Monday, April 15, 2013

Amazingly Cool Chicken Gardens

I had an interesting experience on Saturday. I drove the carpool for Mary and Lucy's chamber music rehearsal, and a girl I didn't know very well rode along with us.

This is a very sweet girl. Funny and spunky. Full of energy. I was driving the van, Mary was next to me, and this girl was in one of the middle seats. I immediately began to chat away, asking her about school, violin, Tae-kwan-do (or however you spell that), and all the things she was involved in. 

Her answers grew less and less enthusiastic as time went on, and at one point she said, "Wha—what?" like she'd been startled. 

I turned my head then to see if something was wrong, because my conversational skills are usually so good :).

Nothing was wrong with her, she was just playing with her iPad. 

Oh, this irked me. It's no secret I dislike screen time in general for kids, but I'd never been ignored before because of it. I thought about this the rest of the way there, and I thought about it as I waited during their rehearsal (while I was supposed to be writing), and I thought about it as I drove them home (and was again ignored thanks to the iPad). 

This event could be analyzed from every angle, plenty of pros and cons: 

just relax—be more strict 
let loose—don't give up 
it's too late—take control 
that's the way our society is going—kids today need discipline! 

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here, and it really is not my place to judge this girl or her family. And there are plenty of times when one of my kids is so engrossed in a book, they completely ignore me. I've heard plenty of, "Wha—what?" Is it any ruder for them to ignore me while reading than for this girl to ignore me while tableting? I just prefer reading. I almost think it's cute when they are so engrossed. Others might find tableting cute. So, in some ways, I'm really being hypocritical. 

Tablet or no tablet, our world today with ALL of its distractions, puts us and our children in danger of being disconnected from each other and disconnected from life. If you combine these distractions with this intense need in our society to compete with one another and to succeed by other peoples' measures of success, of course our children are going to be distracted! This distraction will be their escape from these pressures they cannot control and that probably frighten them or at least threaten their sense of security. 

This is all bringing me to our backyard. 

Really, it is. 

Because our backyard is a mess. A total disaster. Grass does not really exist in North Carolina, and neither do sprinkling systems. Our yard is a den of weeds. And probably snakes. The kids have their own little fort worlds in the backyard (something I love), which involves them taking out pillows (now  chewed up, probably by raccoons), cardboard boxes, bowls, anything they need to build their grocery stores, their jails, their libraries, and their houses. It's great, but it's ugly. 

But really something must be done. Our backyard is beyond out of control. 

The way I see it, we have two choices. We can make our own grown-up plan of how we want our backyard to look and then set about doing it. We would try to involve the kids in the work, of course, but every bit of the work would have to be directed by us and controlled by us, because our intention would be to have the yard look a certain way. 

There is nothing wrong with this, of course! We're the adults. It's our home. We have a responsibility to our neighbors. There is no reason not to make our backyard nice and appealing based on our ideas and our designs. 

But I have another opportunity with this yard. I can sense it. It's on the tips of my fingers and on the tip of my brain. I'm not sure what it is or how it will translate into reality, but this mess of a backyard is my chance to give my children autonomy support, which is defined as this: 

explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

(This autonomy support idea is something I got from this article:

I could give each child a task in the backyard and give them complete autonomy to accomplish the task however they desire. 

One of the things we want in the backyard is chickens. The kids want chickens too—they are stoked about this idea. Sam went and got a bunch of free wooden pallets, and I've told him I want the kids to build the chicken coop themselves. He can help, in the sense that he can be a robot, doing exactly what they tell him to do, but he is in no way supposed to take over the project or even give suggestions. I really want them to have autonomy. 

Then I read this book (click here for a one minute video about the book):

And it made me want one of those really cool, amazingly beautiful chicken gardens. It really, really did. And there is no way my kids would be able to accomplish anything close to that. (I'm not sure I could accomplish anything close to that.)

So do I take it over? Do I make my backyard my own amazingly cool chicken garden (based on someone else's amazingly cool chicken garden)? 

Or do I remember why I chose to have kids in the first place! Not so I could have an amazingly cool chicken garden, but so I could help these little people discover their own unique talents and interests and gifts. So I could help them become good people that aren't afraid to try and FAIL. Fail! If I force my kids to help me with my amazingly cool chicken garden, I will not give them the opportunity to fail. I know I won't. I won't want them to fail  because I won't want my amazingly cool chicken garden to fail, and I will stop them before failure can happen. 

I've answered my own question, I guess. I can have my own amazingly cool chicken garden when they grow up. In the meantime, I will have my own amazingly cool, kid-generated chicken mess that we will constantly be working on and reevaluating. 

It will be something they never forget, because they had their own ideas about where to put that stone or that plant or that nail, and I didn't tell them their idea was wrong or not-so-good. Then, when that compost bin they build falls apart, they will hopefully shrug and say, "Nothing devastating has happened here. Let's try again." Hopefully this will happen because they won't feel Mom's stress about her garden not being amazingly cool like she wants it to be. 

Will this connect them to their world? Will they still need iPads—or even books!—for escape. 

Hopefully, they won't be escaping anything, because they will be living right in the intensity of the moment, in the thick of real, tangible life. Then, as we're driving in the car, they won't be distracted. They'll be looking around, imagining what they could do with that yard or that space. Envisioning what they want to do when they get back home with ours.

I hope. I hope. I hope.

(I will post pictures of our backyard as it stands tomorrow—I have no working camera here today. You will see the mess before it becomes and even greater mess!)

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