The task of the educator

We should have known he'd pull something. Grady, just minutes before his Houdini-like escape, Virginia Beach, June 2014

We should have known he was about to pull something.
Grady, just minutes before his Houdini-like escape, Virginia Beach, June 2014

“The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confuse good with immobility and evil with activity…”
Maria Montessouri

Any adult who interacts with a young child is an educator, whether or not we realize it.  Since children tend to be active, uninhibited and curious, we often end up saying mostly “no” or “stop that” or “don’t do that.” There’s nothing wrong with helping a child learn what is unacceptable or dangerous.  But Montessouri wisely points out that there is a hidden risk to such counsel.  We don’t want to unintentionally encourage the child to be passive or to fear action.

Though my parents were not overprotective, I was a nervous child as far back as I can remember.  My own hypervigilance created a self-imposed inhibition on my activities that superseded the few restrictions my parents ever placed on me. This may be why I became such a bookworm (not a bad thing), but it also may explain why I was reluctant to venture farther than my own comfortable world until I was in my late teens.

When our children were infants, Jeff and I felt our shared tendency toward anxiety kick into overdrive, and I’m afraid we were a bit too restrictive of their early attempts at activity.  It’s an easy mistake to make, when your baby starts crawling at four months and promptly gets into the bathroom cabinet and drinks a bottle of perfume (as Drew did) or shows absolutely no fear of the ocean, and runs into sweeping waves before anyone can catch him (as Matt did).  Nothing like a couple of close calls to set the mental alarm systems on permanent “high alert” status.  But that may have made life less enjoyable for all of us than it could have been.

I’m happy to say that our grandson’s parents don’t seem to be making this mistake.  As a grandmother, I’m a bit more laid back and philosophical about what babies do, so I’ve been delighted to see that Drew and Megan don’t freak out when Grady crawls around on less-than-pristine surfaces, or puts “dirty” (not sterilized) objects into his mouth, or plays with objects not manufactured by Fisher-Price or approved by some pediatrician with an official-looking seal.

It’s true that Grady gets the occasional “ding” in the form of a little bruise on his forehead, or a similar badge of exploration. But he’s probably at least as safe, if not safer, than my children were.  And I think he’s having as much fun.  In fact, I think he may be having even more fun!  Besides, even being very cautious is no guarantee of safety.

For example: Grady recently gave Megan and me panic attacks while we were shopping for groceries, when he somehow escaped his snugly-fastened seat belt and stood up in the grocery cart seat during the sixty seconds our backs were turned while we read baby food labels.  Thank goodness we saw him standing there before he fell out.  His fastened seat belt lay around his ankles, but how he got out of it we will never know. Parents, be aware that grocery cart seat belts are not escape-proof!

I’m not advising people to stop saying “no” to children.  I am advising an awareness of all the safe and reasonable ways to say “yes” or “try this instead” or “UH-OH! Need some help with that?” Admittedly, this takes more time and close attention than simply saying “stop that.” But it’s time well invested.

Even as an adult, I tend to err on the side of caution. It has taken me years to realize that inaction can be as costly — indeed, more costly — than taking a calculated risk now and then.

If you have active, busy children, grandchildren or neighbors in your life, enjoy them!  Don’t hesitate to help them learn behaviors that are safe, considerate AND actively curious.  If you’re like me, you’ll find there is a lot of truth to the old saying that children keep us young.

For a demonstration, I invite you to enjoy one of our recent Grady videos, which puts a smile on my face every time I watch it.  Or just have a few quiet chuckles at the Silly Old Grandmother and her home movies, and take a pass.  No one will ever know.  😀   An early Happy Birthday wish to Grady AND his Mom, Megan, both born in July!

