You’re at the beach, your family’s favorite place. It’s really, really hot today. Lots of little flies, too. You’d love to gather up all these toys and towels, go back to the rental house, grab an ice tea and read your novel. But your daughter has a different plan. She’s deep in the midst of an enormous building project that seems to involve every grain of sand between New Jersey and South America. And she’s nowhere near ready to go. You make sure she’s wearing a hat. You try to get a little fresh sunscreen on her back and open your book.
But she’s not just quietly building this new civilization on her own. There’s a long, complicated history for this castle: who lives here, why they need a new fort, what happened to the old one — and she not only wants you to pay attention to the story, she wants you to pitch in. She’s very clear about her needs. Your job is to haul water.
After the two hundredth trip to the shoreline with your buckets, something shifts in your attitude. You actually get into the project. You realize what an awesome thing it is for a little kid to have such a grand and detailed imagination, and to see it through to completion. Fresh insights are taking form.
Suddenly, you are the most enthusiastic Assistant Builder around, offering design suggestions, sharing the technique you and your brother used for keeping water in the moat. You get so involved that your daughter has to remind you that she’s the boss. It’s her castle. You’re a fine assistant, but she has to “draw a line in the sand”. And she’s right, of course.
This day has been full of amazing insights, and you haven’t even actually discussed anything but sand castle techniques and magic windows. In this one brief interaction, you’ve learned so many astonishing things about your child. She’s creative — deeply so. She thinks in abstract and concrete terms. She’s organized. And yeah, she’s determined. All invaluable characteristics for later life. Plus, she’s willing to put in the time it takes to visualize a project and get the job well done.
If you speak with teachers, this is one of the hardest lessons to teach a young child. And you’re seeing it in action, spontaneously. Tuck this scene away as a coaching tool next time you’re discussing why she can’t seem to follow through on a long-term project for school.
Meanwhile, most surprising, you’ve just learned something extraordinary about yourself – some wonderful insights. Simply by dropping your grown-up expectations and impatience, and adjusting to her sense of time, you’ve discovered a well of kindness and generosity within yourself. In return you’ve been allowed to enter a precious space with your child. She has opened the door to her imagination. You’re so happy being there, you’ve actually forgotten about the sun and the flies.
It’s just a sandcastle on the beach. But that castle is full of gold. When it’s time to rinse off all the shovels and buckets, find your flip-flops, towels and cooler, and trundle it all home, you leave with a feeling of fullness and gratitude. Hopefully for you both, you’ll share similar moments often as you and your child grow, and not just at the beach.