Saturday, April 9, 2011

Don't work with kids, play with them!

It’s a well known adage: don’t work with kids. Less often promoted are the benefits of playing with them.

My thoughts on this are purely anecdotal; I haven’t read any studies, but this is blogging and I can assert what I like. I do have a six-year-old niece, Charlotte, and a three-year-old nephew, Jack.  They are – to put it simply – awesome.

I also have a one-year-old niece named Molly, but she lives in America so I demonstrate no favouritism here by focusing on Charlotte and Jack. Maybe if she visited more often she would get a better look in… and Christmas presents.

I remember as a kid being so eager to grow up, there was always something alluring about even being just that one or two years older until, finally, I could drink and go to strip clubs (they were a let down).

The restlessness and excitement of growing up are part of the journey, as you learn about the world and accumulate skills through structured lessons and life experience.

But for all we pick up along the road to adulthood, I wonder whether many of us leave some important things behind as well; attributes often seen as childish or at odds with the maturity generally expected of adults. An active imagination, playfulness, youthful innocence, and that wide-eyed intrigue of young children are all wonderful qualities that seem to be gradually eroded by scepticism (or worse, cynicism), pragmatism and that sinister pretentious sense of ‘cool’ that grows as the school years progress.

Sometime you just have to say ‘fuck that adult bullshit,’ (obviously not in front of the kids) and embrace your inner-child.

It’s been established here that I’m prone to being a sad panda. At times over recent months my heart’s felt heavy and battered. Yet the two smallest people I know have this extraordinary ability to lift it up and inject a shot of affirmation, without even being aware they’re doing so.

Spending time with Charlotte and Jack is cathartic. Last weekend at a family function they were by far the most enjoyable interaction available. Discussing some of my interests, like seeing Graveyard Train play in a couple of weeks or whether Kevin Rudd should keep his mouth shut, would have left Charlotte glaring at me with puzzled wide eyes and furrowed brows. The joy comes from entering their world.

They are two of the most amazing, adorable people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They unwittingly make me feel good about this chaotic world, happy with myself, and remind me of the most basic elements that make life beautiful – imagination, love, playfulness, enthusiasm and energy, open-eyed exploration, and innocence.

I think I do have a strong attachment to my inner-child, which might go some way to explaining why, at 28, I don’t feel anywhere near equipped, financially or mentally, for parenthood. Not to mention the complete lack of choice I have in the matter right now (female anatomy and intercourse are still key factors I presume). But thank god for two fruitful older brothers, because goddamn I love being an uncle.

Charlotte is quite simply the most precious girl in the world. Her liveliness and excitable love of life exposes the lie of her introverted shell, something I relate to closely. In some ways we have more in common than I’d like. As her Godfather, it’s my duty to ensure two things above all else: that she appreciates her blessed, sensitive soul without falling into the vulnerabilities that have plagued other members of the family; and that she is exposed to music that will nourish her far more than the 80s and 90s ‘hits’ (crap) that dominate her dads iPod. No offence, my dear brother :o). At six she’s getting increasingly articulate and aware, but retains an infectious sense of fun, wonderful imagination and a beautiful laugh. And she is so gracious in putting up with Jack’s ruffian antics.

Frankly, when Jack was born I wasn’t sure how he could live up to his sister in my eyes. There’s no comparison though, they’re tremendously different, which makes for a great dynamic and time with them both all the more enjoyable for me.

Jack is almost indescribable. At once rough and caring, he’s the ultimate embodiment of playful abandon. He’ll pull your hair, gouge at your eyes and throw his feet into your chest and face with a sinister laugh – and its bad behaviour, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just so much fun I can’t get angry with him. If he goes too far, which he regularly does, he’ll apologise – and mean it – right before he whacks you again with a cheeky grin that you can’t help but catch. He’s nothing short of awesome, and I definitely want him on my side when he’s grown up!

Last week I spent most of the day playing with the kids rather than talking to any of my adult relatives. Playing made-up games with Charlotte’s and having Jack crawl all over me, inflicting a few minor pains, but that’s far outweighed by the fun – especially in his mind! Once seated amongst the adults for dinner I regularly sought to catch Charlotte’s eye and make faces at her, or try futilely to engage Jack while he watched The Lion King on his dad’s iTouch. He didn’t really appreciate the interruption, especially when I started quoting the film, and I was abruptly told off.

The relationship I have with these kids, and what it means to me, hit me strongly at the end of the night. As I shook hands with my brother, Jack – who was sitting on his shoulders – muttered something to me in a thoughtful manner that almost betrayed his usual persona. I didn’t quite hear it so I asked him what he said.

‘I like you Sam,’ he repeated softly. My heart simply melted, there’s no other way to describe my reaction. ‘I like you too Jack,’ I said.

He didn’t need to say it, we were only saying goodbyes. But hearing it was the absolute highlight of my whole weekend. When kids at that age say something like that you know they mean it; they’ve yet to have the concept of diplomacy properly drummed into them. They just blurt it out if they feel like it. And God bless them for that.

We’re not just relatives, we’re mates; it doesn’t matter how young they are. I love that they run to the front door to see me when I visit and I am always truly thrilled to spend time in their world, forgetting about the adult world, with its indulgences, pretentiousness and complications. An adult without a connection to childhood innocence, imagination and playfulness may be mature, but I put forward that their soul is shallow and unnourished. If you disagree, well nerr to you.

1 comment:

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