“GaGa,” Jack called while swinging ever higher, “How big is up?”
Ever since Jack Henry was a baby, I have had the privilege of being there with him. As many of you may already know, Jack and his mother live with us, and we form a rather intriguing, noisy, fractious, loving and sometime dysfunctional family. From the moment I held this little boy, my heart was taken… Well, actually from the moment the nurse exclaimed from the sonogram monitor, “It’s boy!” while he was carried in his mother’s womb would be more accurate.
I have played practically every role in Boy’s (That is what I call him. He calls me GaGa.) nearly four year old life. As a babe in arms, I carried him all over Chickamauge, GA in the wee hours of the morning to give his mother a bit of rest. In our walking about, we looked at the stars above and talked about God’s creative nature. We marveled at a moon that filled the sky with its lambent light. We strolled around the Baptist church’s historic cemetery and chatted about man’s end and the Spirit’s grace. (I would be less than fair if I also didn’t disclose that I want Jack Henry to be the boy that will walk a graveyard unafraid as his comrades quiver.) Our “chats” consisted of my talking and Jack’s cooing.
The favored mode of transportation is Boy’s red wagon in which we have explored all that our little prospect of the world has to offer. We have variously thrown rocks off of the train trestle into the pond, climbed on the train cars that stand mute on the tracks (Some stories of GaGa’s train-hopping days told in this instance), and rolled ourselves to the ‘big park’ for running and certain dangerous play-games. I must admit to a certain pride as Boy and I have gained a sort of notoriety in these parts as “the old man and his grandson”. Hey. I am not old. YOU try pulling this wagon all over eternity, as well as chasing down a nearly four year old to the taunts of “GaGa, you can’t catch me!”
The burley gets us further and faster. We go to the local Civil War battlefield for a jaunt and a climb up the Wilder tower – all 125 spiral steps of it – to its chess piece top of crenelated granite. After a moment’s look at all we can see from there, it is back down the spiral staircase and off to the next adventure, often with sticks or stones. In the battlefield, we listen to the numerous bird sounds in the trees as we bicycle through. Boy can identify so many. Buying that bird sounds book has really paid off, as has that free Peterson’s birds app on the iPhone. I have to marvel at just how natural “taking it all in” is to him, and it is not just as information or data. He is taking in all life has to offer, and his mind is working to make sense of it, often with his body and movement, but also with language and thought.
All the while, as Boy and I go about our play tasks, we talk. Jack narrates his moments of life in a steady stream of words and sounds which flow forth in a constant and joyful torrent. His interests are unlimited and well-connected to his growing understanding of the world around and inside him. Jack Henry is one reason – anecdotal, I know – why I consider myself a post-Piagetian. His imagination alone is more sophisticated than mine, and he is able to construct whole spaces and places of the heart and mind. Playing under the bedcovers with a flashlight and a storybook transports us to places I can only describe as Other. He can tell and retell stories at will. And he adds so many flourishes. When I tell him his “Little Cloud” stories at night, he can make up his own clever narrative riffs. (Don’t ask what “Little Cloud” stories are; they are reserved for Boy and me.) I love to throw in new words to see what he will do with them. My favorite right now is “hermeneutics” and Boy loves using that word. “GaGa, you and me are playing hermeneutics, aren’t we?” If he only knew… My burgeoning Gadamerian grandson.
Everything to Boy can become a muscial instrument. Two spoons can substitute for a violin and bow or viola. He came to know musical instruments when we read (over and over) his favorite book, Zin, Zin, Zin, a Violin, and listened to (over and over) the Sting version of Peter and the Wolf. He sings and sings – when bathing, swinging, running, playing superhero. There are songs for every occasion, many made up on the spot.
I think the thing that touches me most is Boy’s heart. We have told him from the earliest that he is Kind and Brave and Strong and True, just like his Savior. This is pretty important stuff for a nearly four year old to take in, but he knows what we are talking about. Kieran Egan writes about the imaginal mind of the child and the assumption that children live and breathe in a world of big ideas and schemas. Our job as adults is merely to encourage that path and to read them great books and live adventures to strengthen those natural connections.
Here maybe we can begin to see Mason’s thinking and genius about raising young children. The phrase “unfolding the potentialities of the created order” comes to mind. Not Charlotte Mason, but someone who would have resonated with her ideas (thank you, Nick Barker). Children come to us as active and willing learners who are searching for meaning in a large world. They try things that don’t work (like scissors and hair, hammers and nails and wood floors) and ask deep questions (“GaGa, why am I naughty?”), and they challenge us adults as we seek to manage and control their circumstances (Ever try to stop children at focused play when it is dinner time?). Without going all humanist on you, I think it is incumbent for us adults, parents, and caregivers to first of all understand how natural learning is to young children, and second that much of the time all we need do is step back in masterly inactivity to let them explore and play as they were made to do.
I have found that it is not so much that I am a Mason educator as it is that Jack Henry is made in the way she describes. He is unclear as to who she is, but completely lucid as to how to live the life she purported. I see Mason through the eyes of my grandson every day.
© Dr. Jack Beckman 2011