Oh these little ones. When they are born it is a sudden change from only really having to worry about yourself to now having a tiny little person 100% dependent on you. It takes months to adjust to this new role and responsibility. Then, just when you start to feel comfortable providing everything for them, they start their steps towards independence.
At this point it is all too easy to become that over protective, overbearing parent. You see the dangers everywhere you look. If she jumps around in this spot instead of that one she might fall backward and hit her head on the corner of the table, so I better pick her up and move her; or, if he runs full speed down this hill he might fall on his face and chip a tooth or break his nose, so I better tell him to walk.
In the early days of this new independent, and fearless I might add, stage the playground became my personal hell. She saw the bigger kids climbing and jumping and swinging around on the equipment, and like that she was no longer content with the little toddler slide and baby swings. She was no longer content to have me walk her up the steps and catch her at the bottom of the slide. She wanted to run along the equipment all by herself, she wanted to try climbing the ladders and crossing the wobble bridge, and sliding down the big slide all by herself. And let me tell you, those large playground structures are not designed with parents who have to catch toddlers who think they can walk on air in mind. There are openings three feet off the ground on both sides, but you can’t easily get from one side to the other, and you can pretty much guarantee the side you pick to be prepared to catch your dare devil toddler from will not be the side she decides she wants to try and fly from. But for the grace of other parents we would have been in the ER multiple times already. I honestly put a moratorium on the playground with her if I was by myself for about 4 months. I couldn’t handle the constant heart attack moments. Mind you, this also coincided with the height of my PPD anxiety episodes, and was prior to the treatment I am currently in, so I’m sure that played a role in my view of the situation.
As I got my anxiety under control, and as she gained slightly better balance, we ventured back to the playground just the two of us. We went to the small one right behind our apartment building, it’s a bit run down but very manageable one on one. She immediately ran to the swings. Being used to having her sit on my lap to swing on the big kid swings I moved to do just this. NO! She insisted on sitting on the swing all by herself. Feeling more at ease and confident I helped her get in the seat just right, and she started pumping her tiny little legs, getting the smallest motion started. I was astounded and proud. My little girl was swinging all by herself. The joy on her face told me everything I needed to know. My job now is not to restrict her or tell her she can’t, instead my job is to help guide her and be there to catch her the times she does fall. She has to spread her wings and try new things, and realize her limitations for herself.
Adopting this philosophy for the playground is an important first step towards adopting it in other facets of parenthood as she grows. I can’t make her decisions for her, I can provide suggestions, but I have to let her make her own choices. I can be there to catch her when she falls, to brush off the dirt, and kiss the skinned knees, but I have to let her take the chance that she might fall. I also have to accept that while most of the time I can probably be there to catch her as she’s falling to brace the impact, there will be times that she moves so quickly and falls so suddenly that I simply can’t catch her, and she will get hurt. As much as I would love to wrap her in bubble warp and a football helmet before sending her out into the world, that’s just not realistic. While she might be a physical piece of me and my own heart, she is her own person. I have to respect that.
In all honesty, I like that she is so independent and confident in herself. She surprises me on a regular basis. When she tried to climb one of the rung ladders on the playground I positioned myself to catch her, internally assuming that would be my role, instead she made it up several rungs all by herself before asking for a hand to help her up the rest of the way. The old anxious me would have never given her the space to try this herself. I would have been holding onto her from the start convinced that she needed me to protect her. I have learned though, I have to let her try. She has to find out for herself what she is and isn’t capable of. And now, I find myself encouraging her. When she asks for help I don’t automatically give it, instead I stand back and encourage her try by herself first, but still close enough to catch her.
I love my fearless girl. I love that she believes she can do seemingly impossible things. I don’t want to crush this part of her personality just because I’m not as fearless as she is. I’m learning to let her jump, because one of these days she just might surprise me and fly. Until then I will continue to position myself to catch her when she falls. And I have to accept she might slip through my hands and hit the ground, but I’ll still be right there to pick her up, brush her off, and tend to any injuries.
And no, I’m not perfect at this. When she starts jumping around on the couch I still tell her no, because, you know, if she jumps on the couch and falls she might hit her head on that corner, and I really don’t feel like a trip to the ER tonight. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.