A little girl around the age of five walked around the playground in sea-green leggings and a pink tee-shirt. Her wild wavy hair was the same color as her tanned skin, a golden brown that saw hours of sun. She walked toward the stairs of the play structure and stopped. “Oh no.” She said.
“What?” Another little girl asked.
She was smaller, thinner and darker. Her long black hair held more curls but was neatly pulled together in a tight pony tail. She followed the golden girl around – mimicked her every move – stomped on the same piles of wood chips on the concrete balance beam that lined the playground.
“Boys.” The golden girl shook her head and advanced with care.
But the little one did not follow. Instead, she chose another direction.
Four children climbed up four tether-ball poles. Their backpacks splayed across the blacktop underneath them. One of them was my daughter’s. She laughed as she struggled to climb further up the pole. The other three poles had boys dangling from the tops of them. They all looked like circus performers: acrobats doing tricks for an audience. I love to be in their audience. They always amuse and enchant me. And I never have to pay for a ticket to the playground.
While Abe plays in a baby bath tub shaped like a whale, I read to him. I love our new ritual. I think he loves it too. I know it is good for us, for his brain and language development, and for my confidence when writing and speaking.
I’m currently reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. A quote I read in Chapter 1, Desire: Sweetness, Plant: The Apple, reminded me of raising children. I wanted to remember it but I had nothing to underline, highlight or write with. And I was afraid to leave Abe because he liked to stand up in his tub, put his foot on the edge and reach for all of the bottles on the outer tubs rim. For the moment, he sat happily splashing in his little pond of water so I decided to make a run for it. I rushed out of the bathroom, grabbed the highlighter in the top drawer of my desk, and ran back in less than ten seconds. Abe sat there and smiled sweetly. I smiled in return and then highlighted the quote:
“Yet as the modern apple’s story suggests, domestication can be overdone, the human quest to control nature’s wildness can go too far. To domesticate another species is to bring it under culture’s roof, but when people rely on too few genes for too long, a plant loses its ability to get along on its own, outdoors.”
I thought of how “domestication can be overdone.” Children are naturally wild and “the human quest to control nature’s wildness can go too far.” We try to domesticate children, to tame them, to control them. We teach them to be calm and still. But children are curious and crafty. They are explorers who naturally love to learn and play. We need to give them room to run wild and explore, in order to avoid “a plant los[ing] its ability to get along on its own, outdoors.” If we try to control them too much, if we “overly domesticate” them, they will lose their natural, inherent sense to discover, to experiment and be joyful. I believe children are happiest when they see the world as a playground.
A few days ago I caught myself telling one of my daughters, “Does this look like a playground?”
She had her roller skates on – in the house! I did not want her rolling those dirty wheels all over the floors.
But when I think of Abe splashing in the little blue whale inside of our bath tub, I see our home as a playground. He’s learning how to play here; he’s exploring: crawling, walking, reaching for things, and trying to climb up higher and higher. When he eats: he holds a piece of food in his hands, looks down at the floor and finds the perfect spot to drop it. I told the family, “It’s his art. The floor is his canvas.”
Sometimes I forget we are living in a playground. That doesn’t mean I want roller skates or food all over the carpets. But play does happen here, so does learning, experimenting, and growing. My children are beautiful plants always in bloom. And I will never again ask, “Does this look like a playground?” Because I know it is.