Several years ago I took three year old Rosa to her preschool. After some relaxing time in the sandbox, she headed for the dome climber. In the past, she’d hang on the lowest bars making futile attempts to climb, then quickly move on to something else.
Usually, I gave advice or encouragement, or boosted her up when asked. But when I became an in-town hands-on grandparent, I had to reconsider my role and responsibilities, this second chance at parenting. Though I’d worked with children most of my life, I’d recently been absorbing wisdom from child development expert Janet Lansbury. Her hands-off approach to learning made sense: allow kids to experiment and figure things out for themselves, on their own, granting them ownership and pride. How much more could I step back and let her unfold in her own time?
When Rosa’s friend (and competitor) Mae successfully climbed to the top of the gym that morning, Rosa grew more determined. This time when she asked for help I told her I’d be nearby, and it was up to her to figure it out.
This new hands-off approach was one of several small changes I’d made since moving and retiring a few years prior. Not exactly reinventing myself, more like seeing what fits, what’s stale, what’s no longer needed, wanting to create a more intentional life.
“I don’t know if I want to move,” a friend said recently, her feelings mixed about relocating in her 60s, daunted by the effort and unknown results. “I’ll still be me even if I move.”
Well, yes and no, I thought, and am still thinking about. (Don’t you love those sorts of conversations, where something sticks and you keep thinking about it?) I’m still the same me I was before moving from California to Oregon eight years ago, but I do feel different. The shifts have been a mix of purposeful, accidental, and unexpected.
The location change jarred open my perspective, expectations, and habits in ways that wouldn’t have happened in the same town I’d lived in for three decades. There, my ways had grown entrenched and boring.
The change in latitude and schedule jerked me out of old routines. While I’m still a creature of habit, I’m on the lookout for the new and different. I look more closely, try to see with new eyes. I step outside the tried and true to find new to me activities and discover new favorites.
Some shifts are a result of a change in climate, by going from town to city, from beach town to river and mountain town. I have new destinations – not just hikes and parks and beaches, but also new stores, driving routes, park benches, and places to eat. It’s a cracking open.
I’m free to move at any speed – meandering or swift, headlong or considered, without deadlines and with flexibility. I became my own boss for the first time in a long while. Well, except for the grandkids. At times I have to invent my own deadlines, but I’m the kindest boss. With my oldest friends and musical pals far away, and a focus on grandkids and kids, there are fewer people in the mix, which also frees up time.
These changes feel like emerging from a cocoon. It’s peeling off layers like an onion. It’s slowing the train to see the changing details out the windows. It’s taking time to consider, dream, and muse. It’s permission to mix things up. And yes it’s arduous, but also exciting.
Back at preschool, I was intrigued by Rosa’s experiments with trying to scale the angled bars; one foot up and hoisting herself, creeping up two bars with each foot, alternately progressing and stepping back. She found an approach that offered both security and progress and made it up to the first level. Her wide grin told me she knew it was all her own victory. I saw it was the Lansbury approach in a small vignette, a victory for me, a lesson in letting go.
Attempting the next level, she cruised round and round looking for the key. She slipped and fell, landing hard. Usually she would have cried or given up; it was a hard drop. I held back, and she barely paused to complain. With a grim smile she said something about how she’d meant to jump off. Then she got back to work.
This is not to say how much I love this girl (though I do), or about her skills (certainly others climb soon after they walk). It’s a quotidian moment, one I might not have noticed had I looked the other way, talked to someone nearby, or looked down at my phone.
It was a subtle moment – allowing a child space to discover in their own time, letting them own their learning. And I grab these moments for myself too – slowing down to re-educate myself, change my approach, be more intentional, try new things, and see results from simple actions.
Here is Ezra doing the same thing at the same age, both of us figuring it all out
I like going at child speed. There’s no rush. We can take time to examine every tree, shrub and tree house, walk on walls and rocks, and talk to everyone who says hi. I don’t need to be over-concerned with their achieving and accomplishing – I know they’ll get where they need to be in their own time. Lucky me, I get to stand by and watch it all unfold.
When I can shut down the inner critic, I try to give myself that same permission. Time for the things I love, to figure out new loves, and get where I need to be at my own pace. From here, it all seems full of possibility.
It’s so easy for us to fix children, turn them over, pick them up, put the blocks together for them, do the puzzle piece. We can do those things, but whenever we do, we’re erasing the possibility that our child can have an “I did it” moment — to feel that incredible gift of agency in their life, of ability. We’re going to take that away sometimes because we’re human beings and we don’t want to see our child uncomfortable. It will happen, but we want to be aware… if we do value this idea of our child’s feelings of competence and agency in the world that will encourage them to be lifelong learners, to embrace lifelong learning, joyfully.Janet Lansbury
6 thoughts on “A Change of Pace”
Thank you for sharing this jewel.
Guess what? It freed me up as well. I am starting my day as if I have moved – with more letting go and perceiving once again with beginners eyes.
Write on Nancy,
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I love this Rochelle. Thanks for being here.
Let me first say that your writing is beautiful. I always feel like we are in conversation somehow, with you telling me a story over coffee. I can so relate to what you describe about allowing Rosa the opportunity to figure it out for herself. We went through a similar period with my nephew Blake. He didn’t need us to do things for him, but the support nearby was invaluable and without it he may not have developed the same confidence. I think this principle of learning applies to all of us. Sometimes, what we think of as helping people is actually a kind of enabling that robs them of an experience. Let all things (and people) be as they are. It’s one of the hardest, most generous things we can do for one another
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I’ve always held on to what John Holt said. “To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” It’s a lifelong process for most of us, to get over that mistrust! Thank you for being here, and for being part of the conversation. Can’t wait for that coffee.
“You did it”!
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We did. xx