The phrase “for the children” has become associated with hypocrisy, and with people who don’t really care for children. I think this is a huge pity, but is too soundly based upon the sad facts of our times to be ignored. There are all sorts of politicians who pretend to love babies, kissing them for the cameras, who shudder at the contact and thrust the baby back at the mother, as soon as the cameras point away. There are all sorts of political proposals made “for the children”, when in fact the true motive is gain for adults, and where in reality the consequences of the proposals are that the children are faced with paying off a huge national debt which their greedy elders accumulated.
Some hypocritical schoolmarms claim their aim is “for the children” when they care more for their pensions, and pharmaceutical companies claim their drugs are “for the children” when they know the drugs harm, but are profitable. The same can be said for the sellers of Chocolate Sugar Bombs breakfast cereal, or any toy or clothing that advertises a movie, or…and on and on the list goes. It is truly sickening what amazing hypocrites adults can be “for the children”. Divorce? It is “for the children”. Abortion? It is “for the children”.
People really need to take a hard look at themselves, rather than jabbing a finger of blame at others, if we want to rid ourselves of this vile hypocrisy. And such hypocrisy truly is vile, for it is not merely socially destructive; it is socially suicidal. Children are our future. Even the drugged-out Jimi Hendrix could sing, “You’ve got to tell the children the truth, for one of these days they’ll be running things.” However too many selfish so-called adults treat children as if they don’t matter, beyond being a maudlin means of suckering money from unsuspecting parents.
So deep is this hypocrisy in our society that it invades even primal levels, such as many people’s idea of the purpose of sex. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to state the following at a party: “The purpose of sex is the creation of children.” You’d be surprised how many hit the roof, if you state this fundamental reality, which every farmer knows is a fact. I suppose it is because sex makes it all too clear, to some, that they do not do what they do “for the children”, but rather for their own gratification.
Even while people do not confess they ought “throw the first stone” at their own mirror, they are eager to see the evil of this hypocrisy in others.
One of the things you often hear spoken, as if it is gospel, is how a radio personality named “Uncle Don”, at the end of his show for children, thought his microphone was off, and muttered, “That oughta hold the little bastards”. There are even recordings of this “blooper”, but the recordings turn out to be “recreations.” The truth is that there is no evidence “Uncle Don” ever said such a thing. Yet people believe the worst.
Not that many of us didn’t suffer abuse during our childhoods. I did. Yet the foul deeds of the few is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. However it seems to be happening. Due to the grotesque and vile hypocrisy of some Catholic priests, a nearby Catholic church which once was vibrant, and assisted many, is now nearly abandoned, with only six cars in its parking lot some Sunday mornings, where I once had to drive slow and squeeze by, because the parking lot was full and people were parking in the street.
This demonstrates how discouraging the hypocrisy is. People quit. Caring simply doesn’t seem worth trying. Simply stating you care “for the children” immediately stigmatizes you as a sort of exploitative hypocrite, if not a sexual predator. It is safer to be indifferent.
I seem to escape most of the stigmatizing, at my Farm-childcare, because I am an old fossil and probably am deemed too pathetic and feeble to be a sexual predator, but I have been witness to totally unfair and cruel attacks on my employees, when they are young men. It is as if any young man who likes kids must be sick, in the eyes of some parents. This is a sad state of affairs, because the fact of the matter is children crave any sort of father-figure, yet only 3% of preschool “Child Care Professionals” are males.
One reason few men want to become Child Care Professionals is because the pay sucks. There may be good money to be made in selling little children Chocolate Sugar Bombs breakfast cereal, but there’s not so much to be made by actually caring.
