Sunday, August 31, 2014

B103: To Parents: Let the Children Enjoy the Truck

Yesterday I went to the zoo. Not just any zoo, but the amazing NC Zoological Park which is more like an amusement park of animal attractions. It takes about 5 hours to cover the park.

At one point I was at a high overlook, viewing the vast grasslands of the rhinoceroses when I witnessed the following exchange between a presumed father and his toddler son:*

Father: Look at the rhinoceros. See the rhinoceros?
Child: (with excitement in his voice) Truck! 
(There was a pickup truck passing in the distance on the service road, surely unnoticed and unremarkable to any of the adults present.)
Father: You can see a truck anytime. We didn’t come here to look at trucks. We came to look at animals.

This conversation disturbed me and stayed with me even after I returned home, so I write this letter to that daddy and to all other adults who have lost touch with the wonder and simplicity of a child.

Dear Father,

As adults we have become tainted. We have seen the world and have grown bored with it, always seeking new stimulation, new experiences, new adventures, and we have bought into the misconception that to buy our children such constant adventure will surely make them happy children. The zoo is indeed a wonderful place for children, if given in child-size bites and through the eyes and energy of the child; but when tainted with the adult mindset of “I paid money to get you in here, and we’re going to get the most of that money,” the child is destined to become tired, frustrated , and emotionally out of control long before the adult has gotten his money’s worth.

In the eyes of a child, the everyday world is filled with awe and wonder, new things to see and analyze, new sights to process. What the child needs, wants, and appreciates most is your intimacy, your love, spending time with him at his level. Too much outside stimulation is overwhelming. Your son was not captured at that moment by the distant rhinos, but, amidst the over-stimulating new environment, he spotted something familiar to him, a truck, and it made him happy. What if you had stopped there with him and said “Yes, truck! That looks a little like Uncle Bob’s truck, doesn’t it?,” and let the child take the lead. He will let you know when one of the animals captivates his attention and his awe, just as he will let you know when he is too hot and tired to enjoy any more exhibits.

Was the zoo trip really for the child, or was it for you? I suspect that in your mind it was all for the child. Yet you were the only one to decide what he was allowed to enjoy. In your adult mind, this trip was for animals, not trucks.

You are not alone. Even in my zoo path, I encountered another similar exchange, this one between a mother and a maybe nine-year-old daughter. Walking by a quite impressive playground, with a rope-built suspended  walkway, which captivated even my awe, the child asked to walk across it. The mother though, intent on moving on to the next animal exhibit, responded with “Why do you want to do that? So you walk across it – So what?” Oh, my heart hurt for the child and for the mother who missed the simple request of the child she no doubt wanted to make happy.  I wanted to ask the mother, “So you see the polar bear exhibit – So what?” Is there really anything inherently superior about our adult agendas, especially when the goal of the entire day was to give the children happiness?

We all lose that wonder at times, but we can get it back. We can restore it by sitting on the floor with our children as they play, and playing with them at their invitation in their way, letting them take the lead. Even if we would rather play with some other toy, we will go with the simple truck or with whatever he chooses to hand to us. Or we can walk around the yard with him and stop to look with him at whatever small wonder catches his attention – a bug, a neighbor’s old tractor, a pine cone – even if we have forgotten the wonder that it holds.

Children are untainted, precious, and naturally full of awe, but they must process the world at their own pace, which they will share with us if we let them.

I'm sure you are a terrific father, and I just happened to catch you at a tired moment. Fortunately we adults can rest and start afresh tomorrow, with the knowledge that the awe of a child is far more natural and precious than the tainted viewpoints we adults impose upon them and ourselves. See the truck! Truck! Yay for the truck!

*I didn’t know until I got home and was looking at my photos, but I actually captured the truck scene. You can see the truck near the upper right corner of the above photo.

Similar post:
B47: Angel Unaware


Joyce said...

Beautiful Kathy!

Kathy Vestal said...

Thank you, Joyce! I love hearing from you!

kellbell said...

This made me cry. I was that parent. Several instances came to my mind, and yes, it was all about "getting my money's worth". We can joke about it now that my kids are older, thank God, but it hurts my heart wishing I would have been different. Hopefully I'll be a better grandparent. :)

Kathy Vestal said...

Kellbell, I think this is about all of us at some point, and yes, we all seem to make much better grandparents! It's the 24/7 schedule that tires our vision.