I was 5 weeks pregnant with our first baby and just that day the extreme fatigue had set in. I felt so disappointed, thinking that perhaps because the nausea was so severe I might avoid this symptom. Hadn't I already got the short end of the stick? Nonetheless I was still over the moon with excitement. I was meeting some friends at a nearby lake for a picnic dinner, and despite my condition I managed to whip together a broccoli salad and fresh blueberry muffins. Chris was supposed to join us as well, but ended up working late so I headed down to the lake by myself.
There I was, carrying my bag filled with goodies, water bottles, sunscreen and bugspray (simultaneously wondering if it was safe to put either of these things on my skin) my camping chair and my green tartan blanket from my trip to Scotland as a girl. All ready for our lakeside picnic, I made my way towards their sweet little family, huffing and puffing the whole way.
Thankfully for me, the nausea was kept at bay and we enjoyed our picnic lunch as I sat there with my little secret in my not-yet-growing womb. Afterwards their preschool aged kids all wanted to fish for crawfish, and so we headed towards the waters edge with fishing line, paperclips and hot dogs as bait. Their younger son, who must have been about 3 years old at the time slowly made his way over the big rocks to get to the shore. I hung back with him, expecting him to ask for help, or to reach his hand towards mine as he tried to find his footing, but he never did. Slowly and carefully he placed his feet on the rocks. A foot would slip and he would plant it somewhere else more carefully. I asked him if he wanted help, and he declined.
I took a few more steps towards their Dad and made a comment about how well he was walking on the rocks by himself. He responded with a nonchalant comment about how they have always been intentional to let their kids figure out things by themselves.
I think I made a decision right then and there about what type of parent I wanted to be.
Over the course of my pregnancy, and now in the past few years of Elliott's life, Chris and I have had numerous conversations about intentionally doing less for him, so that he might do more for himself. We want to be mindful of the fact that we are not just raising a toddler, but a future adult, and we want to do the best we can to help that future adult succeed.
Many months later I found myself running a day home. I noticed right away how brave Elliott was, chasing after the big kids and attempting to follow them all over the playground. And so I let him- I cautiously followed him at first. Holding my hand behind his back as he climbed the ladder for the slide. Making sure he held onto the railing going down the three steps of the jungle gym. And once I felt confident that he was steady and careful, I stopped. I sat back and watched. He wasn't without falls, that's for sure, but I noticed that when I let him explore on his own he was learning his limits. He would attempt to climb higher on the play set, and when he fell or lost his footing he would try a different approach, or he would stop attempting to get to that particular place.
One day I had the kids playing in the backyard waiting for their parents to come pick them up. It was winter so they were all in full snow gear which makes climbing the play set trickier. Elliott was about a year and a half at the time, but a total pro at scaling that thing, even in snow pants. I was standing about twenty steps back when one of the dad's showed up. We made a little small talk while we watched the kids play. I didn't see it happen, but Elliott's foot must have slipped because he lost his balance while trying to climb up the front. Thankfully (?) his snowsuit got caught on the way down with left him stuck, flailing around and unable to get his feet back where they should be. (Yes, it was as funny as it looked) He started yelling for help, which got my attention and I walked (not ran) over, chuckling the whole way, and unhooked his snowsuit to free him. He happily ran off to the swings. When I walked back to the dayhome dad he looked at me like I had three heads. I knew what he was thinking, so I responded to his expression by saying "He's pretty resilient." I thought of that little boy on the rocks, and smiled.
I've been writing this post for over a year now. Every time I've sat down to write it I stop, worrying that it will come across as "I parent this way. I'm right and you're wrong." This couldn't be further from the truth. Any parent can tell you what a humbling experience it is to be responsible for raising a child. It's funny to look back on the opinions I held before I became a Mom, and then even before I became a Mom of a two year old, and now an almost three year old. Each stage brings new challenges which make me judge others less and less.
There is no right way of doing things. And even when you feel confident in what you're doing as a parent, you'll see how the flip side makes sense too. Trust me- my brave little boy wandered out into the parking lot at our Mom's group the other day. I watched him do it thinking "Oh, he'll get outside the door, then turn around and come back in." Nope. The kid just wandered around the other kids (who were WITH THEIR MOM'S.) mere steps away from moving vehicles. Seriously. Confidence can be dangerous in a preschooler! All in all though, we're pretty proud of our boy, and we're happy to take on the challenges he provides.
I've always said that kids are like goldfish. They grow to be the size that their environment allows. I don't want to keep my kid in a tiny fishbowl. I want to see him grow and grow and grow!