For the last three weeks, I have enjoyed conversations with friends, coworkers, and strangers with children. We have talked about every thing from bed wetting and child leashes to meal preparation and the reasons children make us laugh. I was reminded that I began blogging in an effort to share anecdotal stories that encourage people who were charged with raising children or supporting anybody raising children. Somewhere along the way, I took a detour and started writing about a plethora of topics. This week I decided to get back to the business of little ones.
When my son was very young, my husband asked me why I kept putting the boy in dangerous situations. My son was the kind of kid who always got himself into some kind of situation. My husband’s observation was correct because my son often ended up in situations that presented a risk of some sort. The situation that inspired my husband’s question happened when we lived in Florida. We had a couch in what we considered our formal living room. I must note that it was not formal in the same way that my mother’s living room was formal. Unlike my mother, I allowed people to actually use my living room and sit on the fancy couch. It was not off limits like the light colored couch my mother had in my childhood living room. Her living room might as well have had an invisible shock fence at each point of entry because she saved that room for special occasions only. We could use that room to practice piano lessons, to host guests, and open Christmas gifts. I remember some family members came to visit and mama made sleeping arrangements for them. It was a given that the youngest person in the house (who was me) had to give up her bed for adult guests. When all of the beds and sofas had been assigned, I needed a place to sleep. I think she would have preferred that I made a pallet on the floor rather than use that couch. That might have been the moment that I decided that my living room would always be a room that folks could use whenever they wanted to use it. When we bought out first living room furniture, I selected a couch with vibrantly colored fabric. I didn’t want our guests to be able to readily determine that my children had free reign in that room like they did all of the other rooms in my house.
My colorful, formal couch sat up against the longest wall in the room and just below a wood framed mirror gifted to me by my mother. As I recall, I left my son alone for a few minutes to go into my room for some reason. He must have been two or three years old because he could walk and he was still drinking from a sippy cup. He used to walk through the house with wide-legged, heavy steps like a giant baby walking over and through a chess board holding pieces carefully placed by two wise strategists. He was what my people called a “big boned” baby who held that sippy cup clutched in the cradle of his bent left arm when he was meddling with stuff with the right hand. Otherwise, the sippy cup cycled regularly from his mouth to some space just in front of him as he walked. As I left my bedroom and walked into the foyer that was between my room and the living room, I saw this big baby balancing himself on the back of that colorful living room sofa with that sippy cup cradled in the bend of his left elbow while he touched the image of his happy, smiling baby face in the mirror. He was standing perfectly in the center of the back panel of the couch which positioned him at the highest point of the sofa. It was cute in a scary kind of way because he was looking in the mirror as if admiring his pearly white baby teeth and entertaining the thought of the immeasurable joy he would have if that little boy in the mirror would jump out and play with him. Was I to scream, “Get down!” or ease into the room to talk him down from the back of the sofa. I opted for easing into the living room prepared to shift from a slow, quiet tiptoe movement to a sprint if he noticed me easing up behind him. I had a feeling that his giggle might steal his balance.
That situation turned out fine, but he continued to challenge the limits of child guarding or child proofing the house. Our Florida house was a two-story house and the kids had rooms upstairs. Because my son was such a busy body, I decided to use safety gates to block the stairwell to keep my son from coming down the steps in the middle of the night. The gate worked for a week or so until I figured out that he knew how to maneuver around or over the gate. I never really figured out how he got beyond the gate or the large pieces of furniture I tried next. One night, his chubby little hand tapped me on the face. I opened my eyes and saw his happy baby face and my heart sank with fear. My expression showed him excitement, but in my head I was asking myself how in the world he was able to get past the safe guards and down a flight of stairs in a dark house to stand in my space all happy about life. Subsequently, I dug out the baby monitors and the jingle bell necklace and devised a new plan. I placed part of the baby monitor on a dresser in his room and I hung the jingle bell necklace on his doorknob. I put the receiver for the baby monitor in my room. Every night, I read books to my kids so I decided that when story time was done I would give good night kisses then close the door to my son’s room. There was no way I could have him on those steps in the dark in the middle of the night trying to deliver the “Mommy, I wake!” message to me again. My strategy worked. Whenever he opened his door, the bell would ring and I would leap from my sleep and scurry to meet him at the top of the steps.
This kid was my second child and he didn’t express his genius in the same ways that his older sister demonstrated her giftedness. Her definitions of activity and exploration generally had expected boundaries that didn’t present risk of physical harm to self, others, or things. The boy, on the other hand, moved through life freely like a kid walking through the candy store as if all of the things in his sight were treats for him to sample. He had no radar for risk levels, etiquette, or boundaries. Therefore, he had no need to establish safety protocols or ask for permission. He woke up every morning excited about whatever might be in his path that day and I woke up every morning worried that I wouldn’t be a step ahead of the curious baby wonder or at least right behind him to save him or the thing or person in his line of engagement.
Both my children were inquisitive kids. Inquisitive children ask a lot of questions and they enjoy and spend their time expanding their minds through exploration. Kids really love to be busy. I kept my kids busy and in turn I didn’t get a lot of rest. I encouraged the families I met over the last few weeks to enjoy the time and the unpredictable nature of life with children. I told them to keep in mind that it is not the job of grown folks to shield children from living life or to force them to live life just like other people are called to live life. They are not robots and they generally learn the limits by failing, falling, or repeated redirection. I advised the parents not to confuse concern for their children with interfering with their children making independent decisions or preventing them from braving new territory. Although it’s challenging, parents must work hard to serve as observers and coaches. Parents, don’t get too serious or scared when the children do normal kid stuff. If you want the kid to play more, don’t lose your mind over grass stains in their pants. Relax! I can say that my son never worried about getting grass stains in his pants. He would say, “My mama can wash them.” If you buy your son a motorized train that he can ride presumably on the heavy duty plastic oval-shaped train track that came in the box with it and you hear him giggling while something is rolling over the tiles in your foyer, don’t lose your mind. Do what I did: Relax and laugh at your child’s ingenuity.