The guys who care for children tend to be the sort who are living “alternative lifestyles”, making money in six different ways, and eking out a minimalist existence which God may approve of, but most parents find highly suspicious. Such fellows may earn a bit by playing guitar some evenings, so their hair tends to be a bit long. Then they may make a bit more selling wood carvings, which involves another odd crowd, and they may make a little more teaching classes about how to weave Inca blankets from llama yarn, and then shovel stables at minimum wage, and then make some goat’s milk cheese for sale on the side, which is how I happen to meet them, and discover they are great with kids, and ask if they might want to work for me part time. They then have to undergo an exhaustive background check involving fingerprinting, which the state mandates and I have to pay for. However some parents do not feel that is enough, and must do a bit of checking themselves. So they check the fellow’s Facebook page, where there is usually some evidence the fellow behaves differently off the job than on the job. (Don’t we all? Who drinks beer on the job, and who never imbibes off the job?)
These fellows do not need the crap parents give them. They have five other jobs, after all.
In one case a fellow happened to say “trees have sex”, meaning that, in some cases, you must plant two trees, one a male and one a female, if you are to have fruit. To a farmer like myself this is nothing but a fact. However to some parents, (who think carrots grow in cellophane bags), the statement “trees have sex” was a proof the fellow was a New Age weirdo, who was teaching their children trees were like some pornographic version of Tolkien’s Ents, grappling limbs in some hard-to-imagine, but definitely X-rated, manner.
As a capitalistic businessman this put me in odd shoes, for the customer is always right, but this seemed an exception to the rule. I stood up for my employee, and was on the verge of telling the worst customer that they needed to find some other place for their child, when my employee solved the problem by telling me, in a most gentle fashion, “You can take this job and shove it.”
And so it is that stupidity wins.
I know of a worse case, which I thank God didn’t happen at my Farm-Childcare. A young, male employee was urinating in the bathroom of a Childcare when a little boy came dashing in from outside and hit the door at top speed and, because the lock was flimsy, opened the door. The boy later told his parents, “I saw Mr X’s penis.” This caused a huge uproar, as if the fellow had been flashing. I could read all about it in the local papers. The young man involved, (who I knew from the adult-education classes we all are required to take), could not work for that Childcare until an investigation was carried out, had no money for legal assistance, and decided, in the end, that it was better to make three times as much money working construction. He still had to be investigated, and was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but after all the crap he had to undergo he had not the slightest desire to ever return to Childcare, and I can’t say I blame him. So once again, stupidity won.
There are even worse cases, where the tables are turned, and it is the parents who are accused of atrocities they never even dreamed of committing.
I well can remember the psychologies of the 1970’s, and how much time was spent remembering the past, seeking the childhood roots of current habits. In the end it didn’t do a lick of good to blame parents or teachers, but it was a handy way of avoiding ever actually quitting a bad habit, (and, if you had the time for such inner study, it actually did help one see the motives that move us from our subconscious, if one was honest, but not all in therapy groups were honest. Some were only there to meet chicks.)
However some psychologists took the blame-the-parent aspect too far, and actually berated clients, accusing them of “avoidance” and “denial” if they said they didn’t hate their mother, and actually loved her. One particularly nasty woman wrote that not a few parents, but all parents, sexually abused their children. She then made a good living “helping” people to “recover” memories of possible things their parents in fact never did. In some cases parents were professionally ruined, as well as completely brokenhearted, and had little defense, until an amazing mother stood up and said enough was enough, forming FMSF.
I feel a male version of Pamela Freyd is likely needed, but doubt I’m the guy. I simply couldn’t stand all the accusations Panela Freyd has had to put up with, (of being a lackey for the CIA and so forth), when she simply stood up and said parents love their kids, even if some psychologists are determined to prove otherwise, and even if their own children have been led astray.
For just as parents band together, and defend themselves, psychologists band together to defend themselves, and if you are a person like Pamela Freyd you must be prepared to see an anti-Pamela-Freyd website appear, brimming with horrible accusations about your dishonesty, your perversions, and the conspiracy against innocent psychologists that you represent.
And what does all of this have to do with children? Amazingly, absolutely nothing. It is full grown adults battling full grown adults, with adult reputations and adult livelihoods at stake. Even the people making accusations that their childhoods were ruined are full grown adults. All insist they are doing what they are doing “for the children”, but let’s be honest. Are there any children present during these debates? And, if a child was present, would a child really care a flying flip about what the adults are discussing with such purple-faced zeal?
