I was talking to our neighbor/lawn maintenance guy this morning about whether or not our flowers need more water when Caveman came outside in his socks with his toothbrush and something white in his hair. I assumed it was toothpaste. About 3 seconds later Princess arrived on the scene (also in her socks—I suspect this is cosmic payback for the 12 billion times my mother told me not to go outside in my socks) and revealed that it was not in fact toothpaste, but fabric glue. (As I type this I have to wonder if he tried to brush his teeth with fabric glue. Is fabric glue non-toxic? Whew, yes, ours is.) Fortunately, if you wash fabric glue out of your hair before it dries, it comes out.
Why would you put fabric glue in your hair? I have no idea. Children are not confined by the rules of logic. This is why being a parent is such a difficult job. You can’t possibly anticipate everything they will attempt to do. This also makes parenting a terrifying job. You can childproof the heck out of your house, but your kids can still stack up kitchen chairs to reach the garage-door opener while you’re changing the baby’s diaper, letting themselves outside without your knowledge. (True story. Our garage door opener is now up so high I can only reach it by standing on tiptoe.) As parents, we try to keep our children safe, some even going so far as to pay professional childproofing services. Unfortunately, kids see all that childproofing as less of a safety measure and more of a challenge.
When you mix imagination into the innate fearlessness of some kids, you get boys jumping off houses in attempts to fly or girls jumping into deep swimming pools because they are just sure they can swim (my uncle and me, respectively). Forget it being a miracle any of us survives childhood—it’s a miracle any PARENTS survive childhood. Think about it—how many times in the past year has your heart literally stopped as you discovered your child doing something dangerous? Ever temporarily lose your child in a public place? Your brain goes straight to the worst-case scenario, and you experience pure terror until your child is back, safe in your arms, and it turns out they were just stuck in the corner of a jump house, or locked outside on a balcony, or wedged between bolts of fabric in the craft store, or hiding behind a tree giggling as you slowly lost it (all true, but fortunately not all my kids).
I consider myself a fairly laid-back parent. I believe in natural consequences. I try to give my kids freedom to make their own discoveries. I read a book that suggested that physical confidence (ie, believing you can do things like climb to the top of the climbing structure or jump over a log) leads to confidence in other areas, and so allowing children the freedom to try to do things that we as adults might think of as dangerous (within reason) is important. I believe that is true. I don’t want my children to be too afraid to try new things. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hold my breath while Caveman makes his way up the ladder of the slide or Princess attempts to scale a huge rock. I hold my breath. I stand close by to help in case a foot slips. When the inevitable happens, I’m there to kiss the hurt away.
And right now I’m only really worried about physical danger. The fear and worry will only get worse as they get older and more independent. One day, Princess will get in a car with a date and go somewhere unsupervised. One day, Caveman will have his heart broken. Someone might offer my child a cigarette, or a beer, or worse. And I won’t be there to stop it, and I won’t be able to kiss it better if they lose their footing. You see how the brain of a mom works? I go from fabric glue in the hair to being offered cocaine in sixty seconds! But I can’t help it. It’s what I do. I am a parent.
Parenting in a way that gives kids the freedom to make mistakes (and possibly get hurt in the process) is the scariest thing we do. It would be so much easier to wrap our children in bubble wrap and keep them inside, but then we wouldn’t really be doing our jobs, and we’d be robbing them of truly experiencing life. So we do it—we put on our game faces and say, “it’s ok, you can do it” as our toddlers climb the stairs, all the while wishing we could just keep them in our laps. We focus on the pride in their faces when they reach the top rather than the stitches from that ill-fated attempt to scale the sofa. All we can do is try to remove the immediate dangers while they’re too small to understand the consequences of their actions, and help develop their understanding of consequences for when they are older.
My children will get hurt. There is nothing I can do to prevent that. But maybe, if I do my job right, they’ll be able to pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and start all over again.
Until one day they have their own kids and call me in a panic because their child got into the fabric glue and might one day be offered drugs. I hope, by then, that some of the worry will have subsided. I doubt it, but I can hope.