I'm probably on the overprotective side of the parenting spectrum. I tend to always be pretty close. As I've watched my daughters on playgrounds over the years I've gotten to watch lots of other kids on the playground too. While kids were climbing up the ass-end of the slide she was waiting to go down, I'd holler up to Emma to wait until the kid got to the top, so she didn't knock him off the slide on her way down. The spiral slides are blind at the top, and not all kids (nor even most) have parents hovering close by to tell them that climbing up the slide is a no-no when others are playing.
In those moments I vaguely wished the other parents hovered a little more, so that I didn't have to be my daughter's buzz-kill every time in order to protect their kids right to disregard the "fit for particular purpose" of good slidesmanship whilst simultaneously saving them the pain of a potential broken collarbone and marathon trip to the Children's Hospital E.R.
Emma's always been athletic if somewhat small for her age. It probably would have been nothing for her to climb up the down side of a slide from a gross motor skill perspective. It probably would even have been pretty easy for her to hold on tight as the warning that would almost certainly never have come failed to stop the child of the distracted parent from sliding down as she climbed up. Probably. But instead of testing those waters, I'd just repeat, "Em!" and shake my head no, and Emma would frown slightly and run around to the ladder to wait her turn, playing, the way most kids do.
Lily just started taking an interest in slides. That's great for us and her. She has so little interest in conventional play, and so little use for outside activity ordinarily. If I was overprotective with Emma, I'm hyper-vigilant with Lily. Potty accidents, slips and falls notwithstanding, there's no guarantee that Lily won't just kick an unchaperoned child who gets a little too close to her on the playground. Her gross motor skills aren't what they should be for a kid her age either. She's a bit wobbly and tentative on the ladder, and in the past she's been reluctant to slide once she reached the top, satisfied simply to sit and look down the slide, waiting for either someone to push her, or to retreat to the familiar safety of the ladder (though she fell off a couple steps a day or so ago) and/or daddy's rescue extraction. The summary of all this, to quote Alastor Moody, "Constant vigilance!"
I know she plays on the playground and slides at school with slightly less vigilance (I'm not implying they're negligent, just that they can't possibly be hovering to the extent that my wife and I do) after all, it was on the playground where she fell and her glasses cut into her eyebrow, requiring stitches. There too she was reported to have kicked a couple of her classmates on different occasions where I assume she felt their proximity represented a challenge to her body's sovereignty. Those updates come to us via the communication log the school provides us. But just this past week she's really been excited to go in our backyard and slide.
We had the kids outside after supper.
"Are you watching her?" Leslie inquired anxiously, clearly implying that I was not. I glanced up to see Lily standing atop the slide. There are rails on its sides, but she was a loooong way up. At least for her.
"Yes," I replied tersely, "she's fine." It's good for her, I thought.
Later, when Lily got to the bottom of the slide, she turned around and began to climb back up. I cocked my head at her and felt a strange stir of excitement. Far from the "Em!" and accompanying head-shake response her big sister got, I found myself egging Lily on.
"You can do it, big girl!" Leslie added her encouragement from behind me as Lily slipped a little and stalled halfway up, but kept climbing until she was once more perched at the top. I looked over at Leslie, who seemed similarly surprised.
She's six (Lily that is), and I was moderately giddy because she'd crawled up the wrong side of a slide. And in that moment it struck me just how little anyone ever knows about how to parent kids until they're in the middle of doing it, because I know in hindsight I was right to discourage Emma from climbing up slides all those years ago, and I know I was just as right to encourage Lily. And it wasn't a double standard. . . it was just a different standard. It was right for Lily for different reasons than it was wrong for Emma. That's why parenting is the hardest job in the world. There's no one "right" answer. Sometimes you never find out whether your answer was "best" or "worst" and there are no higher stakes for which to play.
|Old picture, same attitude|
But I think there in the relative safety of our backyard "playground" it was best. Lily had experimented a little with the slide, and we wanted to encourage that experimentation. We wanted to encourage her to discover new ways to play and entertain herself. We wanted her to challenge her body to try something different and hopefully gain just a little more mastery over her own movement. We wanted her to play, and obvious safety factors notwithstanding, that's more important for her than a lesson in turn-taking or playground etiquette.