The playground was close to the edge of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. In the morning light, I could just barely make out the shimmering blue of the water in the distance. Asher and I were at Bender Park, not far from our house. We go there quite often. He likes the place. Asher was an early riser today, and after he ate something, he was ready to go and play. We got in the car, drove a couple of miles to the park, and then he went straight to the slide.
The playground is roughly divided into halves. One section of the play area is set aside for toddlers, kids who are Asher’s age. The other half is for the older children. Asher spends very little time in the toddler section. He prefers to try his luck with the more advanced equipment. Some of the structures are simply too big for him. He still tries to clamber on top of them, usually with me holding him up or guiding him.
Asher likes to talk to me while we are at the playground. For a kid who is only 2 1/2 years old, he is loquacious. He struggles a bit with pronunciation. Asher’s “L” sounds sometimes like “Y”, and his “R” sometimes sounds like “W”. Otherwise, he speaks rather well.
Asher rushed over to the big boy slide. He climbed slowly up the ladder to the top. I reached out to help him, but he said, “No! I can do it! Don’t hep me! I don’t yike that!”
So, I backed off a bit. I didn’t touch Asher as he climbed, but I was close enough to grab him if he started to fall. Asher was in no rush to get to the top of the slide. He was careful where to place his hands and feet. He made sure that he had a firm grip on each rung and kept his balance as he went up. He was like a mountain climber gingerly ascending a cliff face.
When he got to the top, Asher grinned and shouted, “I did it! I did it aw by myseff!”
Indeed, he did. The interesting thing was that two days ago he couldn’t climb the ladder at all.
Asher and I go to a playground, or several playgrounds, every day. Each day he surprises me with some newly developed dexterity. He can walk on a rope bridge now. He can swing from cable to cable that hangs off an overhead metal bar. He can climb ladders without my assistance. It seems like one day he is too unsure of himself to scale the jungle gym, and the next day he can do it with confidence. How does that happen? How does this boy, or any child, suddenly know how to do something new?
When I think about it, I wonder how I ever learned to do new things. How did I learn to drive a stick shift? How did I learn to fly a helicopter? How do difficult tasks change from being impossible to being second nature? I don’t know. I guess that is what amazes me when I watch Asher in action.
I know that we learn by doing. Watching somebody else perform a task helps, and sometimes it is useful for somebody to explain how to do something. However, a person has to do it themselves, perhaps dozens or hundreds of times before their body remembers, and the action becomes automatic.
I have sometimes had to relearn things. After my right leg was crushed by a forklift several years ago, I had to learn again how to walk. The muscle memory in my foot and ankle was destroyed in the accident, and I had to consciously think through the steps required for me to even take steps. For a number of months after I was injured, I was effectively a toddler again. That was a humbling experience.
I like taking Asher to the playground. It is a joy to watch him learn new things. It is an endless source of wonder to me.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.