Motherhood, I am finding out, has its moments of truth, periods of time when split-second decisions can change the course of childhood and set a new standard on how to parent.
These decisions don’t involve what diapers to buy or what pain reliever to choose that won’t cause a reaction. Those high-maintenance days are pretty much over for me after four years straight.
My daughters and I have reached the “car salesman” stage of our lives, where every little life detail is negotiated and on some days they could sell me a Pacer. Parents of preschoolers know that they always have to be “on” – ready to act and prepared to react. The wrong move, in some cases, could have drastic consequences.
At last weekend’s YWCA Spring Fair in Bangor, the girls’ father, Don Seavey, and I made the right decisions. Quickly.
After cruising on the merry-go-round, bouncing in the inflatable giraffe house and spinning to the point of almost losing her stomach on the
twirling cups, my 4-year-old, MaggieBeth, stood at the gate of a fake rock wall and proclaimed, “I want to do that.”
This rock wall was 40 feet tall, straight up. Way, way up. Neck strain up.
Still MaggieBeth was determined to tackle the formidable facade, getting strapped into the harness-and-pulley safety contraption by one attendant as another asked me for $4. MaggieBeth’s will outweighed my desire to say no, and I let her go. Well, actually I’ve convinced myself I gave MaggieBeth permission to climb the wall, when in reality she decided for me.
As MaggieBeth struggled to grip her feet and hands on the wall, I immediately thought, “OK, she’s going to walk away from it.” I planned to applaud her for trying and to assure her that next year, when she’s 5, she can try it again.
But my string bean of a child, with no muscle mass on her body to speak of, started scurrying upwards in moves that would make Spider-Man take note.
About halfway up, MaggieBeth lost part of her footing, her body swinging away from the wall like a door being pushed open by a breeze. Her left hand and left foot were holding on, acting like a hinge that not only opens, but closes too.
Airborne, MaggieBeth got an aerial view of the fair, and her face was a bit fearful. She could have quit, but instead she swung back and locked on. She took off climbing again, moving her toothpick-shaped arms and legs upward until she got to the top.
Back on the ground, we high-fived and I squeezed her tight. “You did it,” I said proudly. She said she was a bit tired and admitted that she had been scared. Again I said, “You did it!”
“Yep, I did!” she answered, her voice singing with that’s-a-fact confidence.
With a spring in her step, she moved to the next activity, an inflatable obstacle course that ends with climbing – and descending – a 30-foot air-filled slide. MaggieBeth’s younger sister, 3-year-old Lauren, wanted to travel the course, too.
Partway, Lauren got a little scared. Don, who was outside the course, stayed with her, tracking her every step while encouraging her with “you can do its.” I watched from the bottom of the slide as MaggieBeth quickly flew down it, her hair dancing in the wind.
Moments later, Lauren got to the top of the slide. She sat there, looked down and wondered how she was going to get to the bottom. A gentleman and his daughters helped her down by locking arms and sliding together.
Even though she was uneasy about the slide, Lauren immediately said in her special way of mixing words that she wanted to do it again. And again, she was scared to come down the slide. MaggieBeth climbed a third of the way up to try to catch her, and that assurance convinced Lauren to let go.
The third time, Lauren tackled the slide by herself. Her face illuminated with a sense of pride that was much brighter than the lights on a nearby ride. We high-fived and before I could hug her, she was back in line to do it again.
Last Sunday, I watched my babies climb and slide their way to independence. I was awestruck by their persistence. There was no fear holding them back even though they were nervous.
I cheered, and I cried. They just exclaimed, “wheee.”
My daughters’ didn’t know that their adventures were childhood milestones, small development steps that slowly but surely lessened their dependence on me. Although it’s hard to admit, I’m OK with that.
What I learned last weekend is that I don’t want to be a parent who tells my daughters, “you can’t do that.” If repeated often enough, “you can’t do that” becomes a negative weight on their psyche, a deterrent that stops them from challenging themselves and finding their potential.
I recognize that for safety reasons, there will be certain situations where I will have to say, “you can’t do that.” I’ll try to explain why each of the 15 million times that they ask me, “how come?”
I just have to be alert enough to identify which moments are actually “let-them-go” ones.
But what I didn’t realize until last weekend is that this stage of parenthood, the cutting the apron strings part, had arrived so quickly.
I could feel the wind whipping through my hair.
Deborah Turcotte covers business at the NEWS. She can be reached at 990-8133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.