first and most importantly, this is not supposed to be a dig at anyone for any reason. so if you’re immediately turned off, i challenge you to just look at that. (i say this in tremendously vague terms both because i believe knee jerk reactions, especially of great personal offense, always deserve investigation. but also because i’m not really sure what inner turmoil i’m suggesting might be at work here. basically i’m full of shit.)
what it IS supposed to illustrate is that people. are. different. and that’s okay.
what left me thinking about this today was not actually a controversy over safety regarding children as depicted here but something way more innocuous. we were at a toddler story time at the public library last week. after the stories and songs, the facilitator pulled out a baby pool filled with sand and shovels that was leftover from a previous activity in their community room. many of the little ones swarmed it, while others went on to do the other offered activities.
melby, meanwhile, stood about three feet back from the baby pool, watching as other kids played. she was clearly interested. she looked to me to be simply assessing the situation. i sat a few feet back on a chair leftover from the circle time, half watching, a quarter looking at my phone, and 100% spaced out, even though i definitely knew where and how she was.
because she was fine! if my girl is not fine, she is goddamn clawing at my legs and moaning for attention. she definitely lets me know when she needs something. also i have leftover preschool teacher superpowers of knowing where and how most everyone and everything is while only paying the tiniest bit of attention to each individual thing. i just know. and if something is not fine, i definitely know.
most of the parents and caregivers were deeply involved with their kids. one caregiver, seemingly a grandparent, hovered so closely behind her maybe 18 month old little girl showing her exactly how to scoop the sand and where to dump it that i felt personally affected by the lack of autonomy in the room. but again, THAT IS MY KNEE JERK REACTION. so whatever.
maybe 35 seconds have elapsed since the baby pool reveal, maybe 50 max. melby is still scoping out her plan of attack. and then, the unthinkable, another mom PICKED MELBY UP AND MOVED HER TO THE EDGE OF THE POOL.
i literally almost lost my shit. not because someone touched my child, because, at this point, she has an immune system and way more disgusting or invasive things happen on the daily, but because melby was already doing exactly what she wanted and needed to be doing. she did not need to be moved.
it was very clear that playing was allowed and encouraged. she has never asked my permission to do any other single thing she wanted to do or play with. she was just checking shit out. and then someone else who was not even me decided for her what she needed.
so yes, knee jerk reaction (and also very cultivated opinion): i think people tend to fundamentally overparent their kids. i think kids need 100% more space to figure things out. one of the most important things i ever learned as a teacher was to ask A (single) question, and then count one one thousand, two one thousand… all the way up to eight one thousand before saying a SINGLE OTHER THING. because kids take time to process. they are literally taking in an entire world of new information. they’re strengthening neuropathways in their brains. they are not robots with the ability to immediate execute and answer. and i think we make them frantic and panicked and defiant in our constantly either rushing them to move or decide or know.
and i get it! i get how we end up there. no one lives in a vacuum. most of us have schedules and deadlines. most of us do not have unlimited patience for what feels like dealing with a truly unstable and erratic tiny human (or many of them? god bless you). most of us have our own issues and concerns about how we appear. most of us feel the stress of people watching us and judging us. most of us are really just doing our best. i am not condemning anyone, even if i wouldn’t parent my child the same way. because i don’t know about your lifetime or even your day and so that means i cannot possibly pass judgment on some small slice of life i see between you and your child.
melby is a relatively speaking very very very easy kid to have around. and i still have my days where i’m ready to scrape out my eardrums and start a new life in mexico.
one of my biggest problems ever is that i want to control how people see me. because i was just about to say: i’m not judging you (totally… let’s be real. maybe i pass judgment initially and then check myself), so how about you also not judge me? but that’s unreasonable and unfair. because i can’t use how i feel about you as leverage for you to get you to feel a certain way about me. and i also just can’t control anything. i am not the boss of anyone but myself.
i want to ask that though, because i think what (definitely) bothered me most in that moment was the feeling that this other mom thought my poor daughter was so abandoned and so neglected that she had to step in and make sure melby was able to play too, because her hands-off mom wasn’t about to help. it bothered me that some other mom thought i was a crap mom. when really i was very intentionally doing what i thought was right, even if that intentional move looked maybe (to her) a lot like being a lazy piece of shit.
i’ve worked through all these words and actually ended up at another preschool fundamental, which is that: beth is in only in charge of beth. (well, and also for the safety and preservation of melby, but i am NOT her.) the library encounter really got under my skin. and per my own insistence at the beginning of this bit of writing, i should examine that. and i have arrived at the understanding that my daughter’s life was not ruined by one moment of someone else picking her up even when i didn’t think she needed to be, but that i should have more conviction about my beliefs as a parent— to the point that i am not offended by them somehow seeming wrong to someone else.
it is okay to think differently. as long as we are respectful and safe with each other in the process (another preschool truth! we should all go back to preschool!). it is okay for parenting to look different from family to family. it is okay for us to have different priorities. it is okay for us to not all be the same.
now that i’ve proselytized, i’ll try to enact this in my own everyday life. wish me luck.