From the moment she was (finally) old enough to treat a book as something more than a teething toy, the Maiden has been a fan of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It’s seen us through discussions of colors, counting, healthy eating, and metamorphosis. It’s been pored over, read, possibly thrown, and may even have been incorporated into a soup made of pajamas, lego, and Goodnight Moon.
Now it was about to get the culinary treatment again– this time, for real.
The Maiden and I have often talked about serving up the Caterpillar’s menu for our own dinner. But the thought of making enough food to give the eater a stomachache was a little daunting (in more ways than one). Besides, it wasn’t an especially square meal. Chocolate cake for supper? Not in my house! But then, an opportunity presented itself. With the Man busy with volunteer work tonight, it seemed a good day for the Maiden and I to have an out-of-the-ordinary supper, something special to make our Daddy-less dinner a little more fun. It was time to eat our way through The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
My first thought: what lessons I could incorporate? Counting, healthy eating, life cycle of a butterfly…we’d kind of done those over the years, but they could bear repeating, I suppose. Maybe we could sound out some of the words? I’d have to check the book to see if there were any easy enough for her to attempt. Or maybe we could make our own hungry caterpillar books. I must have a hole punch buried somewhere in the office. At the very least, a caterpillar or butterfly craft could be involved. Gotta work on those fine motor skills…
Then I stopped. Clearly, I was looking to make this dinner a learning thing. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that any time I planned something for the Maiden, I always took pains to make sure it was educational. A good approach, in general– but was it always necessary?
I’m not saying that using those teachable moments to impart some kind of lesson– whether language or counting or motor skills or morals– is a bad idea. I think it’s important to encourage our kids to explore the big world whenever the opportunity arises. But it’s also okay to ease up once in a while; to let kids be kids, and to let ourselves be kids for the space of a silly supper or backwards clothes morning. Not every planned event or excursion has to be an Educational Experience That Will Turn Our Child Into A Doctor. It’s fun to leave seriousness behind, and I think it recharges us parents just as much as it does the kids.
I wonder whether that’s why as parents, we don’t always have fun hanging out with our kids. In our results-driven society, we’re conditioned to think that unless we’re producing, we’re wasting time. If we don’t do our best to make every planned experience an “educational” one, our child might, heaven forbid, fall behind. If we pass up that one opportunity to tell them about X, it might be the crucial bit of knowledge that could have paved their way to Harvard. We fear that if we don’t somehow incorporate a lesson into everything, we fail our kids– and ourselves.
But part of a child’s emotional development requires that silliness, the fun for fun’s sake. Maybe we’re so keen to educate our children that we’re missing opportunities to enjoy them. It’s an interesting thought.
I dropped all pretenses of teaching, and tonight we two hungry caterpillars descended upon the kitchen. We made, and ate, everything the Very Hungry Caterpillar ate: five kinds of fruit, chocolate cake (for dinner! yeah!), ice cream, pickles, cheese, salami, lollipops, pie, sausage, cupcakes (ok, muffins– ssssh), and watermelon. We didn’t have stomachaches, but we still finished off with a nice green leaf. We played silly games, repeated ad infinitum that we were stiiiiiiiillll hungry, and laughed a lot. And at bedtime, the Maiden burrowed into her cocoon a happy kid, full of food and some precious mummy-daughter memories.