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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sliding Scale

When Emma was six, I stood a short distance away, watching her watch a boy climbing back up the playground slide he'd just slid down.  She made as if to follow him up and I said sharply, "Em!"  She glanced up at me.  I raised my eyebrows and shook my head slightly.  She frowned slightly at the unfairness of it all, but recovered quickly and ran around to the other side of the slide to climb up the ladder instead.

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.  


Old picture, same attitude
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.

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. 



  

29 comments:

  1. Different styles for different kids is almost a must. Plus, you learn so much about parenting from one child to the next. All of that plays a role. Having a child with special needs turns a lot of typical parenting upside-down. With social deficits, you start rooting for things like wanting your child to push back when someone takes a toy, or wanting to see them learn how to lie. It's all very weird. And you are 100% correct -- there is no RIGHT way to do it.

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    1. Except our way. Our way is right. . . right?

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  2. Your post is timely because lately, as we play at the park while my oldest has practice, Tate has been loving the slides...and has gotten it all together to climb up the ladder, go down AND climb up the slide. I want to shout no, but I know how important it is...he figured out the motor planning portion, used his weak core muscles, and problem solved in order to climb up that slippery slope...I will not push him down...and thishas garnered the old-fashioned, "it's not fair" from his older brother when I ask him not to do the same thing.

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    1. I haven't heard "it's not fair" from Emma, but PROBABLY because it's been in our backyard, NOT the park.

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  3. Really like this. My parents made a point of the rules being different for each of us. As unfair as it seemed to me then, I completely see what you're saying. I get it.

    I like to be challenged. Good post.

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    1. I think before Lily I'd have said, "Same rules for everyone!" She's taught me SO much about parenting.

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  4. What a great post. Lily's so cute with her rock friend.

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    1. Mad Egg. She's really into emotional faces, so my sister bought her a carton of wooden eggs that all have faces painted on them. The one she's playing with is Mad Egg.

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  5. Mad Egg is a bit of a daredevil. You should keep an eye on him. And Lily looks like she was enjoying everything about the slide. You're right we have different standards for each child. We must. They are unique.

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    1. Mad Egg is always angry. When you're angry you do crazy shit. . . bottom line.

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  6. Nothing is fair and all things are different. Kids are far more accepting of this truth than adults. Yay, Lily! Yay, Jim and Leslie!

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    1. In bed you cheer my family with pie!!

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  7. This is the part where I'm glad that I only have one child. I like hard and fast rules -- not sliding scales. So, you have to understand when I say that I am really impressed by this simple story -- no, no... not that you're not smart enough to know how to parent two different kids (we already know that you're plenty smart, Jim) -- but that you were able to seize the opportunity so perfectly and share it with the rest of us. You got more intuition than most *women* I know, Jim. Good on ya'!

    P.S. Lily TOTALLY ROCKS the Heinz Ward jersey!

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    1. I like hard and fast rules too. Before I had any kids I knew ALL the best rules of parenting. I would happily share them with parents whenever they needed coaching too. After I became a parent, however, my rules started seeming. . . stupid.

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  8. Aw, I loved this. And there was a video! I read it on my phone, and sometimes my phone doesn't tell me there are videos, so when I clicked over tonight to comment (YES I KNOW I SHOULD BE SLEEPING, I didn't get a chance to do all my things today, so I'm forfeiting sleep to do them, this can only end well, right?) there was a video! I was so excited to see that! Yay, Lily! (And you cracked me up. "He's...eating wings? OK...")

    I've said it before, I'll say it again - you're a kickass dad, Jim.

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    1. Did you turn it up and hear her talking? She has a cute little voice. Maybe I'll see if I can get her to say, "Amy, Owl says Hoo." That's easier said than done however.. .

      Thanks!

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    2. I did hear her talking! She has the best little voice, kind of serious, almost!

      ZOMG, if she said that I would seriously die. And listen to it a zillion times.

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    3. did you ever hear her sing, "You are my sunshine?"

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  9. OMGOSH yes. Slides were an early dilemma in parenting my son. He always wanted to climb up the slide and I was always saying no to that, partly because I knew if he got in that habit he would always want to go that way. And he at that point couldn't look to see whether anyone was there or not.

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    1. We'll work on telling her "no" after she proves she can do it well enough that it needs to be told her!

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  10. I find this one of the most difficult parts of parenting--being okay with the fact that I have to do things differently for each of my kids sometimes. I feel guilty about it, but lately I have realized what you pointed out in this post. Each kid is different and needs different things.

    Great post! I found myself cheering Lily on in my head as she climbed the slide!

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    1. My biggest issue with it is wondering whether sticking doggedly to my guns and forcing Lily to conform with the parenting techniques I applied to Emma come hell or high water would produce a "better" result. I second-guess myself that I'm 'giving in' or 'taking the easy way out'. I'm sure sometimes it looks that way to an outside observer who sees without the 'benefit' of context.

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  11. This was amazing. Thank you so much for commenting on my blog so I could discover yours!
    I am not a parent, but I really found myself relating to this. Everyone is different, and everyone needs to learn their own lessons in different ways! I don't think anything is ever black and white, and sometimes it is better not to follow the rules :) Rules are boring.

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    1. Well thank you, Happy! You know what else is boring? solitaire.

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  12. Hi Jim, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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    1. Thanks for reading, Chris. I'll be sure to stop by!

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  13. I used to hover over my son like a helicopter. He is sixteen and I still do. He is safe, though!

    Love the video...very cute!

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    1. I picture you making the helicopter noise when you do it. Is. . . is that accurate?

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  14. My husband is the one who hovers, while I am the "let's see how this goes" parent, at least this far into the game. But you are right--what works for one kid isn't a good idea for another. Everyone wants there to be one answer, and there just isn't, dammit!

    Also, do you ever slide in the privacy of your backyard? All I've had the courage to do is use the swing on Zane's playset, but it's been a good stress release!

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