As you know if you read my post last week, I’ve been observing my younger son closely—taking a break from giving him instructions about how he should live his life. (Yes, I still tell him to put his dishes in the dishwasher!) I must say it’s been a really fun experiment!
I don’t know how all the energy stuff works in the world, and though I think there’s some truth in it, I also think there are some serious gaps/errors in the whole Law of Attraction/The Secret idea—you know, the “what you think about is what you get” concept.
But at the same time, I’ve certainly found that my own experiments with changing my focus and my stories about life, focusing on what’s good, using my imagination in positive ways to envision what I hope for, often have a hugely positive impact in my actual, physical life.
This is one of those times.
During the past week, it’s as if I opened a door to growth for my son, just by backing off and observing him with a spirit of compassion and curiosity.
It may be coincidence (the only way to know will be to keep trying new experiments to see if a pattern appears), but without my prodding in the past week he’s moved out towards: 1) doing something he loves in the arts AND, 2) conquering the ever-illusive concepts of geometry in his own way. These were goals his dad and I had for him, but our rules and plans about how he should reach them had thus far had little effect.
In addition, I’ve noticed that he’s responding to his dad and me in more mature ways in relation to the responsibilities and expectations we have for him, expressing his own desires and preferences in ways that leave room for us to work out a plan that feels good to all of us.
For example, on Sunday I wanted him to go put his clothes in the dryer at a time when he didn’t want to do it. I said I didn’t want to go to bed without feeling sure that it was going to happen. Rather than getting defensive or yelling something to the effect of “I’m fifteen. Why can’t you just trust me! I’ll get it done!” He said, “If I don’t do it, no screens for me tomorrow.” I said, “Okay, that works.” And when I woke up in the morning the clothes were done. Win. Win.
I also learned that he doesn’t just like music, or rap, he likes “lyrical rap” specifically. This is a new term for me. And it’s given me a hint about how I might be able to help him move in a direction he’s interested in.
It struck me that I’ve been practicing this kind of curious and compassionate observation, not only with him, but with myself—and with similar positive results. (Maybe next I’ll try it with my husband!)
It reminds me of the practice of “close reading” that I learned in literature classes, which is really a practice of careful, focused observation, without pre-judgment. You approach a passage as if you don’t already know what it means just from having looked at it on the surface. You assume that there’s more to learn by close observation. And there always is.
It also reminds me of a passage from Martha Beck’s Finding Your Way in A Wild New World in which she describes how she was taught by a South African tracker to learn how to “read” animal tracks. When she first looked at a lion’s track she just saw a footprint, but when she looked more closely she could see slight differences in parts of the print that caused her to understand in which direction the animal had turned.
Are you looking closely? At yourself? At your kids? At your students?
What hints appear as you look closely without assuming that you already know who you are, or who they are, or what either of you should do?
It could be that you’ll notice something painful—like that you’re really lonely and you’re eating to try to cover that up. Or that your straight A kid doesn’t really seem to be all that happy most of the time. It could be that you’ll notice something awesome. Like I did.
Either way—just like with close reading or animal tracking—I bet the information you gather will help you determine which way to go forward. And you only have to take a tiny, turtle step in that direction. You only have to follow the path to the next track and try again.
What do you see? What do you see? What do you see?
It’s not a test. It’s a journey. An adventure.
Enjoy the ride!
Here’s to thriving!
Celebrating Black Lives: Rev. Henry Laird Phillips: Early Kindergarten Advocate, Priest, Community Leader, Social Reformer (1847-1947)
Rev. Henry Laird Phillips is a favorite of mine for a couple of reasons: First, he lived a good chuck of his life in Philadelphia (where I lived longer than anywhere else in my life and where my kids were born). Second, he was one of the people I "met" doing historical research. I spent a lot of time with him and other (okay, not exactly alive) "friends" as I poured through old documents day after day for years. Third, and most important to me. He played a key role in providing Black children with access to high quality, early childhood education when kindergartens were a new innovation, not even widely available to poor and middle class white children. I want to tell you about this part especially. He's notable for a lot of other reasons too and you can read a great overview of his life here.
A dynamic black Jamaican-American Anglican rector, Rev. Henry L. Phillips, worked alongside other Black educators in Philadelphia to promote the need for kindergartens for Black children in the late 1800s. He also successfully influenced at least one well-resourced white reformer, Theodore Starr, to invest in kindergartens for “colored” children, facilitating the establishment of the first two African American-led kindergartens in the United States. The first opened in December 1880, only one year after Philadelphia’s first free kindergarten for white children was established. By 1882, a second program had been established in the Church of the Crucifixion, where Phillips was the rector and Starr was a member of the interracial vestry. Both programs were staffed entirely by graduates of the highly respected Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheney University) who had also completed a kindergarten teacher training program led by the founder of the Philadelphia Society of Froebel Kindergarteners, Mrs. Van Kirk, and been handed their diplomas by nationally known kindergarten advocate and president of the Froebel Union, Elizabeth Peabody. The establishment of “kindergartens for colored children” in Philadelphia reflected a determined resistance to practices that excluded black children from access to high quality education, a rejection of ideologies that positioned black children’s education as unworthy of investment, and a willingness to work across racial lines to get the job done. Not a bad example to for us to follow.