Our first granddaughter is shifting from what Dr. Maria Montessori called the absorbent unconscious mind into the absorbent conscious mind. From birth to six, children experience life within a state of being in which the mind absorbs knowledge quickly and effortlessly. The child is one with her experiences, permeable and receptive to all around her.
For her first three years, Olivia and her parents lived a skinny fifteen minutes away. It was a dream come true to be with her several times a week, to watch the miniscule moments of change — lifting her head, discovering her hands, first words and first steps — as they arrived and just as quickly gave way to new milestones. I was Olivia’s co-traveller in her world of the absorbent unconscious. Blades of grass, ants, clouds, funny words, stomping in rain puddles, enjoying the slickness of fingerpaint as we slithered our hands across shiny white paper. We were in the moment, one with our experiences.
Some evenings we babysat. Inevitably Olivia would wake at some point. It fell to me to settle her back to sleep. I took advantage of that absorbing subconscious. “Sweet Olivia,” I would quietly tell her, “you are safe. You are loved by so many people. Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. Grandpa loves you and so do I. You are warm and cozy. Your tummy is full. You are smart and beautiful. You will have a good life.” OK, that last I can only pray comes true. Nevertheless, I hoped my words would assemble themselves into a subconscious scaffolding upon which she would one day build her world view.
Though no longer fifteen minutes away, we are still blessed that we can leave after breakfast and arrive in time for lunch. Olivia and I still play and dance and live in the moment. There is that new dimension emerging as well, the dimension of consciousness Dr. Montessori wrote about. Olivia has become a bit self-conscious when trying new things. She doesn’t want to “do it wrong” whatever “it” might be. Recently she told me that a classmate could speak Hebrew. There was indignation in her voice that he knew more Hebrew than she did. That he’s Israeli and not yet fluent in English was beside the point. What Olivia fixated on was that someone else was better at something than she was.
Olivia is learning that she is one of many. She is learning that she shines and so do others. She is learning crucial lessons in being part of a commuinity and contributing to it with her own special gifts. Olivia is still the confident, march-up-to-anyone-and-introduce-herself child she always has been. She is extraordinally kind; encouraging others’ efforts is second nature to her. With consciousness come opportunities and responsibilities. She is growing up.
I still whisper loving words to Olivia when she sleeps. More important now are our conversations when she’s awake. When she is feeling small in the face of a classmate’s strengths, I want to reinforce her own strengths. I want her to know that celebrating a friend’s unique gifts will bring joy to them both. Their shine doesn’t dim hers. We gain so much when we give. A good life is one filled with loving and supportive relationships. There is even more for us to explore together, more laughs, more sophisitcated language play. When a mistake fells her, I encourage self-love and the undersanding that mistakes are a universal part of life, a teaching part as well, if we allow it.
Not yet five, four and eleven-twelfths to be exact, Olivia is on the cusp of leaving the land of the unconscious absorbent mind. New lands will rise up to meet her. May she explore them with delight and determination. May she find co-explorers who befriend and challenge her. May she know love and comfort, warmth and nourishment. May consciousness be hers and with it the expansion of her keen mind and loving heart.