Monday, September 25, 2006

Letting Them Fall

Before I had a child, I was a serious eye-roller. It seemed that parents were either paranoid about their childrens' safety or completely oblivious to them altogether. Rarely did I see the happy medium, the perfect balance between smothering and ignoring. Either parents were not letting their children do ANYTHING themselves, or they were turning the kids out into the neighborhood, letting them run the streets in preschooler hooligan gangs. Unsupervised at the playgrounds near us, they guard the entrace to every slide like Jack and Roger in Lord of the Flies, and taunt the sweet little children too young to even understand what they were doing, not letting them go down the slide. Little Monsters at age 5, and without a parent in sight.
Then, I had my own. As anyone who has become a parent knows, there is no comparing how you feel about YOUR child to how you feel about everyone else's children, or children in general. I didn't particularly like children before having one. I liked (and loved) a few specific ones, but then I had Hootie. And the Sun Rises and Sets on Her Face. I have kissed and caressed and adored every little part of that sweet face, her edible little fingers and toes, her freckle on her kneecap, the veins you can see through the nearly translucent skin of her eyelids. I thoroughly love and cherish my child.
The first time (out of the hospital) where I saw blood come from my child's body due to an injury, my heart ACHED. It was truly nothing serious - Hootie was sticking her chubby little fingers into her Auntie Cat's mouth, and Auntie Cat was teasing her by nibbling on her fingers. Until she actually BIT her finger totally due to SPAZZING OUT. It barely broke the skin, but there was her blood. Hootie cried and cried for me, I scooped her up and washed her finger and put some ointment and a tiny little bandaid on it while my sister in law dug herself a hole in the living room floor and crawled inside. And every time since, every scrape or cut or big red knot on her head has hitched my heart like it was caught on a fishhook.
As a result, I'm probably classified as a Smotherer. I hate to see those big crocodile tears come out of my precious child's eyes. I am SURE that I help her do far too many things because I am afraid of her falling or hurting herself in some way (like the jungle gym at the park). It took forever before I would push her on the Big Girl Swings more than in about a 10 degree arc. But it has come to my attention that I need to back off and let the child TRY things, else she will never learn the consequences of gravity, learn to compensate for them, and develop her own sense of achievement and independence in the physical world.
So, my first attempt at this was to let her try to climb up the rock-climbing station at a playground at Amy's Ice Cream a few weeks ago. I know she'd never tried such a thing, and I was terrified to see her fall off something like that. But I sat in my rusty lawnchair, about 40 feet away from her, with her father giving me serious props for not hovering behind her in case she fell. She made it about half way up, going slowly and cautiously, but with a pretty decent natural talent with it. And then I heard the panicked little voice, "Mommy, I'm STUCK! I need your help!" My husband tried to stop me, to give her the chance to try and figure it out on her own. But I cannot ignore an honest plea from my child for help. So I went, but instead of scooping her up and putting her on top of where she wanted to go, I just grabbed her waist while she was still on the thing, and guided her up the rest of the steps, telling her where to place her feet and hands, until she made it to the top. And my husband actually did the little eye-roll.
Then last night, we were visiting friends for dinner. It was a delightful, cool evening and we were eating red snapper and grilled chicken outside. These friends have a darling boy 3 months older than Hootie (I'll call him W), and these children are best pals. His back yard has a wooden playscape with 3 swings attached, and the children were playing on the swings. Normally I am alright with swings at this point, especially as W was trying to teach Hootie how to pump her legs to get herself going, rather than constantly calling one of us to come push her. But then, he showed her how he likes to lie on his belly across the floppy rubber seat, and swing that way. This, too, was alright... until W RAN toward the seat and flung himself on it, and swung pretty high in the air. Before it even happened, I saw it in a mind flash, what was about to transpire. Hootie ran toward the swing, but overshot the seat and went flying over it, and onto her face, as it caught her at about the knee. I must have LEVITATED up and over that table, and ran to her. There was the sickening silent pause that always precedes a painful cry, when the wind is knocked out of them and they are taking in a breath to wail. I hate that total lack of sound. I got there to her as she just started her first wail. Her mouth was bloody and I couldn't see what all was going on in there. She cried, "Mommy, Mommy, my FACE hurts! My MOUTH hurts!" but she sat up on her own, so I knew her back wasn't injured. I scooped her up as my husband was saying, "Oh, Trasi, she's FINE" (until he saw all the blood). I got her to the bathroom and got a washcloth wet with some cold water, and wiped away the blood on her lips. I could tell her lip was cut in two places, probably from the upper teeth smashing into it. But it wasn't cut through the lip, thank God. I checked her teeth, and nothing was loose. Tongue wasn't cut either, luckily. All in all, there are now three big scabs on her bottom lip, it is swollen, and a bruise on her chin. It could have been so much worse, but it was bad enough for me to entirely lose my focus for the rest of the night. I hope for her sake, for the sake of me wanting to raise an independent, curious, adventurous child, that I don't stop letting her do things without me hovering over her. But GOD, IT IS HARD NOT TO! She'll just never learn how the world works, unless she's allowed to do at least a LITTLE bit of experimentation with its forces. But I had best steel myself, as I'm sure my heart hasn't seen the HALF of its future angst yet.

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