One year ago today:

A big journey


  1. bobmielke

    I believe unless you’ve had a child yourself you’re unaware that the enter the world as a blank slate. They have no fear and everything is exciting to them, even their own bodies. It’s incredible to me that they can suck their own toes. LOL

    I read that a child psychologist once wrote that all children are born evil and that it’s a parents job to educate them otherwise. I don’t know if I totally buy into that philosophy but I understand where the idea came from. Left to their own desires infants are self centered, want everything they see and will fight to keep it. Sounds like a lot of adults actually. 🙂

    • Bob, I agree. I don’t believe in original sin in the sense that I don’t think we are “born guilty” but I do believe we definitely are hardwired for mischief of various sorts. And yes, those proclivities don’t really change as we become adults, they just take different forms! It helps to remember that the same trait can be an asset or a problem, depending on one’s mastery of it. For example, curiosity is good if put to good use, not to gossip, careless risk, or other detrimental pastimes. I think the key to telling the difference is what you mention about selfishness, and also discipline instead of impulsivity. I think it’s usually possible to be generous without being totally selfless, if that makes sense, but admittedly it’s a hard line to walk.

  2. Ann

    Thank you for sharing Grady moments with us! The snapshot of Grady in the grocery cart really caught his mischievous look. Then I watched the video…priceless😊I’ll be smiling all day. He really likes to groove to his music😉

    • Thank you Ann. I just love the way he gets that tummy moving to the beat. Cracks me up every time I watch it. His face is so obviously delighted. I appreciate your sharing this “golden Grandma” moment with me! Smart phones do have advantages!

  3. Good Ol’ Maria Montessori! That was well said.
    I couldn’t help but notice the difference in Grady smiles between the “playing with music” video and the “shopping cart” video. How can a child so young already know when he’s up to mischief??! Amazing. At least he is still transparent enough that (as you said) you could almost see it coming.
    Your story about Matt reminds me of my youngest son, Wes, when he discovered Lake Michigan. Although too young to walk into the lake, he crawled straight into the waves, laughing as they splashed his face (and good heavens, he was at the mercy of very short arms at the time! ) – he looked just like “Baby Thataway,” if you can recall that battery operated crawling doll – straight into the surf! Yikes, they do cause us anxiety!
    I can’t imagine what possessed me to think I should show my kids Niagara Falls within the next couple of years. By that time, he RAN everywhere, and wasn’t too stable on his feet yet. Thank heavens I’d put him in bib overalls and could snatch him back from the waters above the falls …. (I didn’t sleep well the following night – that was just too close! )
    I’m happy to report that he has successfully made it to adulthood (after teaching himself to swim when he was four).
    Wow, thanks Julia, for inspiring all of those exciting memories.
    Blessings on your day today!

    • Thank you Susan! Oh dear, it gives me anxiety attacks just to contemplate taking toddlers to Niagara Falls! You are BRAVE!! Isn’t it delightful but terrifying how fearless our kids can be? I didn’t catch the expression on Grady’s face when I took the photo, but after it was all over and I saw it I thought how telling it was. You can just see the wheels turning. That’s why I love photos, they “freeze” moments that we might miss without a camera. Drew would say I wouldn’t miss the moments if I would put the camera down, but I disagree. I see things through a lens that I would never see amid the panorama of life – it’s like the lens can isolate detail that gets lost in the big picture. I appreciate your being here and sharing this fun video with us!

  4. raynard

    Julia first thank you for the video. I was around when 2 of my four daughters were growing up.One if I never mentioned died at birth while stationed in Germany. My oldest I can remember one time in the commissary at Ft Dix while riding in the cart,” pulled a glass jar off a shelf. Next thing you heard was ” cleanup in aisle 3 lol.. Most of my grandkids are teens or pre adults down in, NC, and Georgia.. Hope all is well down you way. Kinda/ Sorta counting the days( 19 till my birthday and vacation..) so far one day with my daughters, one day with wife and friends at Shady Maple Smorgasborg in Lancaster PA. Might still take one of my famous” Smokey& the Bandit/ Cannonball runs..Updates to follow. Be blessed

    • Raynard, I think you may have mentioned briefly about losing one of your children. I am so sorry you had to go through that. There’s no doubt in my mind that it would change a person forever. Some people never really recover from it, but others survive and grow from the loss. My friend Renee who comments here sometimes is such a strength to me because of what she went through taking care of her son and losing him after years of watching him fight MD.

