“…my eye beams a rope around her, because I will jump in—splash!—and rescue her the moment she’s in difficulty. And then she’s twelve years old, self-conscious in a modest navy sports swimsuit, …[but] she’s still the little girl in the pink-and-orange flowery swimming costume to me, and I still have my invisible rope around her waist.” – (from Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton, page 225)
It was a bright spring day, and we took a walk to the local playground. We had packed your sand toys – bucket, shovel, and a truck and turtle mold to make turtles with. We got to the playground, and had the place to ourselves. I lifted you out of your stroller, and placed you in the sand, near a jungle-gym (the old-fashioned kind, made up of metal bars, not one of today’s all-plastic, pre-fabricated climbing structures plastered with safety warnings).
You were playing happily with your toys, feeling the sand run though your little fingers, while I sat at a short distance, on a bench, watching you explore. Other moms and kids began to arrive, and populate the playground. And then, one little boy, just a few months older than you, and clearly sturdier and stabler on his feet than you were at the time, came towards you, and grabbed one of your toys, and took it a few feet away to play with himself. You looked stunned, but didn’t cry, or pursue this little thief. I remember looking at the two of you thinking, “Oh, here it starts – the bullying and meanness of kids to one another.”
I wanted to protect you from the hurt.
And, I wanted you to stand up for yourself.
And, I wanted this little boy’s parent to come, and teach him not to take toys from other kids (especially not my precious, first-born, clutched from the brink of prematurity and thriving against the odds), but no parent was monitoring this child.
And, I got up, and retrieved the toy, and gave it back to you. You gave me a look of relief, and went back to playing. And, I remember thinking, “How am I supposed to help this little being negotiate the world, and claim what is rightfully hers, and not get bullied?”
But, thirty years later, you seem to be doing OK. And, now, with two new young boys to raise up, I’m trying to follow the same relatively hands-off approach I finally arrived at with you. My own parents were the extremes of over-protectiveness and recklessness – and I, in my parenting, wanted to avoid either extreme. I still do. Give up some control, allowing autonomy, letting a child gain experience and confidence. It’s hard. One’s parental instinct is to step in, rescue, prevent harm. And yet, there are so many hurts and harms, and we have to learn to accommodate the hurt, to recover from the harm.
And, so, I keep reminding myself, “Hold off, trust them. Let them work it out themselves.”
And they do.
This post was inspired by the novel Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. After witnessing her children’s school set ablaze, Grace attempts to find the arson as her teenage daughter lies in a coma in Lupton’s suspense thriller. Join From Left to Write on April 11 as we discuss Afterwards. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.