In all of our groups, there is a tone that we can find nowhere else — rambunctious, loud, respectful, attentive, playful. Since young people explore and engage with their world largely through play, we play and play together. Toddlers triumph over big people with great delight; preschoolers have pillow fights with their parents and other adults; school-age children chase and wrestle in play; older ones set up active group games. Adults are invited to play, encourage laughter, and challenge young people to try their hardest while giving them lots of opportunities to come out on top. When adults and children can laugh together in play, our world becomes a safer place.
The eight- and nine-year-old boys were throwing pillows hard and furious. The girls had taken a little longer, but were joining in with gusto. A two-year-old was watching in awe and interest. Her mother provided her with a little pillow and she gave it a little throw. The adult who was hit fell back in a gratifying response. She smiled and threw again. Again she hit her mark. Her face lit up, and she threw and threw again.
One of the lasting benefits of involvement at PCS is the chance to form real relationships with people of all ages. Young people get to know adults that they can trust and count on beyond their parents. Parents get the joy of knowing young people outside their families. Single or older adults get access to young minds and energy. Everyone gets to stay close to teenagers. All get permanent friendships that enrich their lives.
An older woman decided to try a jump onto the mats — one that the preschoolers regularly did with ease and glee. She was scared and embarrassed and awkward as she prepared to jump — and the children were wonderful. They clustered around and offered a steady stream of confidence and encouragement — and then a big bouquet of congratulations when she finally took the leap. They were as delighted as she was.
At PCS, parents can rest in the knowledge that their children will be well thought about, and that they will always get some undivided adult attention for their own issues. As a mother offers words of consolation to her tearful recently-adopted toddler, she is overtaken by the grief of all the goodbyes in his life. There are willing listeners for both as they cry. Parents learn to be resourceful to each other and each others’ families. When a parent arrives in crisis, resources are shifted to provide them extra attention; sometimes parents take over to tend to staff in need. Knowing that there is enough attention to go around, everyone is able to be flexible about giving and getting support.
One mother was making an education choice for her son that looked challenging for her and not clearly sensible for either of them. But when I had the opportunity to listen to how she was reaching for the very best for her son, I wasn’t inclined to argue. Even if it didn’t look like the best decision from my perspective, it was a decision clearly based in thought and love. And she had made it. What I could offer her now was appreciation for that thinking and love, and unwavering confidence in her goodness as a parent.
There are many opportunities for “special time,” in which an adult commits to fully following the lead of the young person, making their attention totally available as they engage in the activity of the young person’s choice. These become treasured times of connection that allow young and old to remember each other through periods of stress. Special time works to keep alive people’s ability to try new things regardless of the degree of success — to challenge fears, to show passion, and to remember that we are wonderful for who we are, not just for what we do.
As soon as we walked in the door, I could tell that this was a different kind of time. My son was relaxed and confident and pleased — totally in charge. He knew just where he wanted to start, how long he wanted to stay in each place. He was very aware of my presence, and very conscious that this was a time when I was going to do it his way.