Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stretch Assignments

When I was in college, I took a two-week trip to the Bolivian altiplano, which is a whole story unto itself. I was with a humanitarian group, and we helped build a schoolhouse and wells in a very remote village. It was a great time.

But a few days into the trip, I noticed that I was feeling…less than exuberant about my adventure. Instead of feeling joyful and energized, I was sort of generally exhausted and run down and overwhelmed. I concluded—with some wisdom for an eighteen-year-old, I think—that I was just depleted by the newness of everything. (And possibly a little intestinal distress.)

In those remote, preindustrial villages a continent away from home, every sight, every sound, every taste, and every locale was unfamiliar. All day every day my senses were barraged with things that—no matter how wonderful—were strange. Nothing was routine or familiar. My auto-pilot was offline. And it was depleting. Not bad. Good, in fact. But draining.

Some of the wonderful, unfamiliar people I saw.
I think of this experience sometimes with my kids. Being a kid has got to be exhausting. Every year they are a whole new person being thrust into new responsibilities and situations. In fact, as a mother I’m constantly (gently?) prodding my kids into what my HR sister calls “stretch assignments.” Starting a new grade, learning a new skill, taking on new responsibilities.

It's all so exhausting!
Here’s an example: Jesse’s about to start third grade, which means multiplication. So this summer I’ve tried several times to broach the topic. For example, he was counting something, and I pointed out that if he knew multiplication he could save some effort by multiplying 3 rows times 4 columns and it would be a snap. Blew his mind. And sort of freaked him out. At this point, multiplication is terrain as unfamiliar as, well, the Bolivian altiplano was to me in 1991.

So much to learn, so many YouTube videos to watch.
Levi feels gypped that I used to fold his laundry but now I just plop the basket in his room to fold himself. Jesse is stressed out because this year he has to take piano lessons. Haley is excited but nervous that as a sixth grader she’ll rotate through four classrooms each day. And Betsy’s sad because I used to hold her on my hip while I make dinner, but now I won’t.
Haley and I share the belief that new crayons and expo markers make work more fun.
I try to remember this when I’m tempted to feel irritated with a child’s struggles. I try to remember that their struggles are real. They live in a world where their bodies and their friends and their perspectives are constantly morphing, where each season brings whole new vistas and expectations.
New braces.
From this vantage point, my kids seem like intrepid pioneers.