Washington – I played a practical joke on my 7-year-old.
As I stood washing dishes, my back to the kitchen, I listened for his impending arrival from the other room. Just as I heard his little footsteps coming closer, I grabbed the egg from the counter, turned on my heel quickly, and spouted, “Think fast!” before tossing the brown egg through the air, across the kitchen towards him.
His eyes flashed wide with surprise, but he caught the egg before it hit the hard stone tiles of the floor.
An instant later, it registered; the egg was far too light. Curiosity replaced surprise and I watched as he weighed the strange egg in his hand. “What the...”.
He turned the egg over and over in his hands, inspecting it more closely before discovering the tiny holes on the top and bottom of the egg where earlier I had blown it hollow with my cheeks puffed wide – alone in the kitchen, an adult playing child’s games while he was hard at work in school.
He marvelled at the possibility: a hollow egg, but an uncracked shell; I marvelled at his curiosity. Then, I fed it. “How do you think I hollowed out the egg without cracking the shell?” I prodded. He pondered several hypotheses before discarding them, enjoying the game, a scientist and a thinker, a mystery and an answer. He enjoyed the banter and I enjoyed the curiosity before finally letting him in on my secret.
And the mood stuck; the whole afternoon there was discussion and openness. This playful curiosity infiltrated an otherwise gloomy, cold day.
Curiosity is an underrated quality in parenting, I think. Aristotle maintained that human beings are naturally curious about things – that to explore, investigate, and learn is just part of who we are. But as we grow older, we tend to push off that curiosity, instead filling it with a need to be right (or at least seen as so). As parents, we pressure ourselves to have all the answers when our children approach us with questions.
But what happens when we join in that curiosity with our children? What happens when we say, “I don’t know! Let’s find out together!” We open the door for a whole new parenting experience, for ourselves and our children. And that matters in the long run; there has been plenty of research linking innovation and creative thinking to the practice of being curious and playful.
This winter, I vowed to make more of an effort to be playful and curious with my own children. And the search for playfulness goes far beyond intellectual benefits; it reaches deep into an emotional world of memories from my own childhood.
I wish I could say that the inspiration to be playful strikes me regularly, but winter is the hardest season for me – too many days stuck indoors and I begin to turn inward, struggling against dark and moody, brooding and restless inner workings. But when I fight against it, I fight good and hard. I conjure up the memories of my own childhood, of my father chasing my mother around the dark house making monster noises while she and my brother and sister and I ran away squealing.
I think about the walks my father and I would take after a summer rainstorm, how my dad would always walk just slightly ahead of me so he could tug on a low tree branch, let go suddenly, and run out of its way just in time for all the rainwater cupped on the leaves to shower down on to me, leaving me soaking wet and laughing.
It’s that playfulness that I’m after, that unexpected turn from responsible adult to carefree, life-loving sprite. Some of my very best childhood memories involve practical jokes my father had come up with; it is my very favourite way to remember him and never ceases to bring a smile to my face. To let go of our maturity from time to time, to discard our notions of what it means to be a grown up and to allow playfulness into the time we spend with our children is to open the door to joy, laughter, and mindful parenting.
Some day, long after I’m gone, I hope my children’s children are tossing empty eggs through the air at unsuspecting offspring. And I hope that it inspires their curiosity.