Letting our children teach us
My long-time Shanghai friend, Amy Zhu, shared with me her story about a park outing with her husband Oliver and their two-year, eight-month-old son Oli. I leave her writing largely unedited (April 16, 2020).
How can we be happy again like a child?
Yesterday Oliver and I took little Oli to a forest park. We had a wonderful time there last November, and we immediately decided to visit there next spring...that’s why we went there yesterday. I was very excited in the beginning, partly because Oliver had been working consistently for one month, and we finally found some time to be together. But, little by little, I turned out not that excited and I discovered something important.
To me, visiting park means picnic (eating), kite flying, walking in the forest, walking along the river, being calm and peaceful. But I found it means completely different to Oli. After wonderful time of kite flying and picnic in the beginning, we decided to visit the other half of the park that we didn’t visit last time. While we passed by a meadow, first he stopped and wanted to chase a bird. We told him we are not allowed to step on the grass because the grass is under maintenance (meaning the grass is growing and they don’t want people to hurt it). He was disappointed and then he found there were lots of dead leaves on the edge of meadow and started to play with dead leaves. Oliver and I waited and asked him to go, but he didn’t listen to us and he shouted "mommy! look!" I went to see and I found lots of ants were carrying food and Oli was fascinated by ants.
I looked a while and I walked away. Oliver and I continued to call him back but he was in his own world. After that, he said he wanted to poop. I took him to a bush. He checked the place and squat down to poop. Then he found a plant full of small red fruit and he was interested. After pooping he went to pick the red fruit. We thought he was satisfied and he would go with us, but he wanted to take all the red fruits off one by one and put them in the net which he used to catch butterflies (which he never caught any). And there was about 50 of them and he was doing very slowly (in our eyes). We ran out of patience. Oliver grabbed the plant and took all the fruits off in 2 seconds…and he said "yes dad is boring like this!"
We finally started to go. We passed by a garden. Lots of people were taking photos with horses made of plants. Oli wanted to scatter the red fruits into the flowers because he thought that would look nice. So we stopped again and I felt that’s annoying because we stopped plus the garden is not allowed to go in. It was in that moment I realized that this is Oli’s way of park visiting. It means completely different to us and that is the real way to visit a park. I was rushing to go ahead but I didn’t really know the goal of it if I thought about it carefully, maybe just go ahead and see what’s interesting there. I told Oliver that Oli is REALLY visiting a park. Oliver took Oli to the garden and they scattered the red fruits in the flowers. Oli looked very satisfied when he came back and said "I didn’t put the fruits in white flowers, only red flowers."
Things like that happened a lot. He picked wild flowers and threw them into the river, he pushed his small bicycles back and forth on a bridge, he collected small white stones and put them in a pond. He did those things again and again until he got bored. Sometimes we played with him sometimes we asked him to leave and he didn’t listen and I knew if we force him to leave he would cry.
I was not that excited as I imagined. I am not interested in the artificial garden, neither big grass. I am more interested in trees and more wild place but I didn’t find so many. And I got worried about myself of not finding the park so attractive, I am worried about myself of not being interested in lot of things because I think that’s a sign of depression and sickness.
I started to think about "why I am not happy like Oli? How can I learn from him," maybe the reason is like what you (Dwight) said "Amy, you are so focused on the result and forget to enjoy the process."