Every morning at the park, I see children scolded for how they’re using the slide. “Bottom only” seems to be an unwritten rule and park moms will be damned if their kids embarrass them by attempting otherwise.
Most eventually comply and slide down on their bottoms, the smaller ones knocked backward by their own momentum until their heads hit the slide on the way down.
And then there’s Babygirl.
Babygirl has been exploring the slide for months now – mostly trying to climb up from the bottom (much to the chagrin of the rule abiding park moms) or perching at the top to watch big brother slide down and run back up the stairs in an infinite loop – but has only just started to slide down on her own.
The first time she did it, I almost stopped her when I saw her turn away from the slide on her hands and knees and extend a leg behind her. I thought, for a moment, she had lost track of how close to the edge she was.
But then, like most of my better parenting moments, I stopped myself and let her go.
Watching her slide, gleefully and safely, completely on her own, I laughed with our favorite park manny (if you don’t live in Los Angeles, manny = male nanny) and said, “To each his own, right?”
He smiled and observed wisely with a nonchalant shrug, “It’s the safest way to climb.”
Leave it to Uncle J to notice so easily, before he’s even finished his coffee, what nearly every mother has missed.
Of course she wants to slide down backwards.
When she climbs down off the couch or the bed, she turns her body toward it so she can control her descent.
When she’s working on stairs or a ladder, she doesn’t look away and climb blindly, hoping for the best. She faces the challenge and uses her whole body to navigate it.
Why would she, or any other sliding newbie, perch upright and fling herself down when she could, instead, lean in and feel exactly what’s happening between her body and the slide?
It’s the safest way to climb. I didn’t have to tell her that. She knew.
This past Thursday, at a new park with a MUCH more ambitious slide, I almost stopped her again when she climbed to the top and sat. I could tell that she didn’t have room to turn around. I worried that, sitting at the precipice, she would try to reposition herself and topple sideways.
But then, no sooner than I could think, “Oh my gosh, is she going down that way?!,” she did.
I braced myself for panic. For tears. For full blown disaster.
But, when we met at the bottom, she was beaming. She sat there for a moment, then lowered herself off the edge and ran back up the stairs to slide down again.
She was ready. She knew.
Watching moments like these, day after day, I am thankful for the constant reminders my children give me to trust them. Reminders to shut out the messages of a parenting culture so deeply rooted in fear and insecurity. Reminders that mother doesn’t always know best (except for mine).
One afternoon this past week, as the kids made a mud puddle in the same spot they do every afternoon, I browsed The Artful Parent on Facebook. Scrolling through the adorable projects, I had a moment of self-doubt. Am I supposed to be doing this stuff? I honestly don’t think that I have ever set up an activity for my kids that went past putting out a few suggestive materials and seeing what happened.
When I looked up from my phone, I saw Babygirl filling empty bubble containers with a teaspoon.
I didn’t give her the idea. I didn’t need to do a Pinterest search of activities to hone fine motor skills or ways to teach toddlers about measuring, volume, and weight. All I had to do was open the back door.
To me, it looks pretty much like the same mud puddle everyday, but to her, it’s a science experiment.
It’s a kitchen.
Its a carwash.
It’s a monster truck rally.
It’s a boat dock.
She knows what she’s doing.
She knows what she needs.
I’m going to trust her and wait to see what she finds in the mud tomorrow.