Motherhood is exerting a tight grip on my consciousness these days. Many times lately I've faced the reality that I am no longer able to just get down on children's level and play with them. Why is this? Perhaps it's the three-year-old and the three-month-old, borne of my flesh and blood, who are always by my side or in my arms. Prior to my first daughter's birth, I thought that taking on the role of Mother would heighten my proclivity to facilitate and document play. With my very own guinea pigs at the ready, Sally Mann-style (but clothed), wouldn't I have many more prime opportunities? Perhaps. But three years later, I seem to mostly have a backlog of unedited footage of my first child (here's one exception), and in the three months since the birth of the second I have been grappling with the issue of not having time to even think, much less make good work. The shocking thing, as it goes against all my beliefs about the necessity of imaginative play, and the power of adult facilitation (a la Vygotsky), is that so often I do not want to play at all with my daughter; quite the contrary, I just want some time to myself. What bitter irony is this, that I have so much "work" to do surrounding the subject of Children's Play, that I cannot relax enough to simply play with my own daughter?
So as I bounce my three-month-old, declining invitations to climb onto the play equipment with my three-year-old, I'm secretly daydreaming of getting into the action, Little Creatures-style. My dreams are fueled by flashbacks to my pre-Mom days, when I was always at the ready, costumes and props in tow, camera and notebook in hand, prepared to facilitate an army of young people as they took on the world of squirrels, caterpillars, treasures buried in the grass and mysteries hidden in the trees. But would other parents find it awkward if we were standing around at the playground and I changed roles--Mommy to Play Facilitator? Perhaps not, as most of them know what I do . . . and anyway, aren't all mommies inherently play facilitators in some sense?
One dear friend and colleague (we met at Dartmouth and moved to the city together in 1999) who completely understands this strange balancing act is Rachel Federman, who blogs about motherhood and writing at Last American Childhood. I was having one of those days, where I just wanted to escape my motherhood and "talk about ideas," even before my second little creature came along . . . in March of 2011. Rachel and I, and our kids Magnolia and Wally, 2 and 3 at the time, had met up as we tried to do every week that year. This day we had met at Rachel's place in Chelsea, and we ventured into the yard next to her building complex. As always, getting Wally and "Memes" (Wally's sweet nickname for Magnolia) together was really only an excuse for Rachel and I to tend to our own friendship, which was suffering the distance of a river between us. So as much as both of us wanted to tune in to our respective children's development, and as much as we were interested in the way they played together, we mostly wanted have our own conversation "about ideas." Well, this was not to be: once outside, the children proceeded to scream in their high-pitched screams, and scurry about underfoot, pleading "Mommy, Mommy!" just enough for us to be reminded that our lives were not our own . . . not for a good long while. How to navigate this balance? Work and Play, Work about Play, and that strange phenomenon called Motherhood . . .
Somehow, some way, within that post-winter, almost-barren yard in Chelsea, the worlds of our two moms and two kids truly converged, and a magical investigation of seedpods, and a video, resulted. I shouldn't even use that word "result," as all that happened that day was a great big lesson in that elusive thing called Process. The process of our children seeing, touching, getting to know forms that come from the earth. The process of us seeing our children more fully. The process, for every one of us, of becoming human. Here is the video of that day.
Several things stand out: Whether or not Memes and Wally are cognizant of it, it is clear that they are on an adventure together. This investigation does not take them away from their their beloved mommies, but enables their separate toddler worlds to orbit around and cross over one another. Memes picks up seedpods and parts of seedpods, sweetly singing "dee dee dee dee dee . . ." She crumbles the pods between her fingers, and then says, "This is 'dee dee dee' . . . " Then as she walks out of the bushes, she sings her song: "going out of the bush to play in the room, something is coming, talking in the trees and the forest."
The most powerful thread running through the recorded memory of that day is Wally's repetition, "There's something inside." He states it again and again, as if surprised each time by this fact. There's something inside of that seedpod. A whole bunch of tiny fluffy seeds! As he speaks, his hands go up to the heavens, imparting these sacred words to all creatures standing or fluttering within earshot. The simplicity of this statement, its repetition, and the wonder with which Wally says it, makes for a beautiful representation of the young child who has taken a glimpse into life and beheld the gravity of the situation. The video has captured the moment wherein Wally discovered something magnificent that reaches beyond his comprehension, and that draws him in to want to know more.
|"There's something inside," Wally repeats, and that really says it all.|