Thursday, September 23, 2021

Just The Right Amount


His mother told me that he had been a "busy" baby, a trait that still defined him as a two-year-old. She warned me about his "battery" that never seemed to require recharging. If I needed him to calm down, she said, he would pause for a storybook or two, but that's all she had for me by way of advice for "dealing with him."

None of this was a problem for us. We're a play-based preschool, so "dealing with him" involved setting him free to pursue his own education and be as busy as he wanted.

As I got to know him, I clearly saw what his mother had been talking about. He had a kind of joyful relentlessness about life that I found inspiring. Everything interested him. Most things even thrilled him. It made me want to be more like him. Of course, this is true of most children with whom I've worked, but in this boy it was all turned up to 10. I could see how his propensities might make him "a handful" for future teachers who would attempt to divert him from his interests toward those of curricula or schedules. He would not be one for sitting attentively at a desk or marching in a straight line.

But those were concerns for those future teachers. Right now he was two and being "busy" is exactly what he needed to be doing. 

One day I sat with his mother, watching her son digging holes in the sandpit. She began to talk about herself. She was an executive with one of the large technology companies in Seattle, a job that ate up her waking hours. She complained of being tired all the time, of feeling that she could never get around in front of things, and of the anxiety it often caused her. She was grateful for our cooperative school in that it "forced" her to set aside at least one morning a week, phone silenced, to slow down and be with her child, although she admitted that a part of her brain simply could not stop fretting over work. 

"I guess he's like me," she sighed about her son.

I asked, "Oh no, does he tend to be anxious?"

She thought about it for a second. "No actually. He's our gung-ho guy."

"Well, that's good."

She nodded. "I guess our similarities are only superficial. We share energy and passion, but he never gets overwhelmed by it. He's busy like me, but my busy-ness devours my life. He never seems to feel like there's too much. It's always just the right amount."

I knew what she meant.

"He's never too busy and he's never bored. I feel like I spend most of my time living in the future. He lives in the present. I think that's the big difference. He just does what's in front of him."

It's part of the wisdom of childhood that we have to unlearn in order to become adults in our modern world. We spend the rest of our lives trying to re-learn it. I'm reminded of the story of Eve and Adam and the Garden of Eden, a lost utopia to which we yearn to return. I'm reminded of the quest of Buddhists for a quiet mind. I'm reminded of all the present moments that I've missed by being too busy.

As we talked, the boy dropped his shovel. He began gathering stones to drop into the holes he'd dug.

He was busy, but not too busy. He had a lot to do, but not too much. It was just the right amount.

******

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