Some children might, (relating more to the purple-faced adult emotions than the adult’s intellectual points), but many other kids would wander off to find something more interesting, such as an experiment involving a plunger and toothpaste in the bathroom.
I too get tired off all the arguing. Perhaps I’m entering a second childhood, for I’d rather wander off with small children and see the world through the wonder of their eyes, and obsess about what they are obsessed by, and constantly challenge limits the way they must do in order to grow, and ride the roller coaster of their emotions. They do cry a lot, but so would you if you failed as many times a day as they fail, but they are amazingly resilient, and come bounding back from failures far more swiftly than adults ever dream of doing, and also they laugh a lot. If you can tap into that well of good humor, not far beneath the surface of even a morose child, even a prolonged tantrum may be spiced with odd, occasional smiles.
I definitely am not overly protective. I figure a child who never has scrapes and bruises likely is a child who is not coordinated, and I have seen this proven true again and again.
I once knew a precocious and charming little girl who took ballet classes, but couldn’t walk in the woods without falling flat on her face. She simply couldn’t coordinate her feet to avoid short, broken and barkless pine branches, which can form little rollers underfoot, and during the initial tour of our Farm-Childcare, as I walked her parents through the grounds, this little girl fell heavily five times, as we strolled down a groomed path through pines. Her parents explained she was used to flat city sidewalks, but I had private misgivings, and publicly explained to the parents that we went on long hikes every day, requiring a certain degree of ruggedness from four-year-olds. They seemed to deem such hikes as merely one more class in the rather lengthy itinerary their child underwent every day, so the little girl was signed up and went trooping off with country kids. She did fall a lot at first, but it was amazing how swiftly the falling faded away. Only a month later I shook my head in amazement, watching her play follow-the-leader with other girls, teetering along the top of a mossy old stone wall in the woods. Some might explain away her swiftly-gained coordination as being due to her being trained in ballet, but I tend to think bruises played a part as well. (And I think ballet can involve bruises, though I myself never experienced such training.)
In any case, that is merely physical coordination. I wrote about that, and the problems with being over-protective in this post called, “OSHA Snow”. https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/osha-snow/
What is really fascinating is how children learn about social coordination. It too involves bumps and bruises, though they are of an invisible, emotional sort. Basically social coordination involves a child learning they are not always in control and the boss. Some have already learned this from parents, as they enter our Childcare as young as age two, but we get our fair share of little tyrants, with parents prone towards permissiveness, (though I’m sure such parents would prefer the word “tolerance”).
One sign of a tyrant is that the parent’s kindness doesn’t seem to generate a reciprocal kindness, but rather contempt. It is shocking how rude some tykes can be towards their mothers, (and fathers). A mere toddler basically commands, “Come hither, wench, and remove my boots.” However these tyke-tyrants themselves are in for a shock when their parent dumps them off at our Childcare. The complete tantrum the tyrant then throws, when the parent attempts to abdicate, doesn’t change anything. I try to gently hurry parents out the door, but they tend to prolong the misery of parting, trying to reason with the unreasonable. (I have noticed that, when the parent finally does shove the wrathful child into my arms and leaves, they are skipping as they cross the parking lot to their car. As kind as such parents may be, they are still glad to escape the monster they have created.)
Parents really seem to create a lot of monsters, these days. I think it is partly because of the great distrust caring “for the children” causes in people’s minds. Parents distrust their own natural impulses, and instead go for “parenting skills” taught by people who too often are childless and too often, if they ever actually worked at a Childcare, got kicked upstairs because they were absolutely useless with actual kids.
As a “Child Care Professional” I am required by law to go attend classes on the latest fads and fashions, in the world of “parenting skills.” Compared to the natural love a mother has for her child, and the reciprocal love a child has for its mother, all these scholastic ideas are dim reflections of reality at best, and drivel at worst. It is humorous how the stuff I was told ten years ago is now “outdated”, and also how the distinctions between the old ways and new ways don’t really matter. For example, “time outs” are now out of fashion, and the new thing is “redirection”, but this means little when a three-year-old is too wild. Rather than being separated from the group for a “time out” he or she is separated from the group and “redirected” to a chair in a corner. It is the same thing with a new name, brought to us by government decree, costing the taxpayers a fortune, and keeping some meddlesome do-gooder in a bureaucratic job with a six figure salary.
