My house was messier and noisier and busier than normal this past week, but happily so with the addition of my niece Maddie, almost 9, and nephew Jonathan, 7. During their Spring Break visit, I tried my best to spoil them rotten. We ate ice cream and pizza, went to a carnival, watched movies, and stayed up way too late. They had almost as much fun as I did. In the midst of all that play (and all that eating), I received a re-education if you will in the joy of being a kid. Our two-year-old son, Owen, is just emerging from baby to little boy. My sister’s kids, however, are full-fledged experts in childhood fun. What I admire most is their ability to live completely in the moment.
When it’s time to eat ice cream, it really is all about eating ice cream. They approach selecting a flavor with a seriousness of purpose some adults bring to buying a car. I listened as they weighed the pros and cons of each flavor before making their choice: “Chocolate is sooooo good, but I just had that last week.” “This kind has sprinkles in it, but that one has cookie dough.”
Finally, when they both decided on a kind called “Birthday Cake,” we sat and discussed the subtleties of its flavors for twenty minutes. It really does taste like a birthday cake we decided, a yummy (in their
opinion) and shockingly sweet (in my opinion) mixture of white cake and frosting and sprinkles all in one. Maddie and Jonathan seem to bring this level of enthusiasm and concentration to most activities, at least the fun ones.
I took them to a park and watched them invent games. A cluster of rocks became a seashore. The goal was to leap between the rocks without falling into the “water.” They became fast friends with another girl who quickly joined in their game. Owen watched the big kids with fascination. Before long, I was holding his hand as he fearlessly climbed up and down the rocks alongside them.
When we visited the pricey carnival that was set up in the parking lot of a shopping mall near my house, their faces beamed with enthusiasm.
It was raining and the rides were second-rate and so expensive I made them choose just two. Yet, for those few adrenaline-filled minutes, while riding a mini-rollercoaster and crashing into each other on bumper cars, they were positively euphoric.
And then there’s the things kids say. The sweet, honest, uncensored one-liners that make you laugh and sometimes make you think. During one of our meals, the kids were surprised that Owen was feeding himself with a spoon. “Look,” Jonathan said, “he’s practicing growing up.”
Those words made me pause. “Yes, he is, ” I responded.
Then, I attempted a teaching moment: “Sometimes kids practice growing up,” I said. “But most of the time, kids should practice being kids.”
### Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She teaches journalism classes at the University of Portland.