As my son has grown, I’ve been fascinated by what things hold his interest for extended periods of time. Kids of his age are notoriously attention-deficient, so it always catches my eye when he spends a lot of time investigating a new topic or working on a project.
He gets this wonderfully intense look in his eyes when he encounters something new that he finds interesting. He’ll often sit and just watch something. Early in his life, I interpreted this as timidity, but I now recognize it as his way of investigation. He quietly consumes all the information he can, and then — often weeks later — express his interpretation of what he has learned.
Today, we visited the The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to celebrate the end of his three-week spring break from his balanced calendar school. As we walked through the main entrance, my wife and I told him that the afternoon was all his, that he would set the pace and direction of exploration through the museum’s many renowned exhibits. Off he ran up the first ramp towards the paleontology area, and he didn’t slow down until the museum’s close three hours later.
While he experimented at the flow dynamics table in the ScienceWorks exhibit or followed the path of the billiard balls in the Rube Goldberg machine, I could see a young engineer emerging. As he stared marvelously at the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture hanging in the middle of the winding four-story staircase, I could see a budding artist gathering inspiration. With his new handycam in his palm, filming and narrating his way through the exhibits, I had flashes of a future documentary filmmaker.
At one point, I leaned over to my wife and asked, “I wonder what he’s going to end up doing?”
In what amounted to a rhetorical question, I had summed up one of the wonders of parenthood. I get to watch my son explore the world and in that exploration find himself. If I manage to let him find his own way, facilitating his journey without imposing my demands and desires too forcefully, I stand to reap a great reward.
My job as a parent is to help him see himself in a variety of different mirrors. In return, I’ll get to watch him choose a reflection.