Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Transformative Years

We hear a lot from the field of psychology about the "formative years"--that magical period of early childhood when, supposedly, kids are molded in ways that create permanent effects on their psyches and their personalities.  This notion touts each new mind as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to be shaped or "written on" with only the utmost care by those of us who aspire to be parents and teachers. 

Since a brand-spanking new Big Chief tablet imposes more responsibility than most of us feel capable of taking on anyway, I wish to propose an alternative to this long-held philosophy.  I submit that, rather than formative, early childhood consists of transformative years, and it is the kids rather than the adults around them who put the writing on the wall.

The idea of transformation is certainly no newbie to most of the kids I know and love.  Sooby, for instance, is an expert on the subject.  She earned that credential at the ripe old age of two, when she began to study The Document of Cinderella and The Treatise of the Wizard.  Many times now, Sooby has watched as the bicycle-pumping Miss Gulch turns into the Wicked Witch of the West amid a cloud of swirling debris just outside Dorothy's window.  She knows what a fairy godmother can do with a few friendly mice and a pumpkin patch when Cinderella really, really wants to go to the ball.

Pooh, too, understands transformation, whether it involves Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth as Superman or Bruce Wayne assuming his crime-fighting persona as Batman.  He loves to play-act, and often transforms himself into Horace the dog thief in 101 Dalmatians or the wicked Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.  It is nothing for a plastic tote to morph into a boat or a bulging pillowcase to become Santa's bag of toys.   

However, in spite of the transformational prowess of my two older grandkids, I would have to give the prize of the moment, hands down, to little Beenie.  In just two days, he has sucessfully transformed every room of the house where he lives.  It no longer looks like the house where two young professionals, married two years come July, set up housekeeping in their starter home about a year ago.  Oh, the nice new furniture is still there, and nothing it missing.  But it is what has been added of late that constitutes transformation in its truest sense.

No room is unaffected by the fact that Beenie has arrived and set up shop.  A pack 'n' play occupies former dead space in the family room, and a high chair snuggles up to the kitchen table.  Most dramatically, a small third bedroom has been transformed into a nursery.  Elsewhere around the house, a bottle sits here, and a burp rag sprawls there.  Here lie some blankets; there is a binky.  The decor of the house cries out in joy that a baby lives there.  In one skillful swoop, Beenie has taken over his house and commandeered our hearts.

The formative years, I have concluded, are an illusion and a joke.  The slates to be written on are ours.  Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and now Beenie grasp the implements of writing in their tight little fists.  Write away, kids.  The stories you will pen are precious.

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