Carly’s Second Christmas
Carly is changing, and fast. She is beginning to talk to herself, not with words but with sounds and babble-phrases that will soon be sentences. Until very recently she needed play-learning experiences to be initiated. Now, at sixteen months and counting, she is beginning to initiate her own play-learning experiences. The early formation of imagination, past and future, is unfolding. There is teething, relatively short attention to some things and quick frustrations if life fails to respond immediately to her new intent. With unfolding intent comes unfolding challenges and that turns into unfolding frustrations. Welcome, Carly, to the world of creativity.
Two hundred yards from our home is a path leading down a hill to a lovely park, a walk Carly has taken many times. Yesterday she lead the way, walking on her own all the way down the twisting path to the play-learning area and when she was ready she walked all the way back up the trail home again, chaperoned of course. That is what I mean by initiating.
She has absorbed many times all the usual things in her world: books, pots and pans, jars with lids, stacking blocks, and colorful stuffed animals. Transcending these, Carly has become more adventurous, climbing, reaching, exploring the unknown. A printer rests on the floor next to my always cluttered desk. She climbs on the printer, an easy fourteen inches tall, and smiling, attempts to scale the eighteen inches to the peak, my desktop where treasures lay in abundance. The angle is such that this reach is really quite impossible but with a strategic nudge it’s not. She looks up. Her hunger for new and challenging experiences is driving, compulsive and for us, exhausting. Oh, how easy it would be to hand her a tablet and have her sit quietly in the corner.
George Leonard, former editor of ‘Look’ magazine and pal with Michael Murphy of Esalen Institute, wrote extensively about education and human potential. In his book Mastery George describes how there are plateaus on the path to mastery where nothing seems to be happening. Then, suddenly there is a breakthrough and a new level opens. Joseph Chilton Pearce describes how the brain, in anticipation of what is expected, produces a ‘spurt’ of new neurons, exactly what will be needed for the new capacity that is about to explode. Something miraculous is always happening. It is our job to watch and listen, with empathy and care to stay in sync with this flowering unfolding.
I always have to stop, re-sync to her body centered reality; touch, taste, movement, smell and other delights, right here, right now, and suspend concepts such as past and future, good, bad, the ‘right way,’ too much and more. It drives me nuts when people offer highly abstract symbolic metaphors in the form of well-meaning explanations or options to the pre-symbolic brain. There is some resonate-telepathic shared meaning but not at the specific level the discourse usually implies. Carly’s world remains firmly grounded in the senses, here and now. Moral judgments about good and bad, past and future make no sense, no more than explaining what nuts are to a squirrel. Body movements, the sound of voice, emotional context, facial expression, the way we and others are dressed - as sensations - carry their own meaning, but concepts remain for Carly in a galaxy far, far away.
Christmas, Santa and gifts are both sensations and concepts. We placed a small evergreen tree on a box, wrapped it in lights, rummaged and found a few clown and cloth ornaments that have not been used in thirty years, carefully on the tree which Carly carefully took off like lids and jars. It took some effort to redirect her natural curiosity and have her understand that she can explore, meaning touch and even taste this but not that. This is really very important, a persistent challenge. One of our great responsibilities during this pre-conceptual period of expanding exploration is to not communicate any wrong doing, frustration, anger or shame in our exchange. We adults live in a highly conceptualized reality. Layer upon layer of concepts dictate our behavior. All of that, our conceptual framework does not exist in Carly’s world. With care and appreciation for her natural drive to explore, and that means to touch, hold, twist, push and even taste everything, we can share our preference for ornaments to be on the tree appreciating that she must touch and explore everything. The same holds with gifts. Packages are to be unpackaged. We routinely and often immediately unwrap and play with everything from toilet paper to tomatoes. Why is this shiny package any different? That is a concept, not a here and now sensory experience. When we impose our concepts on the pre-conceptual mind – we create conflict and then get angry at the child for not respecting our abstractions, dismissing completely that we created the conflict. Really?
Sink deeply into the spirit behind the symbols and rituals. Fill your heart and embody the spirit of birth, innocence, renewal and personal transformation this winter solstice has represented since before time (another concept). Like Midas or, if you like, Tinkerbell, this embodied feeling will magically permeate all the symbols: the gifts, decorations, stockings hanging, the smells coming from the kitchen and most important of all, how this ancient celebration transforms the Scrooge in all of us to the jolly uncle and aunt of humanity carrying young Tim and Carly on our shoulders as we sing and dance along with the falling snow.