Confessions of a Dancing Monkey

Confessions of a Dancing Monkey

May 28

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bath time

Confession: I am one of those mothers who has succumbed to the unspoken pressure to entertain my children at all times.

{Gosh, it feels good to get that off my chest.}

I have known it is true, but I haven’t wanted to admit it to myself. I planned Salem and Mia’s summer calendar back in March– outings, projects, trips, morning and evening activities and everything in-between. And why? Well, there are a few possible reasons:

1. Fear: If I don’t keep the Fun Mill a treadin’ with a wide variety of entertaining stimuli, then I fear that my kids are destined to become glue-sniffing delinquents whose greatest contribution in life is to the childhood obesity statistic.

2. Guilt: To engage in a few minutes of leisure reading during their waking hours is sure to send them spiraling into a crisis of identity forever questioning their mother’s love. One minute I am innocently catching up on the Cannes Film Festival and the next I’m headed down the slippery-slope of child-neglect.

3. Pride: I am a stay-at-home Mom, therefore I must make every effort to flaunt my busy-ness and thus prove my contribution to society {even if it is not a paycheck-earning contribution to society} by making any and every effort to avoid the question: “What do you do all day?”

4. Social Media: With every other Tweet-A-Gram boasting a Hallmark moment that would render the Walton’s dysfunctional, I hereby dub myself a Dead-Beat-Pinterest-Fraud-at-best for not attempting even half of the activities I have re-pinned to my “Kids” Board. But then I feel guilty because after all, I shouldn’t be Facebook-ing until after hours, and the stress of it all has me tearing apart the craft bin looking for some Elmer’s glue and paper sack.


Huffington Post published recently published a parenting article exposing some exclusively “Western” child-rearing practices that have me not only rethinking my summer calendar, but more broader subjects like early education and expectations.

Here’s what the HuffPo had to say:

…giving your child a chance to feel frustration gives him a chance to practice the art of waiting and developing self-control… {frustration} is good for them because it teaches them the value of delaying gratification and not always expecting {or worse, demanding} that their needs be met right now.

The Finnish model of education includes a late start to academics {children do not begin any formal academics until they are 7 years old}, frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter school hours and more variety of classes than in the US. Equity, not high achievement, is the guiding principle of the Finnish education system.

While we in America preach the mantra of early intervention, shave time off recess to teach more formal academics and cut funding to non-academic subjects like art and music, Finnish educators emphasize that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential.

Why it’s better: American school children score in the middle of the heap on international measures of achievement, especially in science and mathematics. Finnish children, with their truncated time in school, frequently rank among the best in the world.

These thoughts are blending with some of Charlotte Mason’s early childhood philosophy which I too find completely fascinating:

Over-entertained, pushed, pulled and tidied up, often the child of today has the rich, creative play response crushed out… Children need to be outdoors (for hours). They need to make noise, mess, and to have access to raw materials (old clothes for costumes, hats, tables to turn into camps, etc. etc.). They need privacy from intruding adults, but they need interested support in quarrels, thinking of another way around a problem, providing food, and at the end, bringing the children tactfully back into the world where supper is ready, the camp has to be packed up, children are tired and ready for the soothing routine… {exert from For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay}

You Are my wild

And so with all of this swirling around in my head, I decided to conduct an experiment. Last week, I implemented three small changes into our daily rhythm, and the results were rather surprising:

1. Room Time— A blessed 45 minutes to an hour each morning designed to allow each of us to find our “Just Right” place before facing the day ahead. For me “Just Right” is a cup of light roast, some quiet meditation and reading, a quick listen to the global news headlines, a load of laundry, and an emptied dishwasher. Salem is more in the habit of morning room time than Mia who stands at her door shouting, “Helloooo!!! Is anybody hooommeee?!” I am still easing her into a full 45 minutes of quiet play to start the day, but all in all, the Beasley’s are much easier to get along with if we’ve each had some morning quiet time.

2. “Go. Play.”– Two powerful words in a mothers arsenal and yet, for the aforementioned reasons, I have been hesitant to use them. After 45 minutes of non-structured play, I noticed Salem had picked up a piece of chalk and began drawing the 50 states of the USA {his current obsession} on the blackboard in the kitchen. Pretty soon, the two of them were making up songs and stories, reading books, role-playing with dolls and with each other. Yes, they squabble. But, I am learning how to let them work it out without Black Hawk Mama interfering at the first hint of sibling conflict.

3. Happy Hour– The television does not go on until after 5 pm. This is more of a restriction for me than it is for the kids. It is so much easier to flip on the digital babysitter while I catch up on emails or take a shower {or finish a blog post}. But the lack of brain-suspending media forces them {and me} to peck our way out of the boredom shell and into the wide world of imagination and creativity. Of course they begged and quoted their favorite characters and sang the theme songs out of tune in that adorable way only kids can do, but after the pleading performance was over, they began to occupy themselves with whatever happened to catch their interest at the moment.

boys dress up

A few days into this experiment, I noticed I was less tired and short-tempered. I actually remembered what it was like to enjoy my kids and marvel at their innate curiosity and spontaneity. The realization that they don’t need me to be a dancing monkey who’s sole purpose is to boredom-proof their waking existence has been incredibly freeing. It even has even opened me up to the prospect of having more of them {children… not dancing monkeys}.

I suspect that these disciplines are harder for me than they ever will be for my kids. But if I can resist the urge to over-plan, to interfere, and to entertain at all times, perhaps a few controlled doses of unstructured time this summer might continue to prove surprisingly beneficial.

In the meantime, I’m still going to hide the glue– just in case.

{All images via Rebecca Zeller Photography}

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Salina Beasley