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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Will she enjoy it? Will it benefit her?

Yesterday, on Halloween, I found myself desperately wanting to take Janey trick-or-treating.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  It was a day where everything was turned on its side, where you could go to people's houses and knock and get candy.  I loved the whole process, especially coming home with a big bag of candy and sorting it out and looking it over.  When the boys were younger, I adored taking them out on Halloween.  I read a few days ago about a local college having something called "truck or treat", where a lot of cars park and you can go from car to car trick-or-treating, and I made plans in my head to take Janey.

Yours truly, with my sister and father, on a long ago Halloween
However, we didn't go.  Janey is a very early to bed girl, and she was very tired by the time it was dark.  She was also very engaged in watching "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", as we recently got new channels on the TV.  I struggled with myself---should I push for it?  Should I take her?

When trying to decide, I used a few questions that I've recently started to apply when deciding what activities to do with Janey.  Will she enjoy it?  Will it benefit her?

Well, she might enjoy trick-or-treating a little, but at that particular time, no.  She really doesn't get the point of it, she was tired, and when I asked her (probably over and over) she showed no interest.  She's very capable to letting us know when she wants to do something, and she just didn't want to.

As for a benefit, well, no. Chocolate is the one food we don't give her, and going someplace to get a bag of candy that most certainly would include chocolate, which we'd have to fight to keep her from eating---no.  It could be argued that she might pick up some social skills, but it's a hugely isolated set.  Most of the time, you can't go around to people's houses or cars and say "trick or treat" and then get candy.  So any argument that it would benefit her was pretty weak.

When I started applying the questions to activities, it opened my eyes.  There's a lot I'd like to do with Janey, or like to have her get to do, which frankly are things that I want her to do, not things that will give her enjoyment or benefit her.  This past spring, we tried Special Olympics for a bit.  It might be great for some kids, but for Janey?  No.  She had no interest in it.  She is not competitive, she didn't interact with other people there, she didn't get exercise from it as she wouldn't readily participate.  It was nice to get outdoors, but we could do that any time and place.  I realized it was ME who wanted her to be in it, for reasons that had little to do with Janey. 

Janey very happy, headed to the store.
I'll contrast that with an activity Janey very much enjoys and benefits from---the daily walk to the store.  The store is a convenience store near us, which changes names constantly but is currently a 7-11.  The after-school walk there is Janey's favorite ritual.  She asks for it every day.  When we get out to the driveway to start the walk, she is literally dancing with excitement.  I hold her hand and we walk the short way to the store.  She goes in and looks over the chips for a long time.  She only ever picks out the same two or three kinds in rotation, but I know how just looking over a shelf of choices can be a thrill.  When she picks her chips, I then switch the big bag she picks for an identical small bag, and we talk about how they are the same.  She takes the chips to the counter, waiting in line if she needs to, she is patient while I pay, sometimes she'll say thank you to the cashier, she gets a lot of smiles, and then we walk home.  She eats the chips in the driveway while the colony cats of the neighborhood circle her legs to get dropped chips.  She is happy and engaged.  She is also learning---learning the rules of walking along a busy street, how we exchange money for products, how we act in stores, how we treat animals---lots of things.

There are other activities Janey enjoys and benefits from---car rides with music, cooking with Daddy, picking out and putting on videos, going to the library to pick up the books I've ordered online and of course going to school, the big one. 

I wish that Janey could participate in more activities.  But the truth of it is, when I think about it, I wish that for ME.  Not for her.  Her life, when I allow myself to broaden my view of what an activity is, is pretty full already.  In this age of Facebook, I've realized that sometimes what I've wished for are Facebook photo opportunities, a little.  I'd like her to do more of the "normal" childhood things.  But she is 13.  She's growing up.  By that age, she knows what she likes and doesn't like.  I think about myself.  If I had been made to participate, at that age, in sports, or in an art class, or in a dancing class, all things I have little interest in or talent for, I would have hated it.  So they would have failed the enjoyment question.  But would they have benefited?  Truthfully, by that age, no.  I am much the same person now I was then.  I don't like sports.  I am not artistic.  I don't like to dance.  And I knew my mind by that age.  I knew my limits.  Some might argue this point, but from what I've learned from my sons, kids by that age know what drives them, and Janey is not different from other kids that way.  It's very, very easy to tell what she loves and what she doesn't.

As Janey gets older, as her own path in life starts to become more defined, I need to give her the same respect we all deserve, the same right to find her own passions.  It's even more important for me to follow her leads, because it is far too easy when a child doesn't communicate in traditional ways to impose our own will on them.  I'm going to try to often stop and ask---will she enjoy this?  Will it benefit her?---and use those answers as my guide.

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