“Whose child is that?”
I could hear the voices abuzz from beyond the other side of my book, held up in front of my face. Right where it should be when I am sitting on a park bench.
I knew they were talking about my son, and about me, the negligent mother, whose child was on top of the high-in-the-air slide tunnel — yes, the top! Where no truly loved and cared for child would ever be caught.
Before the park folks came along and mutilated the beauty of the local pine by cutting off all its limbs — anything within a giant’s reach — my son was often found gloriously high up in its branches.
Come to think of it, maybe it was those same caring folks who called the municipality to come by with their chainsaws and save my boy.
There came a day
Someone actually peered over my wall — I mean, my book. And said, accusingly, “Is he yours?” In that moment, I was done with the park.
This was my third son. It took me two to be ready for him; he was The Climber.
When he was 13 months old, I built a tree-house for the older two and — thinking I was clever — I left out the lower rungs of the ladder, so only the two older could climb.
I was in the house making dinner, when I heard the call, and went outside to see that he had pushed over his Little Tykes car, climbed on top of it, and was almost to the top of the ladder into the tree-house.
I nailed the lower rungs in place, and told the older boys and their friends to give him a wide berth when he was climbing up or down so he would not be unsettled and could focus on what he was doing. He was perfectly fine going up and down.
I learned how to take breaths as he threw himself off the top of the tree-house to the trampoline below, climbed trees to the point of upside-down pendulum swinging treetop action…and more.
It takes a village
If there is one line I am weary of hearing it is that of, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While it is a good thought, and there is some truth in it, my lived experience of this line is more the none-of-your-beeswax and a whole lot of judgment variety.
Much of my parenting has been child-led: looking for moments of life-learning, or realizing sometimes my children know what they need, and I can step back to witness and observe…and do my own learning.
My park rule
Long ago I made the decision never to “help” my child with something he did not indicate he was ready for. Those playground horizontal ladder-bars, for instance; they are high for a reason. Thought goes into playground design. Imagine.
So when a child is old enough, and ready to swing from bar to bar, he or she will be tall enough to grasp the first one to go across. I never lifted up my child so he could do this. That was another time I’d sit on my bench, with my book in front of my face. I was probably considered a negligent parent then, too. Once my son asked, and I told him that when he could find a way to reach the bar, it would still be there for him.
When my son was clambering over the igloo-shaped monkey bars, a father of a bigger boy carried over his son, and “helped” him climb alongside. “I know you can do this,” he kept saying. I bit my tongue. Until the child was in tears, and I finally had to speak up, muttering something about how both of my older boys went nowhere near this apparatus until they were almost fifteen.
I exaggerate. But I did try to say something to make the father feel better. And leave his poor kid alone. They are all so beautifully different.
Trust the park designers
They do know what they’re doing.
While we’re at it, let’s put some branches back on trees — or not cut them off in the first place — and stand back, and let the kids climb.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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