Parenting is no day at the park. But it does involve a lot of days at the park.
On one sunny morning this week I took my two little charges to a nice park in Vancouver, Washington for a change of scenery. It is a nice, old downtown park that has recently undergone some expensive renovations and added cool water features. It draws a strange mix of toddler moms, business lunch guys, homeless teens, and squirrels.
We got into a nice conversation with a woman and her two kids, aged 2 and 3. Jeep and the older boy chased each other around the playground, while the parents followed at a distance and occasionally . . . um, parented or something. The woman was very nice, and we talked about the rigors of being "at home" with two. Our conversation was often interrupted by general warnings or directives from the parenting core to be careful or take turns or whatever.
As time went on, I came to realize that we had a difference in parent styles. While our boys were different ages, they were both rambunctious little monsters who loved to bounce, climb, and sit on each other. But slowly I began to notice the frequency of negative messages coming from this perfectly nice mother. I think I'll call her Paranoid Mom.
Jasper, Come Down From There! Jasper, Let The Other Boy Go First! Jasper, DO NOT Touch Other People On The Neck!
It was kind of a micromanagement thing. But I liked her, she was friendly and sort of hot, so I just rolled with it.
Let me just say that she was a great mom. Excited, involved, fun. Basically, a female equivalent of myself (peals of laughter). She chased squirrels with her kids in the park. (Jasper, DO NOT Touch That Squirrel!) She shooed them away from the homeless kids encampment (Jasper!) and she took them to play in the fountain/creek/water feature that I think is so cool.
This is where it got interesting. Here I am, wearing my daughter in the front pack and leading my boy into the wilds of the two foot concrete waterfall with no shoes on. Paranoid Mom was doing the same, although she was hanging back on the edge of the fountain, splashing and playing. But Jasper would not be contained. He watched his new best friend 2 year old Jeep climbing the waterfall rocks and getting soaked and he felt compelled to do the same. Before long we were all tentatively climbing around the watery rocks, getting wet, and laughing happily.
I could not shake the feeling that Paranoid Mom had RULES for how and what her kids were supposed to do in dangerous playground water creek areas like this one, and we had somehow bent them. Everyone seemed alright so I didn't worry too much about it. And then I turned around and something amazing happened. I actually saw a thought bubble form above her head, and this is how she got her name.
But she did not speak these words. Paranoid Mom held herself in check, as we all must hold ourselves in check sometimes. Because all parents have these thoughts, many of us have them hundreds of times a day. And I did't actually see the thought bubble. But I heard her thinking this loud and clear.
As a friend of mine said recently, keeping kids safe is the most important thing. I agree with this in theory. If an oncoming bus is about to mow down my toddler, I would sprint to throw myself in front of it or tackle him out of the way. My worry is that we as parents perceive risk that is in fact just the natural consequence of learning in childhood. We're not talking about buses here, wer are talking about standing next to the edge of a two foot waterfall.
If you never give a kid the chance to stand near the edge, how will he learn to be careful?