I recently attended an 8-year-old birthday party at an ice skating rink. The 25 or so children that were invited all came with either mom or dad in tow, some anxiously awaiting to see what would happen when their children strapped on a pair of rented skates and attempted to push themselves around a frozen tundra of unfamiliar men women and children, all moving counterclockwise in a semi-uniformed movement. A few of the kids had obviously skated before, and I noticed how naturally some of them took it upon themselves to help out their friends who had yet to learn how to ice skate. Ice skating can be intimidating if you have never tried it, and although I was fortunate enough to learn how to skate growing up, the last time I brought my kids I managed to bust my ass within ten seconds of getting on the ice, so to see so many young faces going for it on their own merit made me have a proud human moment.
While many of us fall victim to the stress and anxiety of a made up future in our psychopathic heads, a lot of us, especially children, don't give a shit about what MAY happen because they are too busy concentrating on what IS happening. In the hour and half of free skating that the birthday party guests participated in, most of the kids and a few parents spent that time in the present moment, holding on to the glass wall that separates the ice from the outer rink or helping each other figure out how to glide over frozen water on nothing more than two steel blades attached to some leather and laces. They were, for all intents and purposes, conscious. They seemed to be one hundred percent aware of their actions and it is interesting to note that a good reason for this may have been the ever-present threat of bodily harm and injury. Fight or flight situations or anytime there is the possibility of something dangerous happening to us, seem to bring out our deepest sense of present self-awareness. Because of this the question presents itself; Why is it so hard to carry this awareness with us at all times, and above all else, are we failing to teach our children about presence of mind even without the threat of danger present? How aware are WE in our everyday lives?
After the skating session we headed to one of the community rooms where everyone took place in the usual birthday festivities. There was pizza and cupcakes, parents mingling, children laughing and acting as they should, hyper and wild like an ancient tribe participating in a drum circle in the jungle. The room was simply happy and enjoying life, not fretting over school or work or any of the other “chasing the dangling carrot” activities we seem to find ourselves thrust upon at too early of an age. As I watched the room I noticed how their mental focus that was so present just a few short minutes ago, filled with trepidation as they clung for dear life to the rink walls and human hands, was suddenly gone. The self awareness that was so intense suddenly seemed to be hijacked by sugar and cheese and the children all seemed to fall into their default mode as if they turned on their autopilot buttons because their was no longer a need to be aware of anything. The danger had vanished and been replaced by elation, and the elated sense of self doesn't need to be present, or does it?
When the room emptied out and everyone went home smiling wide, party favors in hand, sugar coursing through the veins, I looked around and noticed that the room was a mess. It was the complete opposite of how it was when we walked in, neat and orderly, plastic table cloths topped off with individual place settings made of paper and plastic, chairs neatly surrounding each table. Instead, napkins littered the floor, half empty cups were strewn about the tables and icing was smeared about like finger paint. It was here in this very moment that I came to the realization that if we want to raise children whose character is based in honesty, awareness and compassion, then we need to teach them that at each and every moment of their life they are only one misstep away from slipping on the ice.
Now, that misstep doesn’t necessarily have to mean an immediate consequence for themselves but it will most likely mean an immediate consequence for the people they leave in their wake, such as the young lady who most likely had to come in and clean up after all of OUR children. I understand that because I have been a custodian for a long time that perhaps my awareness of other people’s lack of awareness when it comes to cleaning up their own mess, is more in tune than most, but I still believe that regardless of my avocation I would hold firm that the most important lessons we need to teach are rooted in the basics. Push in your chair, throw out your garbage, hold the door for others, wash your hands after sneezing, and so forth.
These are not morals we can teach only to our own children on our own time. Nor are they something that should be left solely in the hands of a school system that was built around results based on quantity and not quality. We must teach them together as a community of parents and leaders. It is easy for us to say, “Well that’s his or her job and they get paid to clean up.” This type of attitude is equivalent to dumping garbage on the beach simply because there is someone else whose job it is to clean it up. We can do better and we deserve the chance to constantly improve together. There are lessons to be learned inside even the most basic and socially accepted cultural norms, even if it is at your own child’s birthday party.