It’s midsummer as I contemplate ideas to share with you. Perhaps I should tell you that summertime in Minnesota is much anticipated, savored, and action-packed: we make the most of this short, warm and vibrant season. While, of course, there are the usual plans to follow and schedules to maintain, this is also our group’s time for celebration of the Spontaneous Moment.
The Spontaneous Moment we refer to is the kind that will spring up once and then amazingly bear fruit again and again. It is serendipitous. It requires that we be alert to potential, take leads from the children, and seize – nay, embrace! – opportunity.
One day when my charges were 3, 5 and 8 years old, they wanted a picnic. But we had to stay close to home to await a repair technician. How, I wondered, could we make the backyard as appealing a picnic site as our favorite park?
The first answer was to select a site that the children considered unusual: we settled on a spot next to the rock garden under the pear tree in the farthest corner of the yard. Next we searched for the perfect picnic blanket and accessories: two kid-sized umbrellas, a large, overstuffed pillow, and a favorite stuffed animal for each.
And then it was time for a menu of favorite foods and a few items that we reserve for special occasions: julienne-cut veggies, after dinner mints and fancy boxed cookies. And I used cookie cutters to make the sandwiches into surprising shapes.
As plans progressed, the children decided that, since we were confined to our backyard, it was safe for them to fly solo, that is, to embark on this adventure without me. Stationed as lookout on the back deck, I sent them to spread the picnic blanket and then amuse themselves in the play yard before lunch.
With a sumptuous meal prepared, I chose a way to make the presentation equally unique: with rope and a picnic basket, I carefully lowered it from the deck as if by pulley to the waiting adventurers below. The oldest untied the knot (we had all learned about knots a few weeks before) and transported the feast to the chosen site to begin the process of discovery of each morsel.
They enjoyed the meal, the adventure, the change in routine, and the preparation and planning, as well as the expectation of more adventures to come. I relished the snippets of conversation, the sounds of surprise as they discovered the special sandwiches; the giggles, and the feeling of satisfaction that a small idea had blossomed into a successful event,- one that we often repeat, even when we don’t have to wait for a repair technician.
On another occasion I needed to salvage a difficult night at home. The children were ill, Mom and Dad were out for the evening and we desperately needed diversion. Early in the afternoon I began hatching a plan. I would transform the family room into a theater with all the extras one would expect. While the children rested, I went to the computer and printed up three movie tickets and an assortment of snack coupons.
After dinner, as the anticipated “crankiness” commenced, I sprang into action. I announced an impending event, for which they were to get into their pajamas and meet me in the laundry room. Meanwhile I prepared popcorn, individually presented in personalized paper bags, and juice snacks in jazzy cups. But with all this prepared, a favorite show loaded into the VCR, and movie tickets to dispense, I still felt we needed something. Then it hit me: I would become several different characters – one to take tickets, one to “sell” snacks and one to settle the audience before showing the film.
I gave each child a movie ticket and one snack coupon and had them all wait in the laundry room with the door almost closed while I prepared my first character.
In the closet I found a ratty straw hat for my head, and I put on a slow drawl, cowboy-like, before emerging. The adventure began as this new character asked the children for their movie tickets.
My trick worked even better than I’d hoped. They giggled complicitously and made their way into the “lobby” for snacks.
We have a sliding door between the kitchen and the dining room where the children waited while I prepared Character #2. I put a colander on my head and changed my voice to Valley Girl – Like, y’know, I was way cool.
They broke up again, as I escorted them, snacks in hand, into the darkened room and asked them to take their seats. I told them that the theater manager would arrive shortly to go over the theater’s rules and introduce tonight’s feature presentation.
By this time they expected another wild character, and I could not disappoint. For a hat I discovered a Little Tikes chair that was flattering in a weird way, and I found another voice. Presented this way, the rules were easy to listen to and they happily waited for me to push the PLAY button. I joined them a moment later, pretending that I was delayed and that I, too, had met a cast of unusual characters.
Needless to say, the children continue to look forward to the occasional “movie night.” I’ve varied the snacks, the tapes and, of course, the theater characters. I’ve found other head gear and other voices, but I always experience the same appreciation and anticipation.
Surprisingly and happily, these moment occur quite often. Sometimes we aren’t in a position to make the most of an opportunity, but when we are, we want to jump at it, and so will you. Regardless of age, we all love to see our ideas acted upon. And we don’t mind making occasional fools of ourselves. It helps us trust each other.