The Great Pumpkin lesson

30 10 2017

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This morning, my Montessori-daughters, after entertaining themselves deliriously making video recordings with me of themselves fumbling a slap-rhyme and giggling about it, spent a good twenty minutes completely occupied with the task of washing the paint off a painted pumpkin. This is their schooling in action: Montessori believed that children are happiest doing real tasks instead of pretend ones, and their classrooms have small sinks, rags, and soap ever at the ready. They wash their snack dishes, help younger kids wash snack dishes, and wash any other thing they can get their hands on. Sometimes they spend all morning dirtying a thing and washing it again (which is why Tabitha rarely comes home in the clothes I sent her in: for other three-year-olds, this is commonly a sign of peed outfits, but we’ve had only one of those. Her plastic-bagged clothes boast sticky soap-swirls and sleeves soaked to the shoulder).

It’s also part of a larger story about social learning and friendship for Evanny, though. The pumpkin in question was a “gift” from an old schoolmate, her friend Preston (now in first grade somewhere else, as last year he joined the rock-star cast of “graduated” playmates). (Really, it was a gift from his mother; Preston was tired at the end of the play date when it was acquired and had a little trouble letting go, but he managed to rise to the occasion.). Evanny was charmed enough by the gourd that it had to go to school for show and tell–a pumpkin! During pumpkin season! From Preston! (It was apparently very popular.) And then a few days later, at another play date, her dear friend Nathan, who is quick to catch fire with inspiration, reluctant to ever let a good idea go, and very firm in purpose once he picks a path, announced that they should paint it.

Evanny and Nathan have a complicated relationship. He’s her first love from babyhood, and used to adore her unconditionally in turn. But he’s a year and a half her senior, has an older brother to shadow, has mostly boy friends now, and is particularly taken with Evanny’s brother, so if the bigger boys are available, he doesn’t have much time for her these days. When they aren’t, however, these two are still a happy little house-on-fire of inventing and making, doing and playing, and she treasures those opportunities. She knows they’re a little fragile, though. Which is why, after saying “no” a few times, because the Preston-pumpkin was precious to her, she yielded to please him: because shared projects with Nathan are also precious to her. I could see the reluctance on her face give way to regret as she helped him decorate the pumpkin with craft paint, but I didn’t interfere. There are some lessons in life you simply can’t learn from your mother.

After Nathan had gone home, and Daddy had complemented her on their painting job, and said quietly to me, “Mom, I didn’t want that pumpkin painted.” “I know, baby doll. But did you have fun painting it with Nathan?” “Yeah,” she said. “Kind of.” “If you want,” I told her, “that paint is pretty washable. I’ll bet we could clean it off. Would you like that?” “I think so,” she said, “but not right now,” and off she ran to play. That conversation was a week ago; I hadn’t heard a peep about the pumpkin since. But clearly, it was still in her mind, turning and steeping, and today she made her call.

Ultimately, I’d call it a win for all. She still has the gift-gourd, she got to do the activity with her friend, and she got to share a fun washing-task with her sister. But she also got a hands-on chance to wrestle with peer pressure, and with it a small-scale version of the bad feelings that accompany giving in to something you don’t want to do just to please somebody else. Now if only, if only there were a way to be sure she would carry it with her, like a little emotional flu-shot against too-quick acquiescence to actual bad ideas she will certainly be tempted toward in the future.

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