Last week in Virginia, I spent a morning baby-sitting my 2½-year-old grandson, Walker. His mother had suggested plenty of possible activities. We could use play-dough. We could read books or draw. We could go outside.
I opted to let Walker decide. I would have no plan. I would go with what he chose, and then stay with it as long as he was interested. If he were safe and kind — both important to his parents and me — we would do what he wanted.
As soon as we were alone, I asked Walker, “What shall we do?”
He said, “Wait. Where’s Daddy?”
I asked him, “Where is Daddy?”
He said, “At work. Where’s Mommy?”
I asked, “Where is Mommy?”
“Gone in car with Taylor. Where is Taylor?”
“Where is he?”
“At the doctor’s.”
He answered all his own let-me-get-oriented questions, which helped me trust his ability to take charge of his morning. I asked again, “What do you want to do with Susu?”
With a self-determined nod of his head, he said, “Play boomerang. I show you.”
As we walked downstairs, I offered him my hand. He said, “No.”
“No, thank you,” I reminded him. to reinforce the teaching of kindness.
“No, thank you,” he repeated.
In the playroom he marched straight to the yellow rubber four-pronged boomerang. He picked it up and pitched it across the room. I figured it was my turn to return it. He said, “No. Susu, I get it. Watch. I throw again.”
He pranced around the carpet, skipping with this little toy, tucked it in close to his belly then snapped his wrist to release it. “Ready?” he’d say as he let it fly. If it landed near me, I’d fetch it and pitch it. We chased it for an hour or so. He never tired. He had found and was following an inner joy.
I got bored. I felt the urge to take the reins and say, “How about we sit now and build with these blocks?”
But I remembered my vow to make room for him to find his own way, to give him a clean slate to fill as he liked. He rolled on the carpet in laughter when the boomerang landed in the Venetian blinds, under the sofa, on the stair landing. Skip, jump, toss. Over and over. I watched this monkey of a toddler with my own monkey mind, restless, yearning to try another game, any other game. I tried to settle my impatience in the midst of the repetitive throw-fetch-sprint-throw, trying to keep my mind right here. Another half hour.
Again and again he’d toss way up high and each time say, “Ready?”
My mind wandered to let’s-have-lunch. He stayed present, whipping off zigzags and slants, high and low shots. He paid attention to just this flick of the wrist, just this moment-to-moment action while I tried to “be here now” whether I felt like it or not, to honor him, to show him encouragement, attention, appreciation and acceptance, all those qualities we adults so want our children to learn.
As much as I ached to, I didn’t pull him away from his passionate play because at some level I understood that only from my being kind toward his wishes would he learn kindness. To keep my promise to let him be required more brain aerobics than the physical gymnastics of playing boomerang. After two hours of his outer athleticism and my inner calisthenics, he finally said, “I hungry. All done boomerang.”
Now home in Maine, I am aware of how quickly my mind jumps to run the show, organize myself and others. So I am trying “let it be” practice again. As if I am with Walker, I am making what feels like a Herculean effort to go with the flow in conversation or life, not to change the subject, to drop my brilliant ideas and clever agendas. Sometimes it’s excruciatingly hard. My mind ricochets more than any boomerang.
Do you want to join me in letting-be practice? If so, choose a block of time, a clean slate. Remove any ideas of how to orchestrate anything or anyone. Let life zigzag and slant. Keep wiping your mind clear and see what happens. Ready?
Susan Lebel Young, MSEd, MSC, is a retired psychotherapist. Her new book is “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.”
Email: [email protected]; www.heartnourishment.com