On Wanting and Washing Machines – how the past can prevent us reaching for what will fulfill us in the present
So last week I was sat in a hall observing a PE lesson being taught to a reception class. One little chap caught my eye. This is what happened:-
The teacher got out lots of white soft plastic floor markers. He demonstrated how the children had to jump over them forwards and backwards 5 times. They all had a go moving round the hall and when they got to the markers dutifully (some more wobbly than others) combined the complex arts of coordinating a body to jump forewords, then do it backwards and count at the same time: it was a real work out!
Next the teacher introduced red markers – where they had to jump side to side; then finally orange were added to the mix for 5 frog jumps.
So the class started their washing machine moving around the hall (do children in Australia do PE swirling in the opposite direction?!) and remembered what they had to do when they got to a white, red or orange marker, well mostly.
This particular little lad had the instructions down. He did 2 white markers and then moved across the hall with real intent. He was inconspicuous and easily lost in the middle of the 5 year old melee, but he knew what he wanted. He wanted red.
Eventually he spotted a red one and not only was it red – it was free! No other bodies jumping across it. He got there and did his 5 (although I think it was actually 6 – but that’s not the point) sideways jumps and a smile spread across his face.
He was off again in his physically uncoordinated but ‘I can do this’ way, and I was guessing he was on the search for an orange marker. Yep – he spotted one, and it was free – but as he got close to it so did another child. He backed off. The other child didn’t even look at him as she assumed the position ready for frog jump number 1.
Our boy moved away and set off on the hunt for another orange marker. The same thing happened…another child arrived at the same time…and he backed right off.
Repeat this pattern 2 more times and it was only him and me in that room who knew how hard he was working to try and get what he wanted… Who had a sense of what this experience was like for him – knowing what he wanted and yet not pursuing it if it involved anyone else.
My heart went out to him. There was a fleeting moment when I wanted to get off my perch and jump in that washing machine with him….go and reserve him an orange spot…go and mediate for him should another child try to get in the way (which incidentally they weren’t doing deliberately or nastily…)
But I knew that wouldn’t help. This was his journey. He didn’t like confrontation …and knowing some of his background I understood why. For him confrontation of any sort meant loud shouting; meant aggression; meant not feeling safe. So he was torn – knowing what he wanted, knowing what would make him smile more, and going after it with the invisible cords of his life learnings pulling him away whenever he got close.
It made me reflect how true this can be in life generally
how often do we avoid what others are going for even if we desperately want it too?
how much does our past story and life learning help us move towards feeling fulfilled in the present or does it rather act as an invisible undercurrent always pulling us further away, no matter how hard we swim?
how often do we not go near what we really want for fear of others reactions?
how much does what is true in one time and place leach into becoming truth in other areas or chapters of our lives?
Certainly what children learn about being safe in those early years will so often become the lens of how they view the whole world – until they have the chance to take off those glasses and learn to see that not all of life is like that. Safety is possible. Fulfillment is possible. There are orange markers that have our name on and getting them will probably not harm us in anyway like we fear.
He didn’t have much confidence or self-assertion but one thing our little chap did have was tenacity. 4 orange markers gone and he persisted – #5 was his.
Free and his.
The smile spoke volumes.
His frog jumps had an added celebratory feel to them.
He got there!