Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Being, at the park.

You've found the perfect park for your outing with twins. You have your bag packed with diapers, snacks, shoes, drinks, and a well-charged smartphone for snapping pics of your adorable offspring. You will *only* use your phone for occasional photos and checking the time. (See this New Yorker piece for an eloquent argument against even snapping photos) The rest of the time it stays in your bag. 

You have spare clothes if you're going somewhere you're likely to need them. You have jackets if it's going to be cold. You have sand toys for sand parks, and extra balls just in case. And you know that the park is going to be an easy place to keep track of your kids.

Friends are good, too—I try to meet up with one or two other moms a few times a week, especially other moms of twins. Being at the park with other people who know you and know your kids means that you have an extra set of eyes and ears. And there are likely to be fewer conflicts (in my experience, at least) because the kids know each other. After months of seeing the same people, the boys look forward to seeing their friends—and I look forward to seeing mine!

Sharing a snack with good friends

Even with all that, you need to bring a few more things: for starters, trust and patience. 

Trust is about believing that your children have their own interests and their own agendas. Do they want to go up the stairs? Great! Do they want to spend 30 minutes pushing a truck around? Great! Maybe they're into pouring sand. Maybe they don't want to use the shovel the way that you think they should use the shovel—that's ok, too. Don't force them to do what you think they should do—free, unstructured play is children's work. Just because you think your kid wants to swing or slide doesn't mean s/he wants to. Lots of times, kids like to climb the stairs to the slide, but not slide down. That's ok, too. They're working on climbing and enjoying feeling up high. When they want to come down, they'll figure out how. Your job at the park is to reinforce the boundaries that do matter: no hitting, biting, pushing. Use words to describe what happens when conflicts seem to be mounting; offer other choices when conflicts escalate. Acknowledge the problem, then see if your kids can come up with a solution.

11 months old, enjoying some stair play. Notice that they are in charge of how high, how fast, and how they go up.

I love this paragraph from Lisa Sunbury about play:
So what is your role as a parent or teacher of young children? The idea is for the adult to create an environment that invites play and then allow the child to explore and experiment within that environment to his heart’s content, without showing him how it’s supposed to be done. This leaves your child in control, and preserves his natural, inborn desire and ability (intrinsic motivation- from within) to play. When your child plays, he is not only learning, he is learning how to learn!
So trust your kids to find interesting things to do and see and explore. Trust them to know the limits of what their bodies can do. And trust that they will push those limits, too. You'll be there to catch them; you won't be holding their shirt while they walk and constantly telling them to be careful.

Janet Lansbury says it best:
The key to fostering an “I can” mentality is simple… Accept, appreciate and allow whatever children are able to do in that moment, rather than expecting or encouraging them to do more.

Patience: You have to learn to be patient with yourself, to let yourself sit back and watch. It's hard to do when you have two toddlers running in opposite directions. I've found that I'm most able to sit back and watch if they're running on the ground. Up high is hard. You want to help. I try to just stand close then, not interfere too much. My boys know that I trust them to know their limits, and usually, they're right. It's almost always when I second-guess them or try to "help" that they seem to falter and get frustrated. So, I try to remind myself to wait, wait, wait before stepping in. I don't always wait long enough, and I really don't wait long enough when I'm nervous or distracted. But doing this stuff is a practice. It takes time. It's really, really hard not to explain why they fell, when they do fall. My personal resolution is to do a better job of asking questions like "Would you like to try that again?" It's so easy to want to protect and direct. What you have to to is help them persist and discover. 

Yes, even 18-month-olds can share...if you let them work it out and don't yell at them to share.

And that's the thing about babies and toddlers: they take lots of time to do things. A four-block walk can take an hour. You can't have an agenda; if you do, you'll be frustrated. If you have plans, you have to be ready to listen to some complaints as you attend to the business of getting there. Plan to hear some crying, some screaming, plan that you might have to be firm about getting in the car, changing diapers, whatever. This is part of living with children. We adults are thinking five steps ahead. They're thinking about now. Slow down, take a look from their perspective. Part of many of our park outings these days is the walk to the park from our car. This can take up to twenty minutes. And that's fine.

Sometimes we stop to check out holiday lights. 

Here's what you really need to know about being at the park: it's about being, at the park. Take the time to watch your kids explore and learn. Follow their lead. Your job is to get them outside. Let them show you the rest.