Decades back the word came down that what was needed was to get children away from bad environments and bad parenting and into good environments and foster care, but that belief has now changed. Foster parents can be saints and foster homes can be comfortable, but a child still longs for its natural parents, even if both are heroin addicts in prison. Attempting to quash this natural love for natural parents has apparently had undesirable consequences.
Another idea that has fallen by the wayside involved “freedom of choice” for little children. According to this approach, rather than, “Get in the car”, the parent is suppose to inquire, “Would you like to get in the car?” The child, being honest, may well reply, “No.” Then the parent asks “Do you want Mommy to be late for work?” The child might reply, “Yes.” The next question tends to be, “Do you want Mommy to lose her job, fail to pay the mortgage, so we are thrown out of our house and freeze in the street?” At which point the small child develops an ulcer.
At a recent class I heard follow-up studies suggest that too much freedom-of-choice causes chronic insecurity in children, because the child is expected to make decisions the parent should make, and it is too much to ask of a developing psyche. As a consequence of “freedom of choice”, children in well-to-do homes were manifesting symptoms associated with orphans in refugee camps. However originally the parent was scolded for making decisions, and originally was accused of stunting the child’s growth, if they dared decide for the child. Parents could have saved everyone a lot of grief if they had simply trusted their natural impulses, made choices for their children, and had told the authorities on “parenting skills” to go jump in a lake.
Perhaps the most contentious natural impulse a parent has is to paddle their child. While the ancient authorities tend to suggest “spare the rod and spoil the child”, modern authorities pounce on parents who so much as think of such discipline, calling such discipline “abuse”, “bullying”, and worse. However, when I inquire of the parents of the better-behaved children, it often turns out that they did resort to corporal punishment on a rare occasion or two. Apparently that was all it took. Once they had made it clear that such a possibility existed, they created a boundary the child knew better than to cross. However the parents of the little tyrants never dared spank, perhaps fearing arrest. And perhaps their children were bad tempered because they knew their parents were total wimps. Or perhaps not. In any case, I was handed an unruly child, and the parent fled across the parking lot crowing “Free at last! Free at last!”
And what am I to do with this young person? They are screaming and clawing at the glass of the window as the parent’s car departs in a cloud of dust, and they are definitely in no mood to learn the rudimentary skills of social coordination. I am suppose to “process” the child and regurgitate them months later in a form where they can fit the social norms of kindergarten, but when I tell them in my best, smarmy voice, “It is circle time”, they adjust their sombrero and inform me, “Circle time? Circle time? I don’t need no stinking circle time.”
I am glad I am not a state school, bound by the laws of bureaucrats and the Teacher’s Union. I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that at State Schools, in such situations, teachers respond to a obstinate child who utterly refuses to obey by evacuating the classroom and calling in the state police. Because I am a private institution I simply pick the kid up and say, “Soldier, I am going to make a Marine out of you.”
Or…well…actually I don’t say that, but sometimes the way my wife and staff react you’d think I did. They are mother-figures and put up with stuff father-figures don’t. They are tender, merciful, long-suffering, and sometimes need a father-figure to step in.
So what do I do? I am not allowed to smack the kid’s butt, (which likely would do the child good, provided the blow was delivered in the manner my father (a surgeon) and mother (a nurse) recommended, low on the buttock and not up where it could have even a slight chance of damaging a kidney. And also making sure the child was not given “a good shake”, (which actually can quiet a small child, because it concusses the brain). And lastly, not acting out of anger, [which I seldom feel beyond the annoyance of having my glasses knocked off].) However I do employ gentle restraint. In the worst cases I remove the child from where he is disrupting the activities of the other kids, and allow the child to tantrum to their heart’s content in my lap in a quiet place, but making it clear that a rule is a rule, and that no amount of tantruming will gain them a waiver and let them break that rule. Some tantruming children will scream, “You’re hurting me”, but I make sure I never do, physically. The hurt is all emotional, and I tell them I’m sorry about the emotional pain, but a rule is a rule. I often croon a shortened version of “You can’t always get what you want”..
