the middle years

Who hasn’t seen the beautiful face of 8-year-old Richard Martin from Dorchester, MA proudly holding the poster he made, “No more hurting people.  PEACE.”

Not only is it his youth and innocence, robbed from him as he cheered the Boston Marathoners on, that has captured the world’s attention – their hearts – but also that sensitive message he offered and the irony that he would lose his life from an explosion purposely set off to “hurt people”.

As parents we cannot imagine the agony of this family’s reality.

This week I found myself in the middle of sixty second graders – 7 and 8-year-old youngsters – just like Martin.  I was invited to read the picture book I wrote, Old Blue Buggy, while the Hintgen Elementary School 2nd graders added in their musical accompaniment.

The result was very charming.

I haven’t spent a lot of time around a large group of 7 and 8-year-olds lately.  My time is spent more with toddlers and preschoolers  who come to Play Shoppe and other programs at The Parenting Place.

But what an absolutely endearing opportunity it was.

I found these kids to be impressively positive, respectful, open, friendly, and attentive to the work at hand.  Yet,  at the same time, I sense a vulnerability lurking in children at this age.  Perhaps it is because they are so open – so forthright – so trusting – so much like the face of Martin Richard and his honest, direct, from-the-heart statement “no more hurting people“.

There is a wide variety of differences in size and abilities of children at this age.  I noticed most of the girls in this group appeared to be very socially aware, outgoing, extending friendly greetings to me at every opportunity.  The boys made eye contact, gave half smiles, were very courteous.

I was struck by these children because I sensed so strongly that they truly had one foot back where my Play Shoppers are and one foot taking giant steps toward independence – shaping into the adults they will become.

And that’s the part to not forget about the middle years.  They still very much need the adults in their life.  Their work is to become autonomous – to grow in independence from the family.

But what we, as parents, should recognize is that this growth takes time, the leap is wide, and we need to  continue to offer our hand – to build a different relationship with them that balances peer culture along with our family units.

I saw in everyone of these children the desire to talk, to share, to be recognized.  However, for busy parents, this is an easy age to “let be”.  They seem happy enough.  They have friends – birthday parties, activities, sleep-overs, sports, some even have the use of social media.

Sometimes it seems easier to chock their schedules full.

But we are not finished as parents and their need is still great.  It is a balancing act to both encourage friends, peers, and activities while also holding dear our family time together.

Family traditions and rituals are a good way to offer our maturing children times to connect, to feel a strong sense of belonging to the family, to feel secure in this circle.  We know the ways – holiday traditions, pizza and movie night, board games, family meetings, meals together, reading aloud chapter books, one on one time, taking a walk, bike riding, family projects, just hanging out home – each perhaps doing their own activity yet the sense of accessibility to each other – palpable.

At home that evening after the performance, I was filled with such fervent hope that all of these children I met this week would experience those things.

Before the beginning of the show as these sixty performers stood on the risers, bursting with anticipation, their wise music teacher gave them the opportunity to get out the waves of acknowledgement to their families in the audience, make the connection to their loved ones, celebrate the moment to have someone there, to be noticed, recognized and loved.

What a moment.

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