Childhood in Spring

Everyone is hoping that spring is finally here to stay. The desire to be outside and running around seems to be a physical pull in all of us. Our children, most of all, look forward to the warmer breeze, the greener grass, and the longer bouts of sunshine. Childhood in the springtime is a true joy.  As parents we can remember how important it was to us to have days full of playing in the water or the sandbox. Feeling quiet and calm as we lay on the grass and watch clouds drift by. We saved worms from rain showers and splashed in the puddles.

Spring also brings registration for next year’s school adventures. Deadlines around preschool and kindergarten, the rush to get on the list for the coveted summer camp our kids would love. That sense of relaxation can sometimes be whisked away by the pressure we now feel as parents to keep our children busy.  To be sure, the experiences that are available to our young children are fantastic and we should take advantage of new experiences that are available for them. Yet, have a goal to balance it all with a protection of childhood; expect that our young children will enjoy their days of spring and summer, they will join activities for the fun of them, and the learning will naturally develop and be enhanced because they are having fun. Provide developmentally appropriate experiences for your preschooler, and watch with joy as they get involved in messes, play with the hose, create sidewalk chalk art, and shout with glee.  This is the sort of spring we remember, the sort of childhood we hoped we could watch them enjoy.

In the series “This I Believe: On Motherhood” the author Marla Rose said it best:

The Essential Gift of Childhood

Marla Rose – Oak Park, Illinois
Entered on October 28, 2005

I believe in my three-year-old son, who is not in the 95th percentile of anything, who did not know his alphabet by his first birthday, who is struggling mightily with shoes and the potty and most social graces. He is truly mournful when leaves fall off the trees in autumn, and he is as gentle and weird and kind as I’d dreamed my child would be. He does not know a second language yet, but he has a magical belly laugh. I believe if I could play a recording of it to warring nations, he would be heralded as an international peacekeeper.

When I was a child in the 1970s, children were woefully unfashionable. Yet, in retrospect, that decade may have been the last time children were allowed some breathing space. We didn’t have to dwell so much on adult preoccupations of trends, fashion, and getting ahead. We could just be children.

I’m not romanticizing my own childhood, because it could be such a brutal, scary time. In my youth, I learned about alcoholism, about mothers who cried themselves to sleep, and about the everyday cruelties classmates inflict on some of us. I do not see childhood in a sepia-toned, idealized way.

This is why I so fiercely guard my son’s youth. In the years before we had hundreds of cable channels, and parents thought their newborns should be baby geniuses, negotiating the often pretty rugged terrain of childhood was our chief concern. I understand that the push for achievement and the pressures we face as parents can be overwhelming. But I believe that I would be robbing my child of an essential gift if I didn’t nurture and protect his youth. The world of playtime and the outdoors is the best laboratory available to my son.

Last week, we were at the playground when I heard a freckled girl in pull-ups call out to her mother from the top of the slide, asking for juice. “Ask me again in French,” said her mother. The girl complied with an impatient eye-roll. At that moment, all I could feel was worry for my child, who is still just getting his feet wet in English, scared that he’d be left behind.

But then I heard my son laughing. He was watching two squirrels chase each other up and down and around a maple tree. “Squirrels are silly,” he said.

Motherhood is a state of always being vulnerable to our expectations and worries about our children. I know that at his core, my son is a happy, free-spirited boy having the childhood he deserves. When I am at my best, I know that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. So at that moment, I forgot about his French-speaking peer and picked my son up, nuzzling those delicious, satiny cheeks, and said “Yes, squirrels are silly.”

I believe in the silliness of squirrels, I believe in my son, and I believe in his childhood.

Marla Rose is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist living with her family in Oak Park, Illinois.