02 December 2009

A Return to Sanity

Earlier this summer, we found ourselves in the Boston Public Gardens (as we often do), trailing behind a fast running baby with a pinecone clutched tightly in one of her hands, a water bottle in the other, rocks and twigs and leaves and possibly a snail falling out of her pockets...and a stick in her mouth, a la Fido. She was attempting to shriek with joy around the stick as she went blazing by onlookers, intent on catching a squirrel. Or maybe a duck.

I followed languidly, keeping her close but not too close, when a woman stopped me with a look of panic on her face. "Oh my God! She's got a stick in her mouth!!"

I checked to make sure that she hadn't tried to put the stick in her mouth like a straw - no, still carrying it like a dog. Good to go. "Yes," I remember replying. "She does. Her hands are full so that's the only way she can carry it right now." As the woman spluttered, I walked off to catch up with A who was now plopped on the ground, playing with prickly seeds from some tree or other.

Not too long before that, we had taken her to Wollaston Beach for a day. While there, we met another mother with a baby a couple of weeks older. The girls gravitated to each other and Mom and I started chatting. As she watched her daughter eat some sand, she said, sheepishly, "Does it make me a bad mom that I let her do that?" She seemed to be worried that I was going to scream, "OH MY GOD SHE'S EATING SAND!!!!" Apparently, this has happened.

When my own daughter started licking likely rocks, checking for flavor in the strata, I said, "Um. No. I hope you don't mind but my daughter is sharing rocks with yours." Yes, both babies were now licking rocks, sampling and holding them out to share. And eating sand. And dumping sand over their heads.

They were exploring as babies do, with their mouths. Mom and I were relieved, I think, to be in each other's company and we started talking about our similar parenting philosophy which boils down to: Kids eat dirt. We ate dirt. Dirt doesn't kill. Let them eat dirt!

The Mommy Drive By (thank you, Lylah!) in the Public Gardens wasn't the first I've encountered, nor was it the last. As I noted in my musings on Michael Specter, however, brilliant people tend to turn stupid quickly and I really take offense at you taking offense because my child was somewhat innovative and was carrying a stick in her mouth (not in such a way as to have stabbed her if she fell) - but you think it's fine to endanger my child by bucking the vaccine trend with some junk science for a backer (there are always exceptions, I understand that and I am not speaking about those here).

So it was with relief that I read this Times article today. I whooped for joy inside. Maybe there's hope that my daughter will be able to enjoy the childhood I did, one that didn't take place in a "safe" era but one that I managed to survive in spite of the fact that I was more often than not out of sight of my parents than in.

In our house, you won't find antibacterial cleaners or soap, hand sanitizer and you won't find me following after my child at every waking moment. She needs her space now as much as we need ours and she takes it quite often, in her room with her toys or sitting in her rocker "reading" books.

In fact, she just came over to show me how she's painted her face with her "wa wa cowors". [facepalm] She's a kid. She makes messes, eats dirt, falls and hurts herself (and I believe that sometimes letting them do so is integral to the "Don't Touch" and "Don't Do" learning process - "No" has no meaning, no matter how wonderful your explanation, without the experience behind it) and yes, she eats the cat food and picks up things I'd rather she not outside on the streets.

So far though, she's confident, daring, and generally just a normal, happy kid whose biggest stress is being told that she cannot, in fact, juggle knives or put pennies in outlets. As she grows, I'll be damned if I'm doing her homework for her or accompanying her on college or job interviews. After school activities will be limited to "free", school sanctioned and play time with other kids. Hopefully she won't hate me for it later, but I just can't understand parents who overbook and hover over their kids' every move and I'm so glad to see that finally, FINALLY, a return to reality and sanity may be in sight.

Are you a helicopter parent or more relaxed and relieved that maybe there's an end in sight?


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