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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Secrets of happiness for kids - and for us

Liam and Oliver - happy with a book and someone to read it to them
This past Thursday, I learned again what I believe is true: kids don't need things to be happy.

That is, they don't need gadgets or fancy toys or lessons or groups or guided this or that.

This is what happened:

While my husband, Mike, and I chatted in one of the Milwaukee Domes (a huge indoor horticultural park) with our son Brian and his wife Rae, our two grandsons busied themselves.

Without words, Oliver (almost 8) started making a pattern on the cobblestones, using wood chips from the path. Immediately, Liam (age 2) started bringing chips to Oliver, back and forth. Oliver continued making the pattern.

"What are you making?" I asked him.

"It's a fence to show Liam's and my territory."

After a few minutes, a little girl joined in. Quietly, she formed what became the start of an assembly line. She picked up two wood chips. She gave them to Liam. Liam walked the chips over to Oliver and put them down on the ground near where Oliver was working. Oliver picked up the chips and added them to his construction project.

This went on for about 15 or 20 minutes, all without words. Finally I asked the little girl her name and age. She was Wendy, she said, and she was six, and her mom and nana were over there.

The children worked silently for a while more, and finally Wendy asked Oliver, "What are we making?"

I don't remember what he answered, and soon after that, she ran off.

The creation was a beautiful chain of wood chips with some height - like a stone wall along a winding farmer's field in Ireland. Oliver announced that it was now a train track. He gave Liam one chip, and he took a chip, and they drove their chip-trains along the track.

It was time to go.We all picked up the chips and threw them back on the path.

African children in the film "Babies"

The happiness and absolute concentration of the children reminded me of the movie "Babies," where the little African child is so content to play with bones and dirt....

It also reminded me of a quotation about dealing with children that I have loved since hearing it back when I was learning to be a teacher at Marquette U: "Do not save time; waste it." (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)....

It also reminded me of the Buddhist monks who work for days to create a sacred "painting" out of colored sand. When they are done, they dump the sand - to demonstrate the impermanence of everything we do, and the importance of non-attachment.

Liam and Oliver were perfectly happy to destroy what had taken about a half-hour to create. The joy was in the doing.

The best way to be with children is to focus on process, not product.

True happiness doesn't come from things. This is true for adults too, I think.

Oliver and Liam Fall 2012

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