I took Jasmine with me this morning when I went to run in Taylor Creek Park. I am trying to run 4km everyday, and I always give Jasmine the option of coming with me in the stroller or staying home with her Daddy and sisters. Invariably, she chooses to come along, and she is pretty content to sit in the stroller for 25-or-so minutes, usually clutching a dolly or a piece of toast.
I drove over to the parking lot where the trail begins, and immediately saw a school bus parked at the entrance. Sure enough, there were around 40 kids in burgundy t-shirts milling about restlessly as a fat, red-faced woman about my age attempted to organize the children and 3 or 4 other adults. I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and strapped Jasmine quickly into the stroller, hoping to get ahead of the group.
Amazingly, the daycare group was ready to walk before Jasmine and I were ready to run, and I ended up catching them just as they reached the duck pond where some water had spilled out over the path and created a muddy area.
"Get away from there!" the daycare leader screeched. "We aren't stopping here. Stay out of the mud. Don't get your feet wet. Keep moving!"
So apparently the duck pond was off-limits.
I couldn't help thinking, as I ran along, how different the Monday-to-Friday lives of those 30 or 40 children were from my 3 girls. The kids ranged in age from about 5 to 10 years, and not one of them showed any signs of joy or enthusiasm. They walked, no, trudged along like a chain gang. Only 5 minutes into their valley-adventure they were already bored and disinterested, tired and restless.
And I thought about how the adults in charge may have thought they were doing something special for the children by getting them out of the daycare and out into nature, but it was pretty clear that the event itself was more important than the children and their needs or desires. Any interest or curiosity in the duck pond was squashed in favour of the greater good: getting to wherever they were going. And I noticed that only two of the adults and none of the children were carrying backpacks, which lead me to think that either someone was meeting them further along the trail to provide refreshments, or else this was to be a relatively short trip. No one was even carrying a water bottle and many of the children didn't even have hats, although, without exception, every child was wearing a much-too-big t-shirt in a bold shade of burgundy, presumably to make them easily identifiable to the accompanying adults, who might not otherwise recognize their charges. (You can imagine how I rolled my eyes about that!)
I reached my turn-around spot at 2km into my run and headed back to my car with Jasmine still sitting contently in the stroller, presumably enjoying the landscape as it rolled past. When I came upon the daycare group this time they were stopped at another area where some water had created a muddy area near the paved path. A little freckled boy, maybe 6 years old, was at the front of the group crying loudly.
"The big kids are teasing me!" he sobbed. And the leader, already huffing and puffing though they had walked barely a kilometer, replied, "You're OK."
And I wished I had had the courage to stop beside that little boy, kneel beside him, take his hand, and say:
I'm so sorry to see that you aren't having a very good time today. It must be really hard to be with all these kids all day everyday for two weeks already, and I know you still have 8 more weeks of summer vacation to go. You probably didn't chose this daycare, or these daycare leaders or any of these kids as a way to spend your summer. It's not fair, is it? If I were you, I would cry too.
Talk about a total lack of control. I struggle with the concept of control. When I was a teacher I knew without question that maintaining control in my classroom was an absolutely essential part of my job. The children must be managed or nothing can be accomplished. Individual decision making is non-existent. And all of the routines for controlling students are so much a part of my habits that I have to try very hard not to control my children.
The phrase 'out of control' is always meant to be negative, but I have started to embrace it as something positive. If I consider my daughters to be 'out of control' what I really mean is that they are out of my control, but under their own control, which is so much better. The less I try to control my children, the fewer confrontations we have and the less struggle ensues. This has become the definition of authentic parenting for me. I follow their lead as much as possible, and when they need me to be the leader, I am.
Less struggle. More individual control.
Less fighting. More joy.