For me, the hardest thing about parenting is letting my kids go. (Followed closely by cleaning up throw-up.) As much as I am tempted to hold my kids’ hands throughout life, (1) there’s no way they would let me (especially my daughter); and (2) that’s not good for them or for me. Logically, I understand they have to make their own mistakes and find their own ways in this big, bad world of ours.
But there are times when I can’t let go.
When my son was a newly-minted two year old, he became determined to climb to the top of the slide at our local playground. Not the little green one, not even the larger yellow tube one, but the biiiig one. The one that’s twice as tall as me. The one that looks like a relic from 1974 when parents used to let their kids roam free without thinking about the myriad ways they could get sprained, broken, maimed or otherwise injured.
He is a careful kid, he always has been. And he was taking his time. At first it was just him and the slide, but as the seconds ticked by, a group of older kids formed behind him, trailing him by a rung or two. He continued methodically, step by step, making his way to the top of this towering slide. Finally, after what seemed like ages but was probably two minutes, he got to the top.
And then he froze. In his slow summit he hadn’t realized how very high up he was. And now he was at the top with no way to get down because every rung of the ladder behind him was filled with an increasingly impatient crew of kids.
I had my then-infant daughter strapped to me, and so couldn’t be much help – the only thing that would make this moment worse would be if not only my son, but also my baby and I were trapped at various points along the slide. My husband had come with us to the playground, but with a quick scan I couldn’t locate him. And so my son remained up there, unable to figure out what to do while impatient sighs and mutters grew louder behind him.
Finally, with some cajoling, he made his way down. I can’t even call it a slide to the bottom, it was more like his bum did a slow staccato along the surface until there was no more slide left. He dismounted and embarked proudly across the wood chips to the play structure, oblivious to the discontent trailing him: He had been focused on getting up and down the slide, and up and down the slide he got.
Seconds after he got to the bottom, the kid behind him careened down, dismounted and said, jeeringly in his direction, “THAT’s how you do it.”
I stared down at all 3 feet 9 inches of that kid and hissed “He’s TWO.” The kid, shamefaced, looked guiltily down at the ground. My husband, emerging just in time to see me smack-talking a preschooler, said in my ear “He’s FOUR.” Okay. Point taken.
So yes, I trash-talked a four year old. It probably was not my best moment as a responsible community member. But as a parent, I stand by what I did. Because although my son didn’t register that there was some big social stuff going on around him, he won’t always be so oblivious to playground bullying and name calling. And often I won’t be there to let my claws out when it happens. This time at least, I was able to protect him.