Wednesday, September 19, 2018


The two-year-old attached himself to one of the few intact toys that exist on our junkyard playground: an ancient (more than 20 years old) plastic shopping cart. He methodically filled it with things he found on the ground, nothing special, just whatever came to hand.

Elsewhere on the playground other two-year-olds were engaged in their own solo activities, just getting a feel for the place, this being their first day of school. The children that appeared to be playing together were, in fact, interacting through one of the adults. This will change as the year progresses. 

Apparently satisfied with the contents of his shopping cart, the boy began pushing it up the hill upon which our playground is built, managing it over our uneven, wood chip bestrewn ground. It was a slow process, not because it was hard for him to do, but rather because he wasn't in any particularly hurry. He was imitating behavior he had seen, perhaps, but without the goal-oriented urgency of delivering anything from point A to point B. This was about moving that cart, not going anywhere or being anything, but rather a process of becoming a human who can move a cart.

Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote, "The entire evolution of science would suggest that the best grammar for thinking about the world is that of change, not of permanence. Not of being but of becoming." I reflected on this as I watched those two-year-olds on their first day of school, their first day together on this playground, already becoming, always becoming.

When the boy got near the top of the hill, he was approached by another child, attracted as he had been by the shopping cart. In her interest, she inadvertently blocked his way, stopping his progress. She took hold of the opposite side of the cart from him, peering into its basket as if taking inventory. They stood this way for a time, he impeded, she impeding, neither of them seeming to notice the other as they studied the situation in which they found themselves. One might have expected the boy to object or the girl to insist, but it seems that neither of them have become those humans yet. It wasn't until the boy released the cart in order to drop a handful of wood chips into it, that the girl seemed to notice him, not so much as a fellow human, but as an action that drew her attention. She smiled as she watched him, then made a sound. When he looked up he found her smiling at him and he smiled back.

All of these young people, of course, are experienced in connecting with other people. Indeed, they have not fully identified themselves as something separate from their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their households of other people. They know they are part of their families; now they are becoming part of the wider world.

The two children stood smiling at one another across the shopping cart. Then they began to move, together, the girl pushing the cart down the hill, the boy pulling it, walking backwards, the two of them still smiling at one another.

This is what I expect to see from two-year-olds. Some of the change they will experience together will follow a more or less predictable pattern. They will find one another, discovering as they play that they are part of something bigger. They will struggle to figure it out, becoming more competent, more self-aware, more individuated, more connected, until it's the people, not the toys that first capture their attention when they step onto the junkyard playground. But most of the becoming we will see over the next few weeks, then months, then years, is entirely unpredictable: I might be able to anticipate the general picture, but the particulars of what they will become, both as individuals and together, can't be known until it has been created.

The boy and the girl made their way, unhurriedly, smiling, down the hill until they came to a flatter piece of ground. This time when the boy stooped to pick up a handful of wood chips, their eye contact broken, the girl looked away and they went back to their separate journeys of becoming.

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