Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"I do this at kindergarten."

February 13, 2007

It appears I have competition for the mind if not the heart of my small son. I have begun to hear the phrase “I do this at kindergarten” around the house, for example last week when His Holiness reached into the fridge, pulled out the milk carton and dashed over to the kitchen table holding it precariously in his too small hands. There is a frantic energy in the body of this three-year-old, he moves with great purpose but can’t always get where he wants to go without a few trips or slips or knocks into something first. So armed with this potential milk missile he climbed into his chair and began to pour. All this time I am admonishing him to slow down, take it easy, while at the same time asking him what he is doing. “I do this at kindergarten” he repeats and I have a moment of clarity, some call it an epiphany, where I realize a number of things all at once.

First, a bit of background. One of the many ways Germany is different from America is that at the age of three your small child is packed up and off to kindergarten, where s/he spends a few hours each day in the company of other small people under the supervision of caregivers whose training is less pedagogic in nature than it is nurturing. Your child may not learn to read or count in a German kindergarten but they will learn something and mostly about living with others.

This may not be news to many people but it is one thing to understand intellectually that your toddler is going to be spending a good bit of time without your direct supervision and another entirely to see him accomplish some new task you have not helped him to learn. Pouring his own milk was the first event, followed the other morning by putting on his own shoes and almost putting on his shirt by himself. These activities are usually preceded by HH snatching the article of clothing or cup or whatever it is out of my hand and saying, “I do this at kindergarten.”

I used to ask him what he did each day at school. On our way home I would ask him if he made any pictures or sang songs or read books and he usually shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know or didn’t remember what he had done that day at school.

But now I know what he does each day while he is away from me, he is growing up, he is becoming independent and he is learning to do things for himself in a way he might not have done or might not have done quite so quickly if he was still with Papa all day and Papa, which is my way, continued to do things for him, like dress him and fix his milk and brush his hair and put his shoes on him.

So when he sets about on a new task I stand nearby and watch, careful not to interfere, careful to give him the space he now demands to struggle with mastering the new skills he is learning. Right now the range of activities and experiences he has that I am not directly involved with is relatively small, but one of the things I realized the other day in the kitchen as he was pouring his milk, was that it is only a matter of time before the majority of the new experiences he has in life will be learned outside of our shared existence.

My mother turned 84 this week and when I spoke with her on the phone to wish her a happy birthday I could hear an underlying sadness in her voice. The greater part of our shared experience is behind us now and I know how much she misses it. She doesn’t say it in so many words; she doesn’t have to.

© German Diary 2007