“Come on, Asher, we need to go!” I say for the fourth time as my three year old crouches down near the bushes in front of our house to examine a creature.
“But I found something interesting, Mommy! Come look! It’s yellow with black dots and I think it’s a dragonfly.”
He’s right; it’s a dragonfly and it’s quite beautiful, but that doesn’t change the fact that if we don’t get into the car this second we’re going to be late. Still, I bend down with him and am amazed that he can identify a dragonfly, then ask if he’s ready to get into the car.
The dragonfly examination was the fourth stop on our way out the door. First he noticed an ant on the floor. Then he had to make his cat puppet tell him something very important. Then he needed one more drink of water. I keep telling him that we’re going to be late while realizing that the word “late” is meaningless to him. And there’s one simple reason for this: he lives in the moment, the illustrious NOW every spiritual tradition espouses as the key to a peaceful life.
As I sat with him crouched down in the grass examining this small miracle of nature, it occurred to me that we have yet another example of crushing a child’s natural and effortless spiritual wisdom: throughout childhood we’re teaching kids to be on time, to set aside the story they’re writing because it’s time for math, to interrupt their creative flow and their innate knowledge of how to fully embrace each moment. In short, we teach them to squeeze themselves inside the boxes of time, expectations, and shoulds, telling them that they need to learn respect, organization, and timeliness.
And then, as adults suffering from anxiety, depression, addictions, insomnia, OCD, relationship troubles, and a variety of other maladies, they find their way to spiritual texts and meditation centers only to learn that they need to unlearn everything they’ve ever learned. They need to learn to be in the moment. They need to learn to “stop and smell the roses.” They need to slow down. They need to pause and come to their senses. Somewhere deep inside I imagine a young child living inside these fractured adults screaming, “EVERY TIME I STOPPED TO SMELL THE ROSES YOU TOLD ME TO HURRY UP! ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO ENJOY MY SENSES BUT EVERYTHING ELSE WAS MORE IMPORTANT!” And that inner child would be right to feel angry: what he knew without being taught had been wrung out of him and now he has to painstakingly undo the unhealthy habits and re-learn the knowledge with which he was born.
Isn’t there something terribly tragic about this? What are we doing to our kids? We’re squashing their natural intelligence. We’re teaching them adult rules too early in life. Is it important to teach respect and timeliness? Absolutely. But is it possible that these qualities and skills could naturally arise from a place of wholeness if we allowed our children the freedom to meander through their days, trusting their own sense of direction? Likewise, we tell kids throughout childhood that they need to be normal and “fit in” only to learn that, as adults, those who we respect the most are people who have broken the rules, think outside the box, trust their own voice and vision, and, as a result, are the innovators and artists pushing the edge of the envelope and inviting others to do the same.
Now, I must admit that, as a parent, it’s incredibly frustrating when a child dawdles, especially if you’re in a rush. The fact is that adults are on adult time and kids are on kid time, and when a kid on kid time takes the longest route possible to get from point A to point B, it takes a lot of will power not to lose your patience. On a purely practical level, I try to allow extra time before an outing; if it would take me five minutes to get out the door on my own, I allow for twenty minutes when I’m with my kids. And then I try to keep the big picture in mind: that my kids are on their own timetable, one that allows for wonder and discovery at every turn, and if that means we’re going to be a few minutes late somewhere, so be it. I don’t like being late and I certainly hope my kids learn that being on time is respectful to everyone involved, but I also know that at seven and three years old, it doesn’t matter if they’re a few minutes late to a friends’ house or to a homeschool class. What matters is that they emerge from childhood with their spirits in tact, their sense of creativity, awe and curiosity fully alive, trusting their ability to navigate their lives according to their own inner compass and following the muse of wonder, and that whether they become scientists, poets, writers, engineers, businessmen, or musicians, they take time to crouch down and witness the miracle of a golden-iridescent dragonfly or a clump of grass growing in a sidewalk crack.
Here’s to dawdling, to pausing, to puttering, to sitting, to taking time to smell the roses. Can you imagine what a different world it would be if we all mindfully dawdled just a little bit more?