that was not particularly playable is a foul ball. There are a handful of things accomplished by playing a game like this. It's a self esteem builder, as they are guaranteed to improve with practice at home. The kids learn the rules of the game like tie base, or a force out, or how to turn a double play. And, perhaps most importantly, you are creating a powerful bond with your child by excitedly playing with them. Mothers, don't forget, just because you haven't played in a long time, many of you were excited, fun-loving softball players when you were younger. Don't have a glove anymore? Go buy yourself a good one. They are about the price of two or three tanks full of gas for your minivans. Better get after it, as time slips away like water through your fingers. You're almost out of time.
John S. Sommer
Licensed Clinical Social Worker