Today I took my tiny human to a new to us park. It a new favorite. I particularly enjoyed the lack of tunnels as my little has decided as of late that I must go with him down every slide (annoyingly cute, I know). Let me tell you, there is no better indicator of your age and various ailments than a playground tunnel geared toward 2 to 6-year old’s.
In any case, my little 2 year and three month-er decided today he was going to conquer monkey bar steps. Now in the eyes of a mother (me) who is also scared of heights and slightly in denial her baby is not really a baby, this climbing contraption looked about 20 feet high. In the mind of a rational human being, it was only about 8 at its highest point. Before I knew it up he went as if he had been doing it all his life. There I was cringing with every step. I did not know if I should follow atop behind, follow him from below, keep a hand out to reach for him, or step back and how far back. For a split second, I even considered hurrying up up the jungle gym to where he was to meet him at the top in case he needed help. Forgetting that in the minute it would take me to do so, he could splatter onto the ground from a ten foot drop most likely losing a limb in the process.
However, I did none of that.
I took a deep breath. Stepped back and placed my hand in the best possible position to hopefully catch him if he lost his footing but not so close that I was interrupting his flow. I also did not want to impose on his moment with my own fears and disbelief. Even when he got to the top and hesitated and became slightly unsure.
Again, I took a deep breath, gave him some words of encouragement as I gently touched his back (okay, maybe it was only 7 feet high…) and verbally helped to guide him where he needed to go.
Finally! He was at the top and he was so pleased with himself. We shouted, we high-fived, I took a picture.
Then he insisted I go with a demanding yet questioning tone only a toddler can pull off. “Mamma too?” Sure kid, mamma too. I climb with the thoughts of an adult. One who fears heights and has forgotten it is apparently fun to climb widely spaced metal bars. I get almost to the top and my little reaches for me and bounces up and down. Excited mom came up too.
He was so proud of himself and I was reminded that this is what parenting is. Slowly dying on the inside from fear that your child will get hurt or maimed by some day-to-day aspect of life, yet, outwardly encouraging your child to explore said activities. I think this may fall under the “bittersweet" umbrella of parenting.
In his short years, I have had to conquer my own fears, fake it and smile, learn patience and adopt a calculated risk mentality. I have had to teach him to properly get down from a couch entirely too soon, let him climb the stairs by himself, and go down the bigger (and bigger) slides.
I cringe every time.
I get asked a lot if I have multiple children or told that I am laid back. Sometimes it is said in a tone of awe as if I am an enlightened parent for allowing my child to explore.
I am quick to tell them the truth. I am scared out of my mind. Internally I question if he will get hurt and how badly. What if he is pushed, or pushes another child. What if he actually does decide to step off the side of a jungle gym. What if he eats paint or shoves something up his nose. What if he chokes on his food. Do I trust in him too much? Do I take for granted the fact he has never done these things and give him a few more feet of space than I should? After all, there is a first time for everything.
However, my responsibility to him is to encourage, empower, and educate. I must calculate the risks because he can’t at this age. Yet, do so in a manner that does not hinder him because of my own fears, insecurities or preconceived notions. Whether it be trying onions with him, even though I despise them, or letting him climb the monkey bars. All while I cringe on the inside.