Tom Burns marvels at the profound truths hiding behind a kid-authored list of playground “rules”
As a father, I have a lot of responsibilities. I have to pay bills, clean the house, schedule, entertain, worry, mentor, and nurture, nurture, nurture. Fathers are often portrayed as “providers,” and I do try to give my daughter as much as I can, both physically and figuratively. But I think that the most important thing I provide for her on a routine basis is something that seems deceptively simple, but is actually quite complex—CONTEXT.
Providing context—clues that lead toward deeper meanings—is what being a parent is all about. Because the world is a confusing place, filled with abstractions and emotions, and kids are expected to hit the ground running. When my daughter looks out into the unrelenting oddness of the universe and shoots me a look that says “WTF is going on here?”, it is my sacred duty as a parent to try to make that insanity make some degree of sense. This is one reason why I’m a big proponent of teaching kids to read at an early age. Reading gives kids the ability to access vast sources of context and meaning all on their own and that’s just an incredibly empowering skill to have. All kids go through a period where they keep asking their parents “WHY?”, so giving them the tools to answer those questions themselves is simply invaluable.
BUT it is good to know that, even without her father clumsily trying to help her find those deeper meanings, my daughter still knows that some truths are self-evident, even for a seven year old.
Case in Point—Fourteen months ago, two of our best college friends came into town, both with daughters right around my daughter’s own age. The trio of girls became BFFs at an alarming speed (at a scary speed) and then immediately retreated to our basement where they said they were playing “spies.” Hours went by without a peep and, when they were done, they came back upstairs without a word. I went downstairs later to clean up and found, in their handwriting, their self-authored “RULES FOR PLAY.”
These were the rules that the three girls decided were SO important for playing that they felt the need to write them down. And, so, without further ado, here are the TEN COMMANDMENTS OF PLAYING SPY, as written by my daughter and her two newest best friends forever.
If you can’t read their handwriting, I will translate:
1. KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOUR SELF’S
2. NO KILLING!
3. BE SAFE!
4. STAY TOGETHER!
5. IF SEEN FIGHT!
6. BE SLOW AND QUICK!
7. DON’T TRIP!
8. IF SEEN FREEZE!
9. BE SNEAKY!
10. DON’T CRACK YOUR HEAD OPEN
I love these rules so much. I love how they’re earnest, silly, and profound all at the same time. I love the zen cool of being both “slow and quick”. And I love that “NO KILLING!” is rule #2 (just couldn’t make the top spot, I guess).
But I mostly love that kids are just these brilliant, empathetic creatures who know how to value life, creativity, and cleverness over everything else. I love that kids KNOW—and they know it enough to put it in writing—to keep their hands to their “self’s” and not kill each other, even without the watchful eye of dads, moms, or anyone else hanging out in the basement and ruining their good time.
I love providing context for my daughter. It’s a job I really do try to take seriously and, God help me, I enjoy it. However, as she gets older, it’s so gratifying to know that she’s starting to figure out the world on her own and, for the most part, she seems to be getting the important things right.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids can be idiots. But it’s nice to occasionally look at a list like this and know that, more often than not, they’re pretty damn great too.
The original version of this article appeared on BuildingaLibrary.com; Images courtesy of the author