The start of the school year is bearing down on us quickly so I persuaded Jeanine to take a vacation day and we all headed to Breezy Park which is a nice little spot on a lake, grassy area, picnic tables, French Fries, water slides and the promise of a tiny little breeze. We packed the car and each of the kids had their favorite towel, bucket and beach toy to bring along. During the drive each of the kids took detailed inventory of what was theirs… “Remember the purple bucket is mine, I don’t want James touching it”…..”The blue Shovel and flag are both mine and Rebecca gets the white bucket because she doesn’t have one and its broken…..”Mommy and Daddy will you watch my towel while I am on the waterslide so no one touches it?”
We got there early to insure a nice spot near the water and the weather was great. Daniel, James and Rebecca took turns on the water slides and it proved a little too exciting for Daniel and Rebecca but James could not get enough of it. So James persuaded Jeanine to keep getting back in line. I took Daniel and Rebecca back to the beach area where we went for a swim and then I dumped out various beach toys, buckets, shovels on the sand then settled myself on the beach chair to watch them play for awhile. After a few minutes I noticed one of the buckets was being utilized by another little boy on the beach. I watched curiously to see if a problem was going to occur, just sat back and observed and resisted the urge to jump up and say “Hey kid!!!, excuse me that was my daughters bucket, please put it back”. If I did that I would have taken away the opportunity for Rebecca to decide on her own whether to share or not and that my intervention may even send the message that sharing isn’t a good thing. I feel if I jump in at the onset of every problem it would make Rebecca depend on me to decide for her and solve all her problems which isn’t a lesson I want her to learn. Besides she wasn’t using the bucket at the time and if she needs my assistance she will ask
After about 5 minutes passed Rebecca comes to me and says “Daddy, that boy took my bucket will you get it for me”. I really wasn’t up for causing or resolving conflict, especially when I was looking forward to putting parenting aside for a little while and relaxing in the shade. Rebecca is approaching 4 and is naturally a little protective of her stuff. As I walked with her I realized that Rebecca is still learning the concept of time so telling her the little boy will use it for a “little while” or a “few minutes” is meaningless to her and she feels if she gives this “Bucket“ away freely she may never get it back again. I cant remember how many times I have explained to her that she cant just walk over and take other children’s toys. So why should she accept other kids to walk up and take hers?
This day, this place wasn’t the time for me to make an issue and teach a life lesson about sharing. There is plenty of opportunity at home for that. So I walked over with Rebecca to her sand castle and invited the little boy over to play with us. I asked Rebecca if she wanted to share her bucket and play with the little boy and she said yes and they headed back down to the water together to fill up the bucket with Rebecca reestablishing ownership… so I lucked out this time. The last thing I wanted was two kids, each with an “iron tight white knuckle” grip on the bucket rolling around in the sand tugging and screaming.
As I sat back down I started thinking about how Rebecca (and other children too) learn to prepare for that situation. From my experience thus far sharing is not innate in children and children (at least mine) learn much more easily through observation than they do from any of my verbal teachings. But how does a child learn this concept of sharing and determine when to share and when not to? She has never observed adult strangers coming over to me to ask if they can borrow my towel, beach chair or the keys to my car. She has never had the opportunity to learn sharing from me because I don’t naturally share any of my stuff with strangers because adult strangers rarely ask. I have read where sharing is an integral part of development and assists them in developing healthy relationships with others as they move thru life. But Rebecca, at age 3, is still developing a sense of self and her physical world around her which requires selfishness not generosity. So sharing seems to go against a child’s natural instincts at this age. I often find myself observing and guiding more and allowing her time to figure it out for herself, a little at a time, vs. insisting she share every item she lays claim to or turning other kids away as they approach to borrow a shovel.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by James jumping on me soaked from his time with mama on the water slides. His face was red from the excitement and eager to share his experiences. After James told me of his adventures he suddenly ran off into the lake. Jeanine and I were able to have a few moments to ourselves, share a smile while sitting and watching them play before being hailed into the water by our motley crew. The whole day had been unplanned, unstructured and totally enjoyable.
As our time there was coming to an end and I was trying to consolidate and create order out of the various sand covered wet towels and empty water bottles I looked around for all the precious beach toys that once were valued higher than life with not a one to be found. As I looked back towards the beach I paused and I watched in amazement as about 12 children of different ages were laughing and playing together building a castle with a moat and river with all their personal possessions spread haphazardly with not a care in the world whether the bucket, shovel or rake they were using was theirs or someone else’s. Daniels ridged resistance to sharing his purple bucket had melted away and had yielded to the pleasures of just having fun together… James was laughing as he sat in a big puddle of water …… Rebecca was busy digging a hole….boundaries, ownership, materialism are all designs of an adult world and at this particular moment in time they didn’t want to be part of it.
I am going to miss this summer of rain, sunshine and unstructured bliss and as the final full season of the year approaches and stretches out before me like an evening shadow I look forward to sharing the boys experiences of first grade, Rebecca’s time with me at home and Jeanine’s stories from her upcoming new adventures and travels.