My favorite sound in the world is a child’s laughter, something I feel lucky to experience on a daily basis in our home.
This weekend, however, the harrowing noise emanating from above was anything but cheerful, amplifying itself as though our home existed for that sole purpose. I remember being driven to rage myself at her age and decided to let her find respite in her chilling wails while I found mine by way of a keyboard.
Is it any wonder that there is no manual for the most critical, fulfilling and difficult job in the world? How could there be when every family’s circumstance is different, each parent bringing a diverse set of values, experiences and unique skill set to the table? Most of us who take the job seriously are on an endless quest to improve upon our own upbringing by embracing what worked and discarding what didn’t. We must rethink, remold, reshape, and repurpose ideas for every stage of a child’s life as he or she morphs in perpetuity.
Our son has self imposed boundaries making it easy for us to be laxed with him. Our daughters, on the other hand, move to a different tempo. I remember how terrified I was the first time I saw our eldest, at the age of five, handling a bee. A whisperer of sorts, she reached for a fallen one gently placing it in the palm of her hand until it flew away. It took some time for her to convince me that she knew what she was doing, but calmly observing and listening to her enabled me to shed my fear and embrace her determination and self confidence. She must have handled several dozen bees that spring and was never stung. Around the same time, she mounted her first horse taking to equestrian life like a hummingbird to nectar. Again, while I felt apprehensive, I knew that what she stood to gain emotionally and physically far outweighed my fears.
Empowering a child, among other factors, requires striking a balance between yielding to their wants and disallowing them. Thankfully, many years of Montessori followed by public and private schools have been invaluable in showcasing a variety of approaches and perspectives, collectively inspiring us to guide, observe, listen and evaluate, a practice we have followed (or attempted to follow) a thousand times over. For the most part this has enabled us to trust our children thus empowering them in the pursuit of a productive, stimulating, and fulfilling life.
As aware as I am of my parenting strengths, I am even more so of my weaknesses, the largest one being my inability, at times, to commit to a decision. (See Dear Ebba and Roberto for more on commitment phobia.) The constant wavering between a desire to please and listening to one’s own heart is confusing for a child, not to mention frustrating, which brings me back to my daughter’s disappointment earlier today.
An athletic fiend, or as my dear cousin would say “a life fiend,” our youngest approaches life with remarkable passion and determination, excelling at virtually every academic, creative, and athletic pursuit she tackles. Her love of slime, for example, led to the launch of her online shop while still in elementary school, earning her more spending money than she ever dreamed possible, but more importantly, it is teaching her invaluable lessons in entrepreneurship and responsibility.
Last summer, much like an alpine swallow in continuous flight, our daughter did not stop moving her body. Daily somersaults became the norm transforming our abode into a mobile gym with round-the-clock cartwheels, handstands, and flips until her body nagged for more.
I embraced it.
Until I didn't.
She was relentless, soon becoming obsessed with the idea of enrolling in a formal gymnastics class which spawned the feeling I had years ago when her sister mounted that first horse or held that first bee. It wasn’t so much that she had already committed herself four months prior to her favorite sport, tennis, or that she was already stretched with lessons, clinics, her shop, friends and homework. Even in the best scenario, a small injury could easily keep her away from the court for weeks. But what worried me the most is that knowing how passionate she is about every pursuit, she would never have approached the sport from a recreational standpoint which elevated my fears. Furthermore, our friend, a spinal surgeon, told us that following four successful years of gymnastics, he forbade his own daughter from continuing because of the tragic spinal injuries he had seen. The harmony in our home was being threatened by my inability to take a stand, choosing instead to waver between wanting to support her (and my husband who was less apprehensive than I was) and listening to my own reasoning. Weeks of stonewalling and backpedaling came to a stand still when my husband finally told me that I could count on his support but only if I stood firm on my decision.
And so it was that we informed our child that we were no longer on board with gymnastics outside of our home. Feeling betrayed, she chose to let off the vehement steam I described earlier, avoiding me for the rest of the day. Later that evening, still melancholic but no longer angry, she asked me to snuggle up with her to watch an episode of I Love Lucy. Different from most, that embrace felt as though she somehow understood the difficult choice I faced, and dare I say it was as though she appreciated it.
Four days have passed and while her sadness has abated, she continues to advocate for herself using every tool at her disposal, including a signed “contract” to convince us that she would never get hurt. I am proud of her resourcefulness and must admit that I nearly buckled twice. But remembering that I too had a lesson to learn, aided me in keeping the temptation at bay.
Did we do the right thing?
That million dollar question will likely never be answered. What I do know is that despite the fact that I have managed to stand firm on my decision, our daughter continues to hop onto our bed in search of the snuggles I am so eager to give.
And that is good enough for me.