Just take a seat on the bench, take a deep breath, and peacefully observe. It’ll be fine.
Photo by: coofdy
Parenthood is full of hard, grit-your-teeth stuff, stuff that makes you come undone, stuff that knits you into a fuller human being. This is a story of one of the smaller aspects of parenthood–not a stay-up-all-night-fretting challenge, but certainly a teeth-gritting challenge.
That thing is the park.
I know, I know–the park?!
But have you been to the park recently?
There are parents everywhere. Everywhere you look, you’ll see a parent. Here a parent, there a parent, everywhere a parent-parent. It’s like if the Almighty rained down a plague of parents on Egypt instead of locusts. And it’s like Egypt is all parks.
Obviously I’m not saying we should all drop our toddlers off at the park and be all, OK-see-ya-buh-bye!, but this whole playing-on-the-toddler-structure business is getting surreal. ANECDATA: Last time I went to the park, I watched a child waiting for their turn while an adult swung on the swing. And while yes, that parent might have paid taxes for that swing to exist maybe…come on now. Another time, I counted more parents on a structure than tots.
So I took my daughter to the park, and I stayed and didn’t leave her to fend for herself like a wolf pup. But I did do something that felt like a defiant, rebellious act.
I sat on the bench and watched her from afar.
I watched my tiny daughter struggle up the hill to the top of the slide.
I watched my tiny daughter sit there, letting other children pass her.
I watched my tiny daughter get manhandled by a well-meaning elementary-schooler who saw that she wasn’t going down and sweetly offered to help by sliding her down on her tummy.
I watched my daughter hold her own and deal with it, on her own.
I watched her figure things out.
“She’s fine,” I called, rather loudly and obnoxiously, to my husband as he sometimes inched closer towards her, pulled in bit by bit by the pull of peer pressure to hover and help her reach the top, to give her a hand as she oh-so-carefully made her way up and down the small toddler steps. I said it several times, along with a chirpy, cheerful, “She’s doing great, see?”
I was saying it for the parents around me, but also for myself. It felt like a chant, like something I needed to remind myself of again and again as I sat on the bench, letting my daughter grow and struggle a little on her own. She’s fine. She’s doing great. She’s fine. She’s doing great.
My heart pumped in my throat as she sloooooowly went down backwards on the steps, inch by tiny inch. If she fell, I would be there to give her a kiss. If she fell, I would see. If she fell, she might get a bump or a bruise, probably nothing more. She might not fall directly into my arms, but I would rush over. She would not bleed out before I took the eight steps it would take to get to her, probably. I told myself these things over and over, gritting my teeth, refusing to go over and pick her up and help her down.
And she was fine.
She made it down.
She did not bleed out.
Then she turned right around and went back up, by herself, blissfully unaware of the tiny heart attacks she was giving me.
Maybe that’s the essence of parenthood, at some small level.
You grit your teeth. You watch with your heart pounding as they try and struggle. You remind yourself that she is fine. She’s doing great, see? You feel eyes on you from every angle, watching you, making judgments perhaps, or maybe that’s just your mind working overtime and judging yourself, too. Are you doing the right thing? Are you hovering too much, are you not helping enough? Are you helping, hindering?
It’s not easy to park yourself on the park bench. For a task that consists entirely of sitting on one’s butt, it’s challenging. But I challenge you to try it anyway. Try it even though you feel like everyone else is being a Better Parent Than You. Try it even though your child might struggle a little. Try it, and see what happens. See how they can hold their own.