Julien hasn’t gotten much ink here on our blog. He’s too young to write his own blogs (he’s 5,) and so he doesn’t share his thoughts or opinions on how this year has been for him – so I thought I would take a pass at doing it for him.
Julien has spent his short little life being along for the ride. He knows no other way, and as a result he’s resilient and happy, social and active. If you look at photos of our family, you’ll often notice Lucas and Chloe leaning into one another. Their entire life they have been like that, shoulder to shoulder and together. Together the two of them take amazing care of Julien, but since he was born, Julien stands on his own, strong, often defiant, and often laughing.
This year, Julien has soared. You can almost see the freedom that he inhales every day, loving every moment. Little boys are so free here – activities like climbing trees, climbing poles, walking barefoot (even to school,) jumping, pushing, exploring – all those things are encouraged here, and parents let their kids do them.
One of the first experiences that blew his little mind when we first arrived was that recess is unsupervised. So not only is there no gate around the playground, the whole school grounds are available to use, run, explore, build, climb, and play. And because there are no teachers supervising, the kids have to sort out their disagreements on their own. And they do, and they almost never come to complain to the teachers.
I learned this the hard way this week when I was chaperoning Julien’s class at the museum. He was playing with a group of boys, and a few of the moms were standing with me watching. A new boy came in and asked for a turn. Julien said no, that it was his turn, and I immediately jumped in, told Julien he needed to play nice and let the other boy have a turn. I wanted everything to be fair.
Well, Julien shot daggers at me and got so angry with me. Clearly I had crossed a line, and I was a little confused. But then one of the other moms gently asked me: ‘why don’t you let them figure it out?’ And then it dawned on me: of course, let the kids figure it out, and they will. In that moment, I felt so American again. I needed to stop trying to make everything fair and, well, perfect.
On this same field trip, I was also reminded how impressed I am by NZ school children. They are obedient and sit so quietly on these trips and in the classrooms. I think it is because from an early age, these children are taught respect and kindness. It is a nation-wide value that is shared everywhere. It’s not just taught, it is lived. So even when the kids are sorting it out on their own, they’re still doing it in a way that is respectful.
When I watch Julien running down the beach at full speed, riding his bike to school with his pal Archie (with not much supervision), or running off to go jump on the neighborhood trampoline, I realize: to be five in New Zealand is a glorious thing.