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"A truly terrible influence, indeed."

Usually, when The Grand Other, our eight year old granddaughter, arrives home from school, she wants to plug into MindCrap, some sort of video game that has completely enthralled her. She will insist upon reading with her dad, a homework assignment but also, for her, more of a sacred obligation. This week, though, we've been walking down to the park to swing. Not too many years ago, she struggled to develop the coordination to properly swing, but now she quickly gains the stratosphere. This week, she's become more interested in the curly slide; more precisely, in climbing up the curly slide backwards.

She hesitantly approached the challenge, confiding that climbing the slide backwards was against the rules at school. I argued that the park wasn't school and she reluctantly tried then quickly failed to make it more than halfway up.
I asked her if her teacher ever tried to convince her that she could do something she felt unable to do. "No, grandpa. My teacher isn't like that!" Well, I tried to explain to her that some activities benefit from a tiny bit of encouragement. I told her that I thought she could make it clear to the top and she tried again, but failed again.

I turned the encouragement into a chant a-la The Little Engine That Could, "I think you can, I think you can," and she tried, then tried again. She came somewhat closer, but had clearly not yet quite discovered the so far secret trick to making it to the top. I still thought she could make it and told her so. Her original desire to make it all the way seemed particularly vulnerable in the face of multiple failures, although failing to make it to the top of the slide brought a free ride back to the bottom again which seemed to provide some motivation for trying and even failing again and again. Whee!

She'd been relying upon her hands and arms before discovering that she could better leverage her way up using leg power. Quite suddenly, she managed to make it nearly to the top and shortly thereafter, achieved her original goal. I initiated a general, heart-felt cheer which she seemed to appreciate. Like any eight year old, The Other craves being the center of attention. Since she's sort of self-obsessed, this usually requires no overt intervention on my part. When I cheer with my arms raised high, a bank of blinding spot lights illuminate her grin. She tries again and again, succeeding almost every time.

Then, it's time to start timing her ascents. I try counting 'thousand one, thousand two,' but she nixes that idea. "Count regular, Grandpa. I don't want you to count thousands." I try to explain, but she's having none of that so I quietly concede and slow my count. Nine seconds to the top for the first timed ascent. Half that for the second. Half that for the fifth. Two seconds bottom to top twenty minutes after she seemed utterly incapable of ever making it all the way. Rapid learning in action!

I told her yesterday that every time we walk to the park, SomethingNew happens. Though we walk the same long block, SomethingNew always shows up. The first day, we discovered a magnificent magnolia tree in full bloom, stopping to collect fallen petals on the way home. Yesterday, a neighbor who was planting flowers introduced The Other to snapdragons, even showing her how to squeeze the blossom's sides to get a kiss. The Other giggled and returned home to perform an extended puppet show starring her new snapdragon puppet who, unsurprisingly, quickly started referring to almost everything as a butt. She was tired and ready for supper by then.

Yesterday, I sat watching her practice her new slide climbing skills, idly finger flicking wood chips. She saw one fly up and over the twisty slide and quickly came to my side. "How do you do that?" I introduced her to the fine art of finger flicking, a skill she quickly if clumsily acquired. She'll get better over time, but she managed to launch a few over the surrounding fence, even finger flicking an enormous magnolia petal at me on the way back home.

The days here seem long, the work not always the most rewarding, but the late afternoons seem especially reserved for SomethingNew, acquired by simply doing the same old thing with a certain expectation in mind. Set out down any long block convinced that you're on the verge of discovering something brand new and I suspect that you'll likely find exactly that. We might exclusively experience self-fulfilling prophesies, little movies we produce, direct, and screen especially for our own delight without ever suspecting that we create the experiences. I'm painfully aware that in a few short days, I'll be solo finger flicking wood chips again, influencing nobody.

Yesterday, a four year old at the playground saw The Other climbing the twisty slide and tried to replicate her technique. She was doing just fine, though still working too hard using only her hands and arms, when her mom appeared and started chewing her out for some apparent infraction. Mom said that slides are supposed to be slid down and not climbed up. How absurd is that? The four year old pleaded, insisting that her mom not watch her, but mom threatened a time out on the bench. The Other leaned into me reporting that she'd become a bad influence, chuckling gratifyingly. I figured then that my grandfathering was not for naught. I can imagine no greater complement than that she be self aware enough to recognize when she's become a bad influence and to share that sparkling acknowledgement with a fogey like me.

I suspect she'll get in big trouble at school teaching her gang there how to finger flip wood chips. A truly terrible influence, indeed.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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