      That grocery cart story sounds all too familiar! I have a similar one involving a carton of eggs – don’t get me started! 😀 What is it about grocery carts? They can be quite dangerous. When Drew and Matt were babies (they are only 16 months apart) Jeff and I had them each in a cart, one he was pushing and one I was pushing. When we turned our backs very briefly, toddler Drew reached out to pull baby Matt’s cart closer – but what happened was, IT TURNED OVER and suddenly Matt was wailing and blood was everywhere. Someone yelled out “Call 911!” and I ran to find a phone (no cell phones in those days) but thank goodness Jeff kept his head and called me back, barking out orders and saying “we need to find where the blood is coming from first, somebody hand me something to clean this blood off.” A woman nearby handed him a pack of tissues and long story short, it was just a lacerated thumb that was bleeding like crazy. Jeff calmly bandaged it, told me to hold pressure on it and said “NO NEED to call 911, we can DRIVE to the hospital!” I had freaked out totally but he knew what to do. It could have been much worse. Thank God for Jeff’s combat casualty training. Somehow most of us survive childhood despite everything! 😀

  5. Linda Blackford

    I love the picture and the little gleam in his eyes! You’re right! It should have been obvious he was up to something! Enjoy all the ages and stages! My older grandson is 14 and taller than all of us, and my younger grandson is only half a year away from double digits. I’m fortunate to live in the same town and have close relationships with both of them.

    • Linda, you are SO fortunate to be close to your grand-blessings! The time goes so quickly. Grady is very different each time we see him and even in the photos he changes so quickly. I’m so happy there are smart phones that make videos (though I wouldn’t have a clue how to use one myself)! Thanks for sharing our joy here!

  6. singleseatfighterpilot

    You are rightly a proud grandparent! (Did they even have seatbelts in grocery shopping carts when Drew was one year old?)

    • Nope, and somehow we all survived. Of course, the didn’t even have seat belts in CARS when you and I were that young!

  7. Carolyn

    Loved you blog today. Grady is so cute and a great video. Will send note soon.

    • Thank you Carolyn. We are thinking of you! Hope you are feeling better each day.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I would say that the eyes give away the mischievous plan. Grady, how did you get so smart, so fast? What a very fast year! Thank you for the Meme blog that many doting (nothing wrong with that) grandparents can identify with. Our daughter, Stephanie, taught at a Montessori school for several years when her children were enrolled there. We really like the concept! 🙂 I remember the anticipation awaiting “Baby Grady” last July! 🙂

    • Hi Sheila, Grady is definitely a quick study and quite full of spirit. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been a whole year ago this time that we were eagerly awaiting his birth. He took his sweet time about getting here, as did his father before him (who was nearly 3 weeks late – nowadays they would have done a c-section by then, but I’m glad they didn’t).

      Matt went to a Montessori preschool that indulged his compulsive love of books. He taught himself to read during that year, but it was funny because even the straight-laced teachers (they were “by the book” practitioners of the International methodology, not the American model) came to agree with me that perhaps Matt should be allowed to self-direct ALL the time, as he NEVER chose anything but reading! It’s comical now to look back on those days, but at the time we were concerned about his problems with motor skills, as it turned out we had good reason to be. But reading was a gift that has lasted, so on the whole I’m glad we spent the money to send him there.

  9. As a teacher and coach of children for some thirty years, and an uncle for even longer; I can attest to the phrase-“Its better to be safe, than sorry.”
    As children get older, that philosophy can be accompanied by an explanation, balanced with truth and compassion.

    Enjoyed the video, Julia. Congrats, a wondeful grandson.- Seems like he’s having a great time. It’s nice to be child-like, when all that matters is what’s in front of you.

    • Thank you Alan! “Better safe than sorry” is definitely a useful principle when children’s lives are at stake. I just wish I had managed to convey it with a bit more of “Ward and June Cleaver” or “Cliff and Claire Huxtable” about me. Somehow I managed to be more like Barney Fife, a character I love dearly because I so identify with him! 😀 Thanks for your kind words about Grady. He is such a blessing to us at a time when we all really need it.

  10. Rene

    Oh, what a sweet boy…with a great sense of rhythm!

    • Thank you Rene! Grady definitely seems to love music. I don’t think either of his parents are really into music in a participatory sense, so it will be interesting to see how that develops. Grady’s Uncle Matt was doing the same sort of musical grooving as an infant. I used to love playing the piano for him. He would wave his arms enthusiastically no matter how badly I played.

