On NOT being grouped by date of manufacture

Several years ago, before my mom and I decided to work together on this blog, she had unearthed her original journal from 1987 and had done some writing of her own, reflecting on the journal entries.

One of the things she wrote sparked my interest from the beginning of this project:

What Was I Thinking???
As I read my journal, I find myself second-guessing some of the decisions I made. 

Like: What was I thinking, putting my 3 year old in this situation where she clearly thought she “should” keep up with two 5 year olds?

Was I setting her up for years of having extremely high expectations of herself?

(Breathe deep, I tell myself. Lindsey is fine, and you did fine.)

(I’m fine!)

I was surprised to hear my mom questioning our sibling dynamic as a possible issue. What she’s describing in her reflection on the journal is that my immediately adjacent peer was always my older sister. Which actually seems totally normal and healthy to me; aren’t we all very much formed by our siblings?

Mindy and I practice floating on our backs int the swimming pool

Still, I understand Mom raising the question, and I think it speaks to something interesting that separated our social landscape from conventional school environments. Age was never the primary dividing factor in our peer and friend groups. For example, we always played with kids in the neighborhood and usually their siblings, too.

Of course there were things like Girl Scouts, dance class, summer camp, where we did experience being grouped with kids by age, but looking back, those settings feel like the exception, not the rule. Certainly in environments of active learning and collaboration, age was not significant.

Min Cam Kiki Linds Brooke

As time went on, one of the important and formative peer environments we experienced was a group of families who were also homeschooling. The group met for field trips, activities, collaborations, camp-outs, beach days, and on and on. The group ranged in size over the years, but on average there were about 30 participating families.

To this day, I find grouping kids primarily by age to be odd and artificial, I guess because it just wasn’t my experience. I can’t speak to what it was like to be in a class of kids my own age every day.  But I can speak to what it was like not to be: younger kids worked with older kids where common interest was shared, or played inclusively. Older kids were often leaders or care-takers, but also learned and gained enrichment from younger kids, too.

At least, that’s how I remember it!

But throughout the journal from that one year, my mom continually refers to Mindy and Camille as “the older girls,” and it is clear that they identified as friends, probably separately from me, the little sister. Maybe I just wasn’t so tuned into that at the time?

The kids are reminding each other of snatches of the Free To Be You And Me record. 

→ Play Dino-Lotto, all 3 girls play & are quite good at spotting matching dinosaurs & other prehistoric animals. Lindsey gets upset when the 2 big girls fill up their cards before she does — but is immediately distracted by pegboard. 

Later in the journal from that same day, my mom records stepping into the dynamic after I interject into an activity Mindy and Camille are working on:

→ The 2 big girls begin to work on sewing again. Lindsey has the Tyrannosaurus Rex model & is trying to talk through it to Camille.

Camille says “I won’t talk to you because you’re bad.”   We discuss the word “bad” in relation to behavior & identitiy and in relation to meat-eaters. Lindsey & I defend the T-Rex. Then, while Lindsey is looking for something to feed it, I suggest a steak. Everyone agrees & suddenly T-Rex is a good guy.

The older girls help Lindsey to dress it. Measure it. Now [T-Rex] is ill — phone calls to doctors. Camille acquires a 2-headed dragon, & Mindy is told to get more meat — “We’re running out of meat!”

Camille’s dragon is sick, also — more phone calls. Lindsey asks for a green pillow & we all help her use scraps of fabric to create a pillow.

What a rich play scene. For once, Lindsey has added so much instead of disrupting…

Lindsey: “He [the dinosaur] has mucus. He’s going to die!”

So, ok, maybe juggling kids with different levels of maturity, energy and development was challenging at times. Helping us learn and play in harmony… Maybe that was harder for Mom than I remember. Still, the majority of the play my mom recorded in her old journal is dynamic and interesting, and pretty collaborative and inclusive.

* → Passport game:

Mindy has wanted to play this a long time!

Putting out all the stamp pads outside, along with stamp pen pad, & stamping Wild Animal Park passports. They all go together as a group & patiently wait in line (although they could certainly avoid lines & waiting by going to another “station”!)

As I’ve said before, there’s no way to know where we would be if we’d grown up differently. We can’t compare the outcomes. But it’s hard to imagine a childhood where my sisters and I would end up being closer than we are today.

And, family aside, I stand by age-diversity in childhood peer groups as a really wonderful and constructive social landscape. In many ways, I think it was better training to being an adult and navigating work places, or the general community where there is always age-diversity and exchanges across generations.