Children at my Childcare become familiar with that tune, and on several occasions small children have looked up at me and informed me, “Mr Shaw, you know, I really hate that song.” However they get the point. Some rules don’t bend, and definitely don’t break. And it has been my experience that one full blown tantrum is usually all it takes. Once a child realizes tantrums don’t work, they seem to feel they might as well find better uses for their energies. Only twice have I met children who tantrumed regularly, and in both cases they had nightmares in their home-lives that were beyond my ability to heal.
(As an aside, I’ll state it seems important to not have the rules be “my” rules. Rather they are “the” rules. You want to avoid a battle of wills, and the involvement of egos.)
In any case, once the introductions are over with, the little tyrant turns out to be, like most very small children, a very nice human to be associated with. Once they are given a framework they can depend on, they get busy with the business of testing limits in every other way imaginable. In a sense children seem to need both restraint and freedom, (in the same way a ballet dancer needs the law of gravity, even as they come close to defying it, at times).
Another way of saying this is that, once you have established the rules, there are no more rules. Ambiguity is involved, but the fact is that, rather than teaching the child, the child is teaching you. Every child is an unique individual, with unique problems, and therefore beyond a certain point having a “rule” becomes a preconception that clouds your ability to see differences. No two children approach the same problem the same way, and unless you keep your mind and eyes open you will miss something not only unique, but marvelous.
The person most likely to see what is marvelous in a child is, of course, that child’s mother. We poke fun at this fondness, stating, “He has a face only a mother could love”, but the disrespect towards motherhood inherent in many modern bureaucracies is of a lower and more sinister order. The beauty of a mother’s love is called “favoritism”, and that is used as a springboard towards further downplaying of something that is high and beautiful.
The aim of bureaucrats, when they scorn motherhood, is, I assume, an “internationalism” where all care for all, irregardless of nationality. And as an aim, this is admirable. If there is a God upon a throne of golden light in heaven, surely He would want us to love our neighbors as much as we love our own kids, and to love distant orphans in third-world countries as much as we love our neighbors. However that would mean we’d all have to have hearts like mothers have for their own children. What some bureaucrats do instead is to sneer at mothers, and discredit their love as mere cronyism and nepotism and racism and sexism and other isms I can’t think of at the moment. And then, having ripped apart one of the most beautiful loves most of us ever see, what do they have to replace it with? Paperwork?
In like manner, fatherhood gets sneered at and belittled. Though for some woman a father is the only example of sexual purity in men they ever experience, fathers are treated as if they are all incestuous creeps, for, even if their sexuality is never acted upon, it’s existence in a state of abeyance is described as “sexual repression,” which shows it does exist, and fathers are therefore guilty. Paperwork, on the other hand, has no sex.
In my darker moments I feel bureaucrats dislike all that lies outside their jurisdiction, yet a mother needs no permit to make milk, and a father needs no permit to be enchanted by a tiny daughter. Therefore, when bureaucrats become demented, they attempted to control what they have no business controlling, and state that making milk or being enchanted is not allowed without a permit. It is in some ways like the nonsense regarding Global Warming, where the government thinks it has jurisdiction over temperatures. It is a colossal waste of time and money and, in the end, is an extravagant exercise in futility, and the epitome of folly.
In my lighter moments I just dismiss the bureaucratic jerks, and get on with my job, which is being neither a mother nor a father, but rather a sort of grizzled Great Uncle. I supply the discipline that keeps children from hurting themselves or each other, and after that is done I can sit back and enjoy the marvelous freedom of young minds.
I’m trying to think of examples of what a joy such minds are, but often the joy isn’t obvious at first, and perhaps it is best to chose an example of a child you might initially want to swat.
For example, little girls, even when they are only four years old, can be precociously aware of stuff involving who-sets-next-who that I, at age sixty-two, still have a thing or two to learn about, and am often oblivious of. In some way I suppose it is a woman-thing.
