Last summer I was given the honor of accompanying my newly minted five-year old granddaughter, to a local park while all the other adults were in various stages preparing for a wedding at our friend’s house.
When offered the opportunity to go to the park with Pappy, she got excited. I have no illusion it was because she and I would spend some alone time together; I was clear, that it was about the park and playground.
She was pretty excited by the time we got there. We parked the car and walked towards the park. As we crested the hill and looked down on the play area, we saw before us a pretty amazing little park. Water features, slides of all sizes and configurations, a mock-up of a tractor, (we were in farm country in middle Indiana, after all) spring loaded horses and motorcycles to rock back and forth on, a giant pyramid made up of tight ropes that one could climb up, along with a ton of other choices.
So, what did she want to do first, I asked? She didn’t respond with words, she used her body. She wanted to sit. So, we just sat down at the top of the hill and watched what was happening. For a good 10 minutes.
I was in my best “Let things be” mode and simply sat down beside her. I WANTED to say “Don’t you want to……..”, but, I just kept my mouth shut. After a while she said “hold my cover-up and shoes, please”, and headed to the water feature, dragging me along. She dipped her toes in the fountain, turned around, reached for her cover-up and her shoes. Water feature, done. I WANTED to say “But don’t you want to……….”. I kept my mouth shut.
Next we moved to the giant pyramid of tight ropes. She looked at it. Walked all the way around the base of it, climbed up on the lowest rope. Took a few steps. Jumped off. Rope pyramid done. I WANTED to say “Why don’t you……….”. I resisted the urge.
Off to the tractor. She stayed there about 30 seconds. Climbing up, taking a few turns of the steering wheel. Off and done with the tractor. You now know what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to ruin my perfect record so far.
On to the slides. There was a tower that served as the starting point for all the slides. As one went further and further up the tower steps, the slides got longer and wilder. She slowly climbed to the top, taking a look and imagining, I would guess, what that ride would be like. Without saying a word, she climbed back down the steps, having decided, you guessed it, that she was done with the slides.
The thought came to me that it would serve MY needs (wherever those “needs” of mine come from) if she would be a little more bold, take a few more risks, push herself beyond her comfort zone. TRY something. DO something for crying out loud. People need to push themselves right? Especially little kids.
What I didn’t realize at that moment, was that she was doing things.
Next thing I know she was kicking off her shoes, throwing me her cover-up and running to the water feature. And off she went plunging into the water. You’d think that would be good enough for me right? Wrong. See, there were parts of the water feature that she was playing in, true enough, but there were other parts she was avoiding. I wanted to point out the parts that looked like they would be fun that she wasn’t experiencing, that were a little bigger, and a littler riskier, but I kept my mouth shut.
And guess what. Over the next 20 minutes she found and experienced all those places. In her own good time. At her own pace. In her own way. In her own order. She was stretching herself. Safely. No outside grand-parental unit needed to prompt her, to challenge her, to help order her choices.
Next on to the rope tower. I watched in amazement (still biting my tongue to not say “how about going a little higher, I’ll catch you”; which is another way of saying “It would be of great benefit if you challenged your fear”; “you’re not getting all the benefit out of this play time as you could”; “there are important life lessons here about facing your fear”; ultimately unconsciously suggesting “you’re not doing this good enough”) as each time she would begin to climb I saw she was concentrating on how the ropes would support her, testing them, finding the next handhold, going very slowly and deliberately. She explored what happened when she stepped on this one, and grabbed hold of that one. Learning by trial and error what the best position was for her feet and hands, which way to face…
I realized that she was gradually going higher and higher. Testing herself. Stretching herself. In her own good time. At her own pace. In her own way. In her own order. She was determining what “safe” was for her. What enough was for her. Challenging herself to do a little more from time to time, then coming back to what felt safe and comfortable. No outside grandparental unit needed to prompt her, to challenge her, to help order her choices.
I also noticed something else. She was smiling so broadly. So pleased with herself. Not saying a word except before starting on one especially scary climb, directing me, “Pappy, stay right there and catch me, ok?”
This pattern repeated itself at the slides and all the other areas of the park. She explored every one of them. At her own pace. In her own way. In her own good time.
During the hour and a half that we were there, I don’t believe we said more than a dozen words. But we shared countless looks. Countless moments of shared delights expressed through our smiles at each other.
The life lesson I took away, was to be reminded that if I hold the space for another, offering support and presence, and keep my mouth shut in terms of suggestions and “why don’t you’s”, in other words giving unsolicited advice, and other such “helpful” interventions and comments, I will probably get to witness the wonder of a human being growing into their own truth, in their own good time. It isn’t that I won’t have any value. My value will be as a witness to the miracle of being human.