Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Through Children's Eyes

I don't know if you've ever read anything by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, but if you haven't you may just want to run out and do so, right now. Or better yet, here's her blog! - it's destined for my ever-lengthening blogroll, as soon as I finish this post.

She writes about knitting, and I came across her book, Knitting Rules! after I'd been obsessed with knitting for a month or so. She made me laugh out loud, and also relax about knitting perfectly. She kind of helped me come up with my own way to practice this craft, with that book.

Recently I picked up her book of essays, Free-Range Knitter, and while I laugh and admire, I'm also finding answers to questions far beyond the realm of knitting.

Here's a quote from an essay about Stephanie's daughter:

Tenacity. Intelligence. Constructive discontent. Persistence. Sensitivity. A fantastic sense of humor. Independence. Mercy. Fearlessness. Kindness. Equity.

Now, these qualities are terrible qualities in a child. North America wants children (especially little girls) to be polite. Polite, obedient, and pliable... Kids who fight back and challenge you, say "no," and think for themselves are hard to raise and not thought well of at all.... I realized you couldn't tell a kid, "Do what I tell you," praise her for obedience, and then turn right around when she becomes a grownup and suddenly say, "Think for yourself" and condemn adults who are still compliant.

These words keep coming back to me. They make me think of a song by the Limeliters, a band my Dad loves from the era of The Kingston Trio and The Clancy Brothers. This particular song, Through Children's Eyes, is about how easy it is as grown-ups to forget that children are learning all the time, and that they do certain things for certain reasons. Here's the chorus:

Hey Jimmy Joe John Jim Jack/
Even little tigers lose their knack/
When somebody twice their size/
Can't see the world through children's eyes

The preceeding verse was about a tiny little tiger whose nursemaid "made him so afraid, he didn't dare make a noise." And guess what happened to him when he grew up?

He's just a mat
Stretched out flat
On somebody's bedroom floor

A harsh verse for a children's song, you think? But that is where the lesson comes in. We are given exactly one childhood each, and what we learn in that childhood must take us through our whole lives. Will we teach our children to question, to say no, to challenge, to show kindness where an adult might not? As frustrating as parenthood can be, my answer to those questions has to be yes.

Because I'm not interested in an obedient, compliant adulthood for my boys, one in which they're the mat on the bedroom floor. I want them to be as tiger-y as their hearts will allow. I know that they'll be tigers interested in justice, tigers on the side of good.


jugglingpaynes said...

Marina has another book by Stephanie, "At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much." She agreed that the author is very funny.

Interesting how once I decided to embrace my unschool-y side I have come across a lot of books with a free-learning flavor. Right now, my son is reading "Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar" by James Marcus Bach. I'll give his review of it once he's done. :o)

Peace and Laughter,

Firefly mom said...

Great post! And you're right about adults wanting kids to be pliable, but I think that it extends to boys now, too. I think that's why SO MANY schools insist on kids being doped up on Ritalin before they're allowed back in school. Of course, I was once told by a school counselor that they considered boys who played with GI Joes to be "mentally and emotionally unstable." :P

Susan said...

I loved this post. Especially I want them to be as tiger-y as their hearts will allow. I wholeheartedly agree.

Sparklee said...

Go tigers! Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all stood up for what is right instead of just going with the flow...

Very thought-provoking post. I'll have to check out her blog and essays.

sgaissert said...

I think you're a great parent, Karen.

Karen said...

Cristina - I am dying to read Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar! I look forward to your son's review.

Firefly Mom - thanks. When I was a teacher we had a ban on war play of all kinds, even if it might be constructive ("Oh! This GI is wounded, let's get him to the MASH unit!" I actually heard that come out of a five-year-old's mouth once... and I had to put a stop to the game). Some of our country's most important humanitarians point to the Cowboys and Indians games of their childhoods as a way they learned empathy, and I don't see anyone calling them emotionally unstable.

Susan - thanks. I wish I'd been more tiger-y and less obedient as a child!

Sparklee - thanks. I love your new pic! I haven't had much time to check out Stephanie's blog yet, I bet it's more knitting than life... but speaking as a knitter that's probably a good thing :-)

Susan - oh, I'm blushing... right back atcha :-)

Cheers all, and thanks for reading while I've been on hiatus! It's nice to return to the funny, thought-provoking comments of my bloggy buddies.


Shawna said...

Thank you so much for this post. I definitely need to nurture the free spirit in my daughters more and demand obedience less.

Karen said...

Shawna - you're welcome :-) It is hard to remember that sometimes, but it's worth it if we can!

Chris said...

It's such a fine line in needing children to realize there is a time when they need to do as you say right away (as in they'll be hit by a car, or if they dash away out of sight they'll get lost - can you tell I have four year olds?), and them questioning your decisions as a parent in a constructive, good way. I try to only require things that are truly necessary of my kids, so they can trust that I'm not making arbitrary demands and what I'm telling them to do at the moment is very important.