Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Little Girl And A Ladybug

From today's Times and News-Star

Do you remember your mom telling you when you were little to “get out of the house”?

She wasn’t throwing you out. At least not for good. She was just telling you to get outside where the action was. In the sunshine. With the grass and the trees and the sky.

If Walt Whitman was right in his poetry -- if a child goes forth every day, and the objects he looks upon, that object he becomes, and that object becomes part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, or for many years or stretching cycles of years -- then we need to be vigilant in the sorts of molds we offer our children, in the kinds of objects and experiences they take in.

Common sense, we would think. But parenting’s not for sissies. It’s such a fulltime job that it’s easy to take a day off. Or a week. And by then a new habit is formed and our boys or girls have lost interest in what we knew was good for them and gained interest in something that will hardly benefit them at all.

Maybe springtime is a great time to establish or re-establish a beachhead, one that’s familiar to the older crowd. It sounds corny, but The Great Outdoors really is.

When you’re little, your whole job is to play. You learn through playing. How things work. How other kids work when they’re playing. How you get along with them and still have fun.

The problem with video games is that, most of the time, they end up playing you. And often it’s just you and the couch and the TV set and the game. And potato chips.

Too much of anything is bad for you, so this is not picking on video games. But I hope they never take the place of a dog or a bike or a jump rope or a baseball glove.

It seems these days that you see kids playing outside less and less. I wonder if we’re telling our kids enough what our moms told us. “You kids get out of the house!”

Motherly music.

Most of the time when kids play outside it is an “organized activity.” Which is good. Soccer and basketball and all sorts of youth league things. But where the rubber meets the road is just kids supervising themselves in play. Pick-up games. Made-up games. Knocking around until you invent something. Breaking a sweat.

Playing is like beauty. It’s its only excuse for being.

My friend Weeds sent me a picture this week of a little girl, about three, flying a kite. Her grandmother had gotten it for her, and kites for her big brothers too. The boys got a green turtle and a purple cat to fly. (There is no rhyme or reason to grandmotherly kite choices.) The little girl got a giant red ladybug, helped a bit aerodynamically by yellow semi-wings.

In the picture the little girl holds the stick and string, and the ladybug is high above the trees, looking down at her with her big black and white ladybug eyes, and far behind the little girl is the ladybug’s shadow on the grass in the field, following her, just as the shadow of all this little girl does while she’s so young will follow her, even until that day, years and years and years from now, when she buys her granddaughter a kite.

Sometimes, somebody telling you to “go fly a kite” is a good thing.