  11. Megan

    Look at that mischievous look! He WAS planning an escape! Thanks for your kind words about Drew and I’s first attempts into parenting! We are certainly ‘feeling as we go.’ G and I are enjoying our birthday month thus far. Lots of dancing at the Dentons these days now that G can really cruise around. 🙂

    • Megan, from the night he was born I could see those little wheels turning just by looking into his eyes. Of course, that night it was more like “can you explain to me what the heck just happened?” You know how I’ve always said G-man has an amazing range of expressions. Sounds like a fun July at your house! Or as Grady might say, “HAH TAH!”

  12. Amy

    I can’t believe it will be a year soon. Where does the time go. Thanks for sharing. What a cutie, a stinker to be sure but a cutie. Love to everyone. A

    • Being a stinker is in his genes. At least on his father’s side. 😀

  13. Overprotective – that is one great mistake most parents make, esp with their first-born. I am no exception and I have to regret that forever. A very pertinent post, Julia! Grady looks so excited (video). And the mischievous look(photo)….. super cute. At this age they are a joy for all.
    Julia, how goes life? Here schools are closed for summer and we are trying to make the most of our ‘uneventful’ vacation in this ‘prison’. I am glad children are able to enjoy it as they (born and being brought up here) find vacations confined within the four walls quite normal.

    • Hi Bindu, it’s great to hear from you! I think many of us tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to our children. The stakes are just too high to take chances, but then we can get stuck in the rut of always being fearful, even when we don’t need to be. As with so much else in life, balance is hard. Thanks for your kind words about Grady; he brings us so many smiles.

      I’m happy you are on summer break, but how I wish I could send you a ticket to explore to your heart’s content! It’s good that children know how to be free in their imaginations, even if they are confined indoors. If you think of any types of places you’d really like to see, send me a request and I’ll try to send you some photos so you can take a virtual trip. Of course, you can find most anything on Google and there are some fabulous images on there, but it’s not the same as actually being there. I hope you are able at least to get some rest and a change of pace before the next school year starts again. They seem to start so early here, the summer flies by before we know it. We are all doing OK. Jeff is still taking chemo but feeling better than he did a year ago, for which we are very grateful. Matt recovered very well from his open heart surgery. We are counting our blessings. Thanks for being here!

  14. Michael

    There seems to be a hint of mischief at the edge of his smile.

    • I agree! He definitely seems to be up to something.

  15. hehe, just love that look on Grady’s face in the shopping cart. It’s funny how young you can be to know what you shouldn’t really do. That look is a sneaky look isn’t it? I’m afraid I may have been one of those ‘overly scared’ moms. Maybe if you have 2 or 3 you get more comfortable with each one. Watching our neighbours kids grow up at the lake, I was always amazed how calm my friend Karen was. I remember her daughter Keltie walking on the pier at maybe 3 and I excitedly said to Karen, “oh! Keltie’s on the pier”. Karen calmly said, “she’s ok, she’s wearing a life jacket”. So smart of her because her kids were at swim lessons early and grew up loving the water with no fear. If she’s constantly freaked out, Keltie may have been different. I think parents unintentionally impose some of their fears onto there kids which can be stifling. When I was younger, I was a scaredy cat about too many things and it took lot’s of life experience to get over that.

    That’s the cutest video because Grady get’s so happy to hear that melody and has no trouble playing it for himself. One year already, WOW. Happy Birthday Grady and Megan!

    • Thanks, K – I would have been the same as you about the water and the pier. I still get very nervous when I see people letting their toddlers walk in front of them down busy sidewalks with cars whizzing by. I’m sure passed a lot of my anxieties onto my kids but I guess my philosophy was, better nervous and alive than fearless and dead! But as you say, it’s better to teach reasonable precautions with a confident attitude. I’ve been a scaredy cat myself about many things for as long as I can remember, and car accidents are maybe my worst phobia after my Mom and siblings were in that awful car crash.

      Grady definitely has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen on a baby. It’s the first thing I noticed about him after he was born and every time I am around him I am amazed at the range of looks that pass over his face in a very short time. I keep the camera clicking all the time and I can take five photos in a row and every one will look different. Maybe he will be an actor or something. He does love music though, that’s obvious! Thanks for your Birthday wishes!

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