4.10.2007

Meaningful Choices

Sometimes I forget just how much easier choices can make things for everybody.

Tembo loves brushing her teeth, for instance. Which is wonderful, but there does come a time when the toothbrush needs to go back into the cabinet. Taking the toothbrush away results in a terrible tantrum. Holding out a hand, or even better, a hat, and asking her to put the toothbrush in it... well that is just an utterly delightful game, and the command is met with sweet compliance and joy.

Of course, she really does have to learn to obey us, just because we said so... but there are enough opportunities for that sort of thing as it is. I'm far more interested in Aristotelian virtue than Abelardian virtue. I want to make it as easy as possible for her to get in the habit of joyous obedience. Much practice in a struggle toward painful obedience doesn't seem terribly helpful, and anyway, we aren't in danger of running of those excercises. There's no way to make it fun to stay inside the yard, but she has to learn to do it anyway. She doesn't know why it's important, but we do, and she has to learn to trust our judgment. Trust and and obey.

Part of learning to trust us, though, is being actively involved in the logic of our commands whenever possible, actively experiencing our judgments as directed toward her benefit and empowerment. When we make it easy for her to obey, she obeys us better... not just in the instances where we make it easy, but also in the instances where it's unavoidably hard.

The other day at lunch, Isaiah started in on a doozy of a tantrum as I pulled down a loaf of bread and began making sandwiches.

"Cer-yal! Cer-yal! No sammich! I wan CER-YAL!"

But then I asked him if he wanted a peanut butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich.

He quieted instantly. "Cheese sanwich."

I pulled out the block of cheddar.

"No, cream cheese!"

Well, okay. Why not.

"Do you want jelly on your sandwich?"

"No jelly. Just cream cheese."

"Would you like me to cut it, or not cut it?"

"Cut it!"

"Should I cut it into squares or triangles?"

"Triangles!"

"Should I cut it into two pieces or four pieces?"

"Four! Four triangles!"

By this point he was beaming as only Isaiah can beam, and the whole room was filled with the piercing brilliance of young joy.

They just desperately want to be a part of things, that's all.

The other day, Andy was mourning the loss of his teen years. If only he could go back and be ten years old again... the things he could have done to prepare himself for greatness, if he had caught a vision of purpose and virtue then, before it was too late, before the opportunities were gone.

Is there any hope for our children and the children that we teach? Or is that sort of vision impossible apart from age? Are teenagers just inherently lazy?

The answer lies, I think it what ten-year-old Andy actually did with his time. Rather than pouring himself into diligent study and relationships with wise mentors, young Andy spent all his time playing Hero's Quest, building up a virtual character well prepared to achieve greatness.
Could he have learned to see himself as the young hero, and poured that energy into real-life growth? Or was that time not as wasted as it seems? Did the silly video games actually provide him with the narrative structure to see meaning and purpose in his own life now?

I don't know.

But in the mean time, we will involve our children in the small but truly significant bits of life, like setting the table and folding the clean rags and throwing away their diapers and putting away the train tracks and pushing the start button on the dishwasher, and we'll teach them to delight in their important contributions to our family life. We're looking forward to the day when balancing the checkbook and paying the taxes and making the most of our grocery budget will be exciting math projects for the kids.

And we'll tell Tembo to place the toothbrush in our open hands, and delight with her in her free will and volition, as she chooses to obey.

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