One day, as we paused to have the morning snack in the woods, one little girl began crying, and crying, and crying, because a second little girl sat with a third little girl, and not with her. The woods were beautiful and the weather was kind, but this poor, forlorn little girl would not eat, nor sit with the rest of us, but rather sat at a distance making a noise reminiscent of an air-raid siren, all the while shooting daggers with her eyes towards the second small girl.
The joy wasn’t obvious at this time, partly because this particular girl had a history of throwing a fit every time the second little girl didn’t do what she wanted. For a while this strategy had worked, and the second little girl would rush to her and soothe her, but now the second little girl had apparently decided enough was enough, and was unmoved by the wailing. So the wailing got louder and louder, but still remained ineffectual. The noise was so annoying birds were having a hard time flying away, as they had to hold their wings by their ears. I decided I should step in.
Sometimes distraction works, but changing the subject only caused the child to laugh briefly, before her eyes returned to the second girl and she again wailed. (I noted there were actual tears, which is not always the case in such situations.)
I tried comforting. Sometimes a child just needs to have a good cry, and that is that. (In fact my wife took a series of pictures of me sitting beside a small girl on a swing, looking sympathetic as the girl wept, and the last picture is humorous and a little embarrassing, for I still look very woeful and sympathetic, but the girl is over her grief and gleefully laughing.) However this small girl made it very clear she wanted no comfort. By hook or by crook she was bound and determined to cry her friend into submission.
I likely tried some other tricks, such as asking her if I could have the snack she was refusing to eat, and removing it from her backpack and salivating over it, because sometimes that stimulates both appetite and greed, and the child forgets the problem and snatches the snack from me and eats it, but this little girl was intent on solving her problem. My bag of tricks was completely exhausted.
It is at this point irritation can arise, and an urge to smack the child may appear, especially if one is foolish enough to have an agenda and curriculum and be attempting to cram the child’s skull with a plethora of ridiculous government-mandated “early learning skills”. I tend to skip all that, because it is obvious what the child needs to learn, and what is more, the child is already deeply engrossed in the study of the subject.
Of course, sometimes you simply don’t have time. A thunderstorm may be approaching, or some such thing. In that case I just pluck the child up and put her on my shoulders and tell her we’ll resume the study at a later date, and we are on our way, even if she objects and rips out tufts of my dwindling supply of hair. But the thing of it is, often there is time to study what the child is studying, and what is more, joining them in the study can be fun.
Once your bag of tricks is exhausted you need to trust nonacademic things such as intuition. The answers come out of the blue, but you need to get the wax out of your ears. You need to tell yourself that, for thousands of years, uneducated, sixteen-year-old mothers have faced tantrums, and handled them, and therefore, because you are older, you should be wiser.
In this case it came to me that the problem and the goal should be stated, so I simply nudged the girl and muttered, “This doesn’t seem to be working. She’s not sitting next to you. Maybe you should try a tantrum like this.” With a creak and a groan I got down onto the pine-needled forest floor, lay on my back, and thinking back to primal-scream therapy of the early 1970’s, kicked my legs and thrashed my arms and shrieked. Then I sat up and said, “There. Why don’t you give that a try?”
Not only did the small girl look interested (though she refused to copy me) but all the other children were interested as well. They wanted to know what we were doing, and I explained we were trying to get what we wanted by throwing a fit. I was asked what I wanted. I thought for a moment, and then asked them for suggestions. What should I throw a fit about? After a pause (for they apparently couldn’t think of what old fossils want), I raised an index finger and said, “I’ve got it! I forgot my snack. I’ll get it by throwing a fit!”
Apparently it worked, for several kids offered me food from their lunches even before I began. Perhaps the various lessons on “sharing” from other members of my staff had sunk in, but I didn’t want them to share, so I said my snack was a whistle-burger, and nothing else would do. The kids wanted to know what a whistle-burger was, and I said it was really, really good, and that I wanted one really, really badly, and asked for suggestions of what sort of tantrum I ought to throw.
