The other day I was playing with my son Cesar on our veranda. We have a collection of wooden cut offs that we keep there for him to play with (cause you know, our room is at maximum toy capacity). I started building random structures with the blocks, and Cesar was complaining he doesn’t know what to do. I offered that we could build little wood structures and get a ball to play ‘bowling’. He said ‘No…’ while I could see an epiphany glaring back at me in his eyes. ‘I am going to run them over with MY BIKE’.
Oh God, of course, he found a more destructive version to the more civilized game of bowling. Because I couldn’t find a reason not to do it other than my own personal reaction to his idea we went ahead. He fetched his little trike and I started building walls for him to drive through like a stuntman. Now, the wooden cut offs we have were not designed to be building blocks. They were cut off, because they weren’t needed — their cuts were rough, different sizes, different types of wood (read different weight) and asymmetrical. This made ‘building a high wall’ a bit of a challenge, as I had to pay attention to every block, where it was placed, how it was placed – ensuring balance every step of the way, to get maximum height and maximum surface impact for Cesar.
Cesar would patiently wait on the far end of the veranda on his trike for me to finish, before storming into the wall and having us repeat the whole procedure.
While he was crashing into the wall in sheer delight, I found myself being concerned about the ‘destructiveness’ of this game and if he’s really learning anything valuable from this. Can’t we do something more constructive?
The next day I was hanging some laundry outside on the washing line. As I came back with the empty laundry basket I saw Cesar was building with the wooden blocks. Somehow, he managed to build an intricate structure that was perfectly balanced – it reminded me of the ‘Zen rocks’ constructions some people make in rivers. I stood still for a moment and was amazed at his skill and wondering where he had learnt such a skill. As he continued building I remembered the game we played the day before, and how he had patiently and observantly waited for me to build his walls. How he had watched me focus on precision and balance and in those small moments integrated that skill for himself.
I scoffed at myself, at the worry, fear and concern of his behaviour the other day. While I was worried he was being destructive and ‘not learning anything’ – he’d actually learnt a whole lot. Reflecting on it more later, and looking back at his sheer delight in breaking down that wall – I found within myself the same cheerful delight at breaking through walls myself. Not physical walls, but mental barriers. That destruction and destructiveness have their role in our lives – and given the right time and place – can be the most constructive thing that happens to us.
When we come from a place of fear – a place I know all too well – we see only that which confirms our fear. We don’t see the whole picture, the totality of what is playing out in a single moment. We aren’t here as and with the moment – but looking through it with a lens that filters out everything but that which we already know and believe. Luckily, our children for the most part don’t have such lenses in place, and provide us with an opportunity to put down our glasses of perception and experience the moment, reality for what it really is. If we don’t, we end up forcing those same lenses unto them. As parents, we’re in a unique and precious position. Of creation and destruction simultaneously. Let’s make the best of it!