“I like that picture,” Bug said of a brightly colored painting in the waiting room. “What it is of?”
“I like it too. What do you see?” I asked, withholding my own observations and inviting some of his.
He thought for a minute, then said with conviction, “I see God.”
The two receptionists smiled at each other – not the warm and awe-struck smiles of those who just witnessed a two year old see our Creator in a piece of artwork, but the tight-lipped, dismissive smiles of adults hearing a silly child give the wrong answer.
“That is a picture of people dancing,” one of them corrected.
“There are so many colors!” the other said, as if curing cancer, “Red! Blue! Yellow!” I’m assuming she went on to list green, purple, and pink, but at that point, I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own brain exploding.
What is it that compels people to dismiss the ideas and observations of children, eager to reign in their broad, creative thinking and tell them what they ought to think instead?
What makes another mother at the library feel the need to patronize, “You precious thing. Dolphins can’t fly,” when she sees Babygirl dance in circles while making helicopter noises and lifting a dolphin high above her head?
Does anyone actually worry that children won’t figure these things out? That, if she’s allowed to play freely, my daughter risks growing into a disillusioned adult who missed the critical window to learn that dolphins swim?
Last night, while I made dinner, the Bug opened the laundry cupboard to work with his magnet letters. At one point, he told me that he had spelled the name of a good friend. I looked over, half expecting to see that he had – he’s passionate about letters at the moment and it’s a simple name – but, instead, saw him meticulously lining up (seemingly) random letters.
I thought, for a moment, about showing him the letters he would need to spell her name but stopped myself in time.
That isn’t what he wants from me right now, I told myself. When he wants to hear how a word is spelled, he asks me to spell it. When he wants to see how a word is spelled, he asks me to write it. There are days that he asks me to spell the names of friends ALL DAY, but in this moment, he didn’t ask me to spell it; he told me that he had. So instead of correcting, instead of “helping,” I simply said, “Look at all the letters in her name!”
Am I worried he’ll forever think his playmate’s name is Thart because I chose to hold my tongue? I am not. The next time he asks how something is spelled, I’ll happily tell him, just as I have in the past. In the meantime, if he wants to organize letters into groups and call it spelling, who am I to discourage him by telling him it’s not?
I trust that my children will learn the things they need to know and that, more often than not, the best thing I can do is stay out of their way. This isn’t the time to be tethered to facts, to black and white, correct or incorrect. This is the time to imagine, create, and invent the wildest possible idea without any reservation about whether it’s “right.” Someday, she’ll give up on her dream of a flying dolphin, but I hope he’ll always see God in the hand of an artist.