We then did a scientific experiment, as I acted out various tantrums, thrashing on my back, and on my stomach, and by hopping up and down, or by holding my breath until I turned blue, and so on and so forth. The children thought it was hilarious. After each effort I’d look around and ask, “Did it work? Is my whistle-burger here?” and they’d look around and shake their heads and then cry, “Do it again!” I got tired pretty quickly, so eventually I had to end the fun by stating my conclusion, “I guess sometimes throwing a fit just doesn’t work.”
The sad little girl who had started the entire experiment was by this point finishing her snack, and apparently was no longer concerned about the second and third girl sitting next to each other, because by then they were standing up. The back packs were zipped up and we continued our hike, with no further mention of the incident, but I like to think the first girl’s psyche was impressed. It doesn’t seem to matter all that much if you punctuate your experiment with a conclusion like a lecturing professor, because learning coordination is more of a process than a single point, whether the coordination be physical or social, but I’m straying a little off the point. The point I am trying to make to the reader is that I didn’t just nag the girl, “Throwing a fit doesn’t work.” Instead we discovered it, and did so with laughter.
It pays to strike up such conversations. A lot of small kids seem to have hardly ever been talked to. We are into a second and even third generation of people raised by screens: Where parents were once plunked in front of a TV their children are now plunked in front of a video game, and, while the coordination of thumbs and of texting skills is now impressive, talking seems a lost art, and eye contact really surprises some. Even the bureaucrats have become vaguely alarmed, and we get decrees from on high that extol the benefits of sitting around a table and talking during meals (which we have always done) plus explanations of how video time needs to be shortened (when we have never had any video time whatsoever.)
I find it is important to get down to the person’s level, and that crouching is essential, as is eye contact. And that is with the parents. With the kids I sprawl.
One little boy was unusual, for he was an extrovert although both his parents were introverts. They were very kind and dreamy individuals, but not very verbal at all, seeming to nod and shake their heads rather than wasting their effort with long words such as “yes” and “no”, though they did say “mmm” a lot. They tended to look at their exuberant only child as if from afar, with obvious affection, and I noticed that when they did talk it was often about video games. The result was a small boy full of good cheer, who bounded about saying things like “Hey!” and “Ha-ha!”, and appeared to be completely oblivious of the fact he upset the little girl’s tea tables as he passed, or knocked over the boy’s towers of blocks. He was in essence completely out of control, but not with any sort of hostility, and in fact he seemed surprised at the wrath of other children when he walked through their board games. It was very hard to get his attention, and when you talked to him he would look across the room at something far more interesting. At “circle time” he could sit still for five seconds, on a good day, before leaping to his feet and rushing away. Obviously he was going to be a handful.
When faced with a lack-of-control people seem to feel a need to name it. It is as if that creates some sort of control. I think it only controls their insecurity about lacking control. I heard the word “autism” bandied about, as people watched this small fellow bounce about shouting “Ha-ha!”. That always makes me cringe a little, as “Autism” seems to be the new catch-all phrase, as “Attention Deficit Disorder” slips out of style. I’ve seen this before: “Manic-depressive behavior” was everyone’s ailment in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but fell out of favor, only to be replaced by “Bipolar-ism”. What troubles me is a sense I have that the people popping these little, judgmental hats on both adults and children never seem to go any further. They seemed to feel they have earned their pay by dubbing activity a “syndrome”, and need not crouch down and get their knees dirty by actually relating.
This uneasiness was furthered when I heard an old friend had become well known because she was able to “reach” autistic children, (sort of like a dog-whisperer, but with humans). She was in great demand and making good money, and I had the advantage of being a friend, so I went and asked her how the heck she did it. She rolled her eyes and said there was nothing to it; she simply made the effort, which apparently others didn’t feel qualified to make. Where others didn’t try to reach, she reached.
In any case I’ll only get myself in trouble if I put myself forward as some sort of authority on autism. But I will say I’ve been introduced to small children who have been described as having “tendencies” that”might” indicate they’re “slightly” autistic, who then quite quickly learn to relate to other children, and this was the case with the small boy who bounded about like a kangaroo exclaiming “Hey! Ha-ha!”
