I recently read from Toni Morrison, about relying on imagination when narrating about lives enslaved. About how imaginations can make enslaved people thrive despite their circumstances. About how it can also make life hopeful despite the hurdles in advance. Life for enslaved people were dire, desolate, despairing, and full of dread. Imaginations is the only place where freedom truly existed. At least for us the living at a time when celebrating Juneteenth is finally a federal holiday. That enslaved people could celebrate this day seems unreal but it’s real, though denied for centuries. So imaginations are all we have left. And so I imagine the following.
On this day 156 years ago, there is a dance you will dance knowing you are free. I imagine that’s what enslaved people did on Juneteenth day: Enslaved people danced. A hopeful stance. They reveled in trance. Savoring every chance. To finally rain dance. Finally dream dance. Finally ghost dance. Finally war dance. Finally bend and snap dance. Finally ballet dance. Finally tap dance. Finally sun dance. And finally folk dance. As they finally lifted themselves up despite all the hurdles in advance.
I imagine they danced all sorts of dance, because they were free. In place of their dire, desolate, despairing and dreadful state, they danced, to make it easy to forget they were still enslaved despite being free. We still carry their scares even today. So for me, even though freedom still seems far, I will keep dancing like they did on the first Juneteenth day and beyond. We are still the pleasant dreams of our ancestors. The stories they passed on. Of a time when dreams won’t be denied or hopes ignored. We still have miles to go.
But for today, for them, we dance. A hopeful stance. We too revel in trance. We savor every chance. We rain dance. We dream dance. We ghost dance. We war dance. We bend and snap dance. We ballet dance. We tap dance. We sun dance. And we folk dance. We lift us up despite the hurdles in advance. For them we keep dancing. (Inspired by Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others).
My infant son plays with his feet with confidence. He received a toy set from a dear friend that allows him to use his feet to play with a toy piano. When we initially introduced him to the toy at around 1 month of age, he would just sit there and not interact with it. Granted he was still making sense of his world after only just leaving a dark womb 30 days ago and so his interactions with everything were very minimal. But recently and now at 3 months of age, I introduced the toy set to him again and he was in love. His eyes lit up to all the colors of the toy piano. He became determined to master the toy and boy did his determination pay off. It helped him learn to play with his feet, and he played over and over again, playing tunes on the toy piano. Truly, how he make sense of his world fascinates me, especially how he learns, and how he adjusts to life playing with his feet. And he is playing away.
My first undergraduate research job at Penn State University was for the Family Life Project, a longitudinal study of the biological, individual, family and community influences that affect rural children. As an undergraduate researcher, I was trained to code how children interacted with the toys they were presented with. Specifically, I coded an interaction whereby a child was presented with a jigsaw puzzle and watched for certain cues like; did the child reach for the toy immediately or did the child simply stare at it? Did a parent assist the child with the toy in anyway he or she chooses? The idea behind these coding was that how children interacted with a variety of developmental competencies even with something as simple as toys may lead to later success or failures not just throughout childhood but also in adolescence and adulthood. So early acquisition of skills necessary for interaction or play are in turn important for interaction with peers as well as adjustments to tasks in schools.
This study as well as my overall background in human development and family studies thanks to my undergraduate years at Penn State, is one of the key reasons why I remain fascinated with how children make sense of their world. Research from the Family Life Project would suggest that my son’s interaction (albeit one small data point) with toys are necessary for self-regulation. I say that it’s is simply delightful to watch his determination with play especially his vigorous playing with his feet. Keep playing in life or with your feet as the willpower to learn, to make sense of your world, is in you.