Can you see the spider lying in wait in the center of the web? This is just one of countless sights that elicited whoops of excitement and gasps of awe from a group of eleven bug-hunters ages 1 - 6 that we led on a nature walk earlier this week. It was our turn to host the homeschool-style science camp we're participating in this summer, and we were excited to share our growing passions for bugs and birds with some new friends.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I tell you it was awesome. All of the kids were already lovers of nature, and when I explained what we were doing, they set out on the trail with adorable gusto. Every couple of steps there was something new to admire and enthuse over; as soon as our attention was waning with one bug we would hear another urgent cry of "Everyone! Come look!" The wonder of the kids before moss, larvae, skinks, raccoon tracks, butterflies, cicada husks and daddy long legs was completely infectious. It was the camp counselor effect: when faced with a crowd of bright, enthusiastic faces, one cannot help but mirror back some of that same effervescent glow. So at one point a mother and I shared an interesting bug with each other with big grins on our faces, noticed there were no children present, then smiled sheepishly at one another. Were we really so thrilled by a beetle? In that moment we were, despite our years of practiced adult callousness towards nature.
After the walk, everyone came back to our house for a totally superfluous bug-themed craft (though the clothespin dragonflies did look nice), some playtime, and lunch in the backyard. Some of the older children hit the dress up box and decided to put on a play of Snow White. Frances immediately took over a directorial position, assigning roles, digging out costumes, and creating scripts. As I watched her, I started to feel nervous. This was a set up if ever there were one.
Somehow the kids agreed take a break from rehearsing to have lunch. As we sat outside, Frances and I told a couple of kids and moms about our new Wink Lists. The wink originated at the beach with our friends, and was inspired by my recent reading. When I noticed Frances getting ragged around the edges and looking for a fight at the beach in the late afternoon, I pulled her aside and we talked about what it feels like in our bodies when we are getting more and more upset. It wasn't easy for her, but we did agree that our hearts start beating fast, and we feel tight in our muscles. Then we made a pact: if we noticed the other person looking like her heart was racing, we would give her a wink. That's our secret code now: the wink means hey, I notice you're a little upset, maybe you could use a break.
We made our Wink Lists the day before the nature walk. We thought of all the things we could do when our hearts are racing to slow them back down again, like deep breathing and listening to music. Frances wrote down my things, I wrote down hers, and we posted them in the kitchen at eye level. We told our friends over lunch how Frances gave me the wink within minutes of writing our lists, after I spilled a container of markers all over the floor. It worked! I was too irritated to even look at Frances, who persisted nonetheless in saying Mama look at me! When I did, and saw her exaggerated wink, I had to laugh. A couple of deep breaths, and all was peaceful again.
As soon as the kids were done eating, they rushed back down to the playroom to resume rehearsals for Snow White. I overheard Frances yelling with exasperation at a three year old who, surprise surprise, was not interested in taking direction. I made my way downstairs, fearing the worst. It wasn't good: at that point Frances was near tears, threatening to quit the play because Gabriel wanted to be a knight instead of the woodcutter. A few kids were gathered around her, watching the mounting tantrum with curiosity. I braced myself and started to reason with her (when will I ever learn? reasoning is useless in these circumstances) as the muscles in my face began to harden into stone. Just then six year old Mackenzie stepped in front of me. She gently addressed the frazzled auteur.
Frances? Frances, look!
I watched Mackenzie, who was had a little smile playing around her lips. She gave Frances a big wink, then waited expectantly, grinning.
I wanted to hug that kid. Frances smiled - a little. The tension broke, and I quietly got up and left the room.