Today as we started off on our walk from the day care to the park we talked about how we hadn’t worn our bathing suits, about how hot we were. I wondered if we should go into our neighbor’s house, turn on the AC and drink iced tea. Then the conversation shifted to other things, to neighbors, to drinks, to families, to I don’t remember what.

A few minutes later as we passed the school my four asked me why we can’t take off our shirts at the park. I thought about it, wondered if it would be ok, decided it would not. It’s just not something that we do, I said. At the park we keep our shirts on. At home or at the beach it might be ok to take our shirts off but at the park in the city we don’t.

Another four let us know she takes off her shirt at the park if it gets wet, sometimes.
That is ok, I said, realizing that fours like to think about the rules, about what is ok here and there and everywhere. We talked about that a long while, about how learning what is ok in different places, about how we humans are always asking ourselves that question, and answering it in our minds, and the kids got it, completely. Then we talked about asking ourselves not just what is ok, but what we should do. The subtlety of the difference came out in our conversation, and I added a story about two young adults who had been to my house the night before, thinking about what they should do with their unrented apartment, moving mattresses and talking with me as their plan unfolded in their minds and between them and as my family tried to make dinner in the midst of it all, and how the coals on the grill nearly burned out before the burgers hit it and how my kids and Richard and I have to all pitch in during the busy times like getting dinner on the table..and the kids noticed that familiar scene..one four told us how she sometimes sets the table while her parents prepare the dinner..another talked about how sometimes things go wrong..and we talked about that..how as we are asking ourselves what is ok and what we should do, life is going on all around us, and we are doing lots of things at once, sometimes well, sometimes not so well..and the kids understood this,too, families are like that, a lot..and they know it, as are friendships and games and plays and projects..we stop and we start, we reflect and we do, all the while making our lives the best we can.

At the park, I talked with a nanny who has been trying to open a family day care elsewhere. Awhile back we talked about her wish to make a program with her vision in Western Mass. Today she wanted to tell me what she had learned about Portland, Mass, how hard it is to open a day care there with multiple regulators, and how she had learned very few providers are renters, which she will be, but as she said, she hasn’t given up yet. Later she told me that she also learned most people want family child care for their infants, not for the preschoolers she hopes to have in her care. Life is like this, we try out ideas in our mind, we gather information, we test the information against our hopes and dreams, we evaluate our plans, we act a little, step back a little, reformulate the plans.

I’ve been doing the same in my life, as we all do, wondering what next as my middle son looks seriously at colleges for next year, my older son enters his senior year of college thinking about where he’ll live and work next year, my daughter becomes a high school age student, and I start another year living apart from Richard. Change is in the air, but we are mostly in the dreaming and planning stages, minor actions only so far, anticipating which moves might help or hurt the most, trying to create the visions we can learn to follow and wondering what might take shape out of fate and effort.

Which reminds me of the other part of the day care conversation, about how we learn to make our moves..The four who talked about why we can’t take off our shirts pointed out that one way we answer the questions about what is ok and what we should do is by talking with people and watching people..and we went from there to listening to our hearts..to what makes us happy or sad, to what excites or frightens or pulls or pushes us.

It’s a process to learn to shape our lives with confidence, one that’s never done, and one I’m happy to do in the company of the youngest ones learning to do it for the first time. Amazing what threes and fours can comprehend, how much they’ve learned in their short time on the earth, how wise they can be when we have the time to talk and listen, and how many of our struggles are life long.

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