My grandson (14 mos.) wakes up from a nap. He is a bit groggy but happy to see me and ready to get going. Holding him, I open the drapes with one hand and point to the house next door, the trees, and blue sky, naming these aloud. He is interested. I gesture with one arm to the toys, books, and clothes in his room, telling him what he is looking at. I hold him over his crib and he drops his clutched giraffe and soother in the crib. A routine. We are done with his room and its immediate possibilities and enter the living room–his gated world, literally.
He sees what an adult sees–the usual furniture, draped window, rug, shelves, tv (never turned on while I am there)–and then his eyes fall on all his preferred and remembered images–the toys on the floor and shelves, his playpen, his toy vehicles, the tent in the corner, the Bichon-Shitzu dog–what he likely considers to be his next possibilities for the day.
I put him on the floor and he goes to his favorite–the colored plastic stacking cups–to begin taking them apart and then reassembling them in his preferred order. This is his more obvious first structured play routine–aside from turning pages of books–that intrigues him as a recurring play possibility from which the rest of his playtime can proceed.
Later I will crawl into his tent to wait for him to bring me cups or other toys, maybe even one of his vehicles pushed in, nose-first. Or some good old peekaboo play with the flap over the tent entrance. All these interesting, fun possibilities. Later in the day, the dog may go into the tent and he will follow to offer the dog her bone, once memorably being caught in the act of moving the bone up to his own mouth!
Possibilities. The possibilities of play, what a day might be like, and–imagined–a life might become ahead long-term.
I used to play with my two kids when we went to the restaurant. I would have them close their eyes before removing one item from the table. They would open their eyes and try to guess correctly which item had been removed. Pure simple fun arising as a spontaneous non-structured play activity in a random context. For me, looking back, this is the way I have lived my life, how I taught, how I performed, and how I played with others along the way. Always, the possibilities. What might be possible if one imagined and then created in process, spontaneously. The memorable fun that arose for me and others. As simple as killing some time in a restaurant or in the process of babysitting. Playing, performing with and for others. I still enjoy it.
In my own only-child childhood, I was lucky to be often left to play by myself and I, imaginatively and creatively, made my own fun. My own tent was two sticks in the ground with a rope in-between with a mogey-smelling blanket hanging over the rope. My own mongrel dog played with me inside. In winter, I was/became two hockey teams playing on the rink my Dad flooded for me over the driveway (we had no car). I played long into the blue darkness after school, skating and play-making free and blissfully happy. What Wordsworth called “delight and liberty” in his most famous poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”. The same thing I see, 56 years later, in my grandson in a world gone e-techno-nuts.
“Unknown” once said that the impossible can always be broken down into possibilities. Certainly that is an approach I have always used in many situations when faced with problems, crisis, and seemingly impossible obstacles. What is still possible here? What might happen next? What are the enjoyable/fun possibilities via play and performance? How can this situation be made better or improved? What learning possibilities might occur if I/we….? How might this possibility move me/us ahead somehow? What structures or approaches might be tried? Can fun, freedom, or order be created from this apparent boredom, chaos, or staticness?
Back to my grandson. He has learned to pull his books out of the book basket, to open them on the floor by himself, to push them across the floor, to drop them behind the hassock. He has also learned to put even large books on the table or couch, to stand and look at them while turning pages. He has a world, but it is one in which he is quickly achieving a mastery of environment and of the things therein. He explores different possibilities for these things as he plays, even with the same old cups. “Delight and liberty”, indeed.
I will do my best to change things up for him as will all the other family and friends. I will put his big rabbit on his car and push it across the floor. He will smile to see his rabbit driving/riding on his own. An interesting new possibility in his environment, very much like the ones he creates already himself for his own amusement. Possibilities. Simple fun possibilities which open up a larger world of experience. Along with the encouragement and support for such and playing with a child.
Outside our shared world, I know there are many other possibilities. I ponder a few. The children who never go outside all summer or after school. The children who are given screens, by my grandson’s age, to help prepare them for jobs and our brave new e-media world. (Questions in passing: Do babies and toddlers need screens, or to be ‘screened’? Do they need e-media advertising?) The ones whose parents stare at and into screens of smartphones and tablets and don’t speak to their children. The ones who are left to fend for themselves or told to go play with their own screens. A different approach. A different attitude. A different kind of play. A different kind of freedom and separateness.
And what are the possibilities implicit there? What is the learning? What is the interaction, care, connection, and love? Do the children ever get to play the old-fashioned way? Do the children feel “delight” and a range of imaginative possibilities that they themselves can generate naturally on their own? How might both kinds of children turn out in later life? What kind of personal world will they later choose, create, and live in? And how will parents of the future play with the children of the future?
Yes, that many possibilities.
William Blake once spoke of the necessity of creating his own “system” (or world) rather than being enslaved by another/’s. My own life has evolved from that basic tenet and a preference for and belief in a world of unlimited possibilities. As I have commented earlier, I am very much a possibilitarian. I hope my grandson is his own person, too, ultimately. I don’t know that the same can be said for a lot of folks today who have turned their lives, autonomy, minds, hearts, souls, and spirits over to screens primarily or exclusively. I sometimes wonder and fear what their “range”, depth, irony, humor, perspective, caring, balance, autonomy, and internal richness are like.