On this beautiful summer evening, as the sun drops down behind the white pines around 5 o’clock, the two youngest kids on one side of my condo are in the backyard, sliding across one of those water-fed, flat sliders (you know what I’m talking about, Chris and Nicole Nash!). This one sprays water intermittenly into the air about three feet high across the maybe 12-foot mat.
It’s a simple toy, but one with which children, with an imagination, can expand its uses. Today, Emma, the older of the two, sits at the end of the strip, while Ben, sans the Mohawk he had when they moved here this spring, slides onto the wet plastic. The object is for Ben, who’s going into first grade this year, to get to Emma before her hand, on a seemingly count-by-seconds, reaches the plastic from the top of the fountain of water.
I am envious of children, particularly younger children, in their ability to live truly in the moment, honestly mindful living. It is only when they grow older, they become self-conscious, aware of what they may perceive as their place in life, in the world. Some become self-centered; some become withdrawn. Almost all of them lose their childhood joy at some time.
But before that happens, children such as my neighbors on the other side, Mitchell and Sofia, play in the mud and with rocks and pretend the elements of the earth are the makings of food, which in fact, many elements of the earth are, although not generally dirt and rocks. Water does qualify as sustenance, of course.
But with their imaginations running rampant, mud and rocks become soup and bowls, and even campfires.
Once, maybe 20 or so years ago, I was attending a Pinkerton Academy sports event. I don’t remember what it was. It most probably was a lacrosse game. The younger sister of one of the players, the daughter of one of my dearest friends, was, I believe, in elementary school and slightly bored with whatever game was going on. That is not to say she had no interest in sports. She went to Bates College in Maine later on a track scholarship.
But this particular day, she wanted to divert her interest. So I suggested, “Let’s make a clover chain.”
“What is a clover chain?” she asked. I was a little taken aback, but slowly I realized if you have grown up in a fairly urban environment, you may never have made a clover chain, or collected fireflies in a jar with holes punched in the lid, or laid on your back outside at night trying to count the stars in the Milky Way.
So, we sat in the grass, in the clover field, and I showed her how to clip a white or purple flower that grows from three- and four-leaf clovers, close to the dirt with her fingers, and then tie it to another with one small knot, adding on and on until she had a long chain of clover flowers.
When I was growing up, we used to put the chain across the rural road we lived on and watch for a car or truck or hay wagon to drive over it and crush it. Talk about a practice in futility. But those clover chains kept some of us busy and happy for hours on end. Outside, in the grass, close to the dirt, the earth, and yeah, much like Mitchell and Sofia, probably close to the rocks, too.