Ulysses wants to raise his daughters to be “capable of standing firm when life comes at them with grabby hands outstretched.”
One Sunday a few years ago, Penelope, my wife, and I took the kids to the park. After a walk around the lake, we headed over to the playground. Normally, we would be the only ones there, but on that day I realized I’d have to redefine normal as the weather had grown more suitable for the average kid. Since my elder daughter is not average, mid-50 degree temps and pools of water on the slide were not deterrents, they just meant that she would have home naked with her wet clothes crumpled on the floorboard below her feet. Mid-70’s and sunshine, as that Sunday delivered, brought out the weaklings.
It amazes me when I watch other parents and their kids. Other parents are so involved. It’s not that Penelope and I are lackadaisical, we just like to let our kids rumble unencumbered. For example, the elder is a climber. When she first started climbing, our downstairs’ coffee table became very interesting. She’d climb up, stand up, and teeter near the edge. Many parents would have intervened. We are not those parents. We just watched. Logically, we concluded that it was only a couple of feet off the ground and falling off a few times would teach her a lesson. It didn’t take several falls, though, it took a fuckload. It got to the point where Penelope and I would say to one another, “She’s about to eat it.” Then she’d eat it. She might cry. We might console her. We might offer a tender “I told you so” and chuckle. Life is risky. Risk can sometimes lead to pain. People, kids included, must understand that.
Her most fantastic fall was one that should have been anodyne. She was sitting on the edge of the coffee table, not teetering. She threw her body weight forward and flipped. She didn’t complete the rotation and landed on her back rather than her feet. She cried. Copiously. Penelope and I laughed heartily. It was a spectacular dismount, after all. She just failed to stick the landing.
She doesn’t fall off the coffee table, or the couch or the bed or the chairs, anymore.
At the park, our coffee table mentality does not reign supreme. Helicopter parents in-training hover next to every kid. Thankfully, this leaves the benches unoccupied. That day at the park, Penelope and I took a seat on one bench and let the elder do her own thing.
She climbed. She slid. She contemplated the ladder that would’ve required a leap from the top, about five feet up, to a platform. I actually interceded at that point and gave a grunt of displeasure. She decided against the ladder. She vanished for a few seconds. She strove to get up on one of the bouncy toys that was probably too tall for her. Again, I did not intercede. She evaluated the bouncy and figured out how to get on it without assistance. She contemplated the fireman’s pole. Another grunt from me and it was a trip down the tall slide.
My aim is not to raise tomboys; my girls shall be sublime. Nevertheless, I do not want to imbue weakness in them. I want them to be capable of standing firm when life comes at them with grabby hands outstretched.
To wit, there was morning in which I dropped the elder off at daycare. She had her favorite monkey with her. A little boy walked up and snatched monkey. “That’s mine!” And monkey was quickly back in her arms. Another morning, the bandit grabbed and ran. My elder looked to me for help. “If you want monkey back, get him back.” The teachers got involved before the situation escalated, though I cannot say she took an aggressive tack. Instead she became frustrated and began to cry. She is a little girl, after all. She is not wired for war.
Still, I am sometimes afraid that my daughters will come to be dominant and aggressive by comparison; not because of inherent personality traits, but because their peers are under constant surveillance. The other children on the playground face no risks, no failure. They have no opportunity to stand as themselves. There is always a helping hand and a protector lurking close by. They are being robbed of their freedom to stand and fall and pick themselves up again.
When I announced that I was to be a father for the first time, I joked that I was going to spend lots of time after school with my progeny, beating her down with a dodge ball. If the playground remains as sanitized as it has become, if there are only trophies never negative consequences, then that joke shall have been prescient. I hope the elder, and the now running and climbing younger and the yet to arrive or run or jump youngest, are ready. I found an online supplier that sells dodge balls by the gross.