Monday, July 29, 2019

The World Beyond Her Four Walls

 "Children grow up and discover that the world is not as it seemed from within the four walls of their homes. Humankind as a whole does the same." ~Carlo Rossi, The Order of Time

She was on our playground for the first time, a two-year-old there in the world beyond the four walls of her house. I know that in her short life she's already known other walls as home, having recently moved to Seattle from elsewhere, but this was her first time here on our junkyard playground, a place that her mother told me was unlike any she had ever been. But even if she had been on other junkyard playgrounds, this was still the world beyond her four walls.

Her mother stayed with her, which is what parents get to do at cooperative schools, but she had summoned the courage or given in enough to her curiosity to roam away from mommy. She was standing alone there in the big world, not looking worried, but also not looking comfortable. Near her on the ground was an old pepper grinder that has recently turned up. I picked it up and said, "This is a good toy," then I held it toward her.

She paused a moment, looking at me and then the grinder. It might have been my imagination, but I think she nodded, as if to say, I'm going to take your word for it, before wrapping her fingers around it. She then studied it for a moment, feeling it's smooth polished wood surface before cupping her hand over the round top. The set screw is missing (which is likely why the grinder wound up amongst our junk) which meant that she could easily remove the top, separating the machine into two parts. She peered into the hole of the grinder that housed the drive shaft (and pepper corns in it's previous life as a tool rather than a toy), then looked at the round top which she held in her other hand. She then attempted to put it back together. It took a couple tries to get the drive shaft through the small hole in the top.

Then she took it apart and put it back together again.

Then again.

Then again.

I said, "It's a puzzle."

She looked at me blankly for a second as if considering this, then smiled faintly and shook her head. This was not a puzzle. Or, at least, this was not what puzzles look like within the four walls. After several more tries, she discarded the top, then picked up a pebble which she inserted into the drive shaft hole. She then dumped it out. Then she did it again.

Then again.

Then again.

I sang a line from a song by the great Tom Hunter, "Fill it up and dump it out and fill it up again. Dump it out and fill it up and dump it out again."

She liked that. She showed me by smiling before going through the process a couple more times. She then retrieved the top and threaded the drive shaft back through the hole the way she had previously taught herself to do it. While she was down there, a shovel caught her eye, so she picked that up too.

I said, "That's a shovel."

She thought about that while looking at me, then said, "Shovel," holding it up. Then she held up the grinder in her other hand and said, "Puzzle." She was fully outside her four walls now.

I had to go on to other things then, but the next time I saw her she was trying to hand the grinder to another two-year-old, who didn't want anything to do with it. She then took it apart and put it back together again before holding it out to her again saying, "Puzzle." The other girl looked at her blankly for a moment. It might have been my imagination, but I think she nodded, as if to say, I'm going to take your word for it, before wrapping her fingers around this thing that didn't look like the puzzles she had at home.

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