Of Heraclitus and Wet Pants

My daughter can do many things, a number of them are pretty amazing for a three year old, but one thing that she is seemingly indifferent to being able to do is to break away from playing in order to use the bathroom. We have reached something of an impasse. She appears to have mastered the art of staying dry at school, where the social stigma — which children only reinforce for each other — appears to have some sway. At home, however, it’s another story. It’s not consistent behavior, and it’s not every weekend that it happens.

This past weekend, however, it happened several times. It was a particularly brilliant weekend here in south Louisiana. A cool front swept in at the end of last week and gave us two amazing days of perfect weather: warm in the sun, cool in the shade, with a light breeze that could leave you with goosebumps. Lily and I pretty much spent almost all of Sunday outside. I mowed the yard while she picked flowers in the front yard and then played in her playhouse-castle in the backyard. Then I fired up the grill and cooked hamburgers and some of those amazing Comeaux’s chicken and green onion fresh sausages. After eating lunch inside and having some quiet time, we were all back out in the yard. Yung-Hsing and I read on the patio while Lily played with her water table. And then, later, we all spend some time dashing through a sprinkler.

During the course of the day, Lily ended up with wet pants twice. She just can’t break away from playing. I had lunch with our friend with Leslie Schilling yesterday, who feels a strong connection to Lily, and she offered a really nice insight into the difficulty of breaking away from play. Or, as she termed it, breaking *up* play. She quoted Heraclitus:

> “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” (Fragment 41, for those who care.)

The problem, she said, is that when you are deep in play, deep into really good play, you are deeply immersed into a magical world, in magic itself. To imagine leaving it is to imagine breaking the spell, and who really wants to do that?

For those familiar with [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work][mc] will recognize that this is, in some small way, a reasonably good description of *flow*. In Csi­kszentmihalyi’s work, flow is something to be admired, studied, and, perhaps most of all, cultivated. It might be a reasonable stretch of the imagination to suggest that perhaps some have a chemical propensity to it, if you follow some of the recent studies of ADD, in which some researchers and writers suggest that deficit attentions have a flip side in hyper attention or, sometimes, simply socially inappropriate and/or inconvenient attention. That is, sometimes individuals, especially children and adolescents within educational institution contexts, are considered ADD because they are not attending to what they are supposed to be attending. (In my day — and I am not that old except to be older than the current era of ADD — some of those individuals wouldn’t simply have been chided for being “day dreamers.”

Of course the flip side is that some kids were simply considered to be “handfuls” or “misfits” which is why I largely view the ADD era in a positive light. I was one of those kids who, in primary school, flirted with the boundary between “dreamer” and “handful.”) So here we are, blessed with a child who possesses a full capacity for flow. Left to her own devices, the girl sings, dances, voices miniature social scenes, and otherwise peoples her world or sets it into motion like Copernicus’ model of the heliocentric solar system. We fuss over wet pants. I feel, now, like one of the robbers of creativity that Ken Robinson laments in his [TED talk][ted] about what we do to children. Our mission is to find a way to keep both the river flowing and the pants not.

[mc]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_CsÃikszentmihalyi
[ted]: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/66