Natalie learned how to walk last July. In late summer/early fall, she started taking an interest in the playground at the park where our workout group met, which coincidentally was the same time I started experiencing heart attacks on the regular.
I don’t consider myself to be a helicopter parent, but I wasn’t about to let my one-year-old navigate the playground without me right behind her. She was just brave enough, just strong enough, and MORE than determined enough to climb all over the whole thing, but sorely lacking in coordination and oh yes A SELF-PRESERVATION INSTINCT. If I’d let her, she absolutely would have wandered right off the edge.
YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THESE THINGS NEMO BUT YOU CAN’T.
I agonized about how best to help her on the playground. I wanted her to be confident and I wanted her to learn how to cruise the playground without me boosting her up on everything, but…but…she was little. And not very smart yet when it came to slides and bridges with open sides and ladders.
So I reasoned that stopping your kid from killing herself didn’t really count as helicopter parenting, and I followed her quite closely. I backed off when I could, encouraged her to explore (CAREFUL CAREFUL CAREFUL!!), and tried my very best not to swoop in and bundle her up in bubble wrap.
And then came the epic winter that dropped so much snow on Boston, the monkey bars were buried. No more playground for you, Natalie.
We took her to a playground here a few times once we moved, and she was a lot better about safety. My heart health definitely started improving. Then the weather turned to full summer, and even thinking about touching the metal playground equipment left you with second-degree burns.
Now it’s fall. We’re in our new house, just a five-minute drive away from a wonderful playground. We won’t suffocate under a snowdrift or peel off the backs of our legs on a scorching-hot slide. It’s PERFECT playground weather.
Homegirl is LOVING it. Every day she asks to go to the playground, and I make time for it as often as we can.
The difference between last fall and this fall is staggering. She can climb. She can go down the slide by herself. She can be trusted to walk around the little kid play structure and not blithely step right off the top.
Of course, she’s still pushing the boundaries of what she’s physically capable of doing right now. The logical side of my brain is very much in favor of this, because it’s the only way she’s going to get better at handling the playground obstacles and, in time, graduate to the big kid playground.
That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t in my throat when I watch her foot slip off the rung of a ladder and flail in midair until she regains her footing.
I’m getting better at not reacting with terror, because how can I expect her to keep her wits about her as she searches for a toehold when I can’t even do it standing on solid ground?
She’s getting better. She climbs higher, faster, placing her feet in exactly the right spots until she reaches the top and then claps her hands together once, as if to say, “Nice work, self.” Then she sits at the top of the slide and looks down at me, and her face breaks into a proud, toothy grin.
“Mama!” she cries.
“Yes, Natalie!” I smile back.
“Slide down!” she says.
And she does. She slides down into my waiting arms and I squeeze her tight, my big, brave girl with the flying pigtails and scuffed up sneakers. She allows me to hug her for a moment before she runs back to the ladder, ready to begin her next ascent.
Reach for the stars, baby girl. Just watch where you put your feet, ok?