Just as it only took a month for the small ballet dancer to stop falling flat in the woods, it only took around a month for this young boy to learn social coordination. The most fun, for me, was gaining eye contact, for at first I needed to gently grasp his shoulders and quietly say, “Look at me. Hey! Look at me when I have something to say.” His lively eyes bounced back and forth from my right ear to my left ear like a ping-pong ball, before abruptly stopping between, as our eyes met. He looked cautious but interested, and I definitely had the feeling the experience was new to him. He rather enjoyed it, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It was also very unlike autism, as I understand it. Rather than incapable of relating he merely had very little experience of being related to.
Within a month he was doing as well as bouncing boys ever do at circle time, and apologizing to other kids when he inadvertently knocked over their blocks. As I watched I could see that a lot of the teaching of social coordination skills does not come from teachers, but rather from the kids; they teach each other. The adult is only there to avoid the “lesson” being a swift uppercut to the jaw (though I did see a two-year-old teach a eight-year-old in that manner, once.)
One four-year-old girl had completely given up on the bounding boy, and was done with attempting to teach him manners. She suffered from NTOS, (IE: Neat, Tidy and Organized Syndrome), and you could always tell where she had played in the woods, for all the pine-cones were neatly lined in rows, and the acorns in careful piles according to whether they were green or brown, and the forest floor was swept and all twigs lain in a neat line around the periphery of her territory, until the bounding boy passed through like a jovial tornado. Then she was reduced to rage and tears.
After the bounding boy had been with us a month, and was showing some signs of improvement (although he definitely wasn’t a Marine yet), the tidy girl had spent a morning constructing a tea parlor at the edge of the pasture, complete with small, plastic cups filled with dirt, and, (because I will sometimes pretend to sip at such dirt and say it is most delicious tea I have ever tasted), she shouted across a patch of lawn to me, “Come and have some tea!”
Unfortunately she shouted this just as the bounding boy was passing in front of her and, though he looked a little surprised at the invitation, he ricocheted right to the door of her tea parlor, saying “Tea? Ha-ha!”
You could see the small girl immediately appreciated the magnitude of her mistake, for her face filled with dismay and she wildly waved her arms, shouting “No! No! Nooooo!” But so speedy was the bouncing boy that he’d not only brushed by her and popped into her shop, but popped out again and brushed by her a second time, by the time she finished her third, prolonged, “Nooooo!” He remarked (concerning her shop, I assume), “Ha-ha! Nice!” and was going to bound away, completely oblivious to the fact the girl was collapsing to the ground and clutching her arm where he had barely brushed against it. But I caught his shirttail, as I arrived just then.
“Hey!” I said, “She’s crying. I think you bumped her.” He looked astonished. A wrinkle of concern creased his brow, and he leaped to her side, crouched down, lifted her hand, and patted it briskly, saying, “Sorry”. Then he sprang to his feet and looked me in the eye with a confident smile. What could I do? It was a sign of amazing progress. I said, “That was very nice,” and then watched him go skipping away.
Then I attended to the girl. “Well how about that!?” I exclaimed. “He didn’t wreck anything, and said he was sorry; doesn’t that make you feel better?” She pouted and shook her head, still clutching the hand he had barely brushed against. (It was obvious she wasn’t actually hurt, but rather was suffering shock. It is traumatic to have a bull pass through your china shop, even if nothing gets broken, even for an adult, and she was only four.)
After a pause I asked her, “Does your hand still hurt?” and she nodded. After a second pause I said, “He must have patted it wrong”. After a third reflective pause I suggested, “Mom’s kiss boo-boos to make them better. Should I try that?” Without a word she presented me her hand, and I attempted to muster the grace of French courtier as I bowed my head to gently kiss the back of it. Then I asked, “How’s that? Better now?”
It worked, for she nodded and smiled, wiggling her fingers, but then this little innocent one completely floored me, for her face softened as she looked up at me and she inquired, “Mr Shaw, Are you married?”
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6