Saturday, March 22, 2014


 another Spring, littler kids, playing with sticks

Yesterday we marked the beginning of Spring with the yearly ritual: The Return To The Playground.  The kids played, running in the sunshine, gloriously happy and alive and free for what seems like the first time in months. I sat on a bench, shivering. Because it may be Spring but it still feels like Winter.  At one point Lily stood and shouted to the Heavens, "It's SUMMER!!!"

Soon, baby, soon...

As Spring makes its way tentatively into our lives, my mind turns towards Summer too... and our garden plans. We still have a large heap of a garage (now filled to the roof with construction materials and broken toilets, how scenic!) in our "backyard."  In my imagination, however, the garage has been torn down, the concrete replaced with luscious green grass and nice straight rows of pest free organic vegetables. (Ha! There are enough squirrels and stray cats living around here to decimate even Martha's gardens.)

But, I've changed my plans today.

I read Hanna Rosin's recent article in the Atlantic "The Over Protected Kid".... and it blew my mind! And blew away my imaginary straight rows of vegetables. Because it seems to me that what my kids need in our backyard is some wildness.

About 18 months ago our family attended a little retreat at a center in New Jersey. Lily was a very active, very impulsive 2 year old, so we spent most of our time chasing her away from light sockets. (This was also the weekend she made her first best friend.) Six year old Daniel spent that weekend playing what can only be described as the "boys searching the woods for the largest stick and running" game. He would show up to meals covered in dirt, twigs and leaves, flushed and panting and satisfied in the way only great lengths of time outdoors can satisfy you. He would be out of our sight for hours at a time, and when we asked him what he'd been up to he'd say. "Nothing."

Which is, Rosin makes a good argument, EXACTLY as it should be.

She writes, "We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. "

How many times have I taken my kids to a beautiful play space with lots of climbing equipment, swings and slides, and they spend all their time climbing through the fence posts into the tiny bit of wildness left growing on the edge of the park? Or creating an obstacle course by using the play equipment all the "wrong way"? Or making mud puddles in the water fountain? It may drive us crazy, but they are just behaving in very normal, human ways.

Children, like all humans, love to create, to explore, to destroy and repair and experiment. And yet we bring them to perfectly manicured play spaces and tell them not to run because they might fall. We don't let them out of our sight. We label their toy bins. We throw out their broken toy cars and get upset at them for taking apart a mechanic toy to see how it works. Guilty, guilty, guilty... I have done all these things.

And to be honest, except for the labeling (I can't help it! I'm Swedish!)... those parenting moves all go against my instincts. I had bullied myself into thinking that my wish for them to play independently and preferably, out of my range of sight and hearing, was because of my insatiable unmet need for quiet and order.  I blamed my own laziness. I tried to be more fearful, more attentive. I let them play by themselves in front of our house and then felt guilty for not sitting by the front window to watch. How silly of me!

Rosin points out that children need to try out things that seem dangerous to them (climbing too high, going too far, running too fast)... because they need to experience both fear and overcoming fear. 

Sometimes I forget what my son's early childhood in rural Ethiopia was probably like. I forget that he probably spent a large portion of his day playing under the banana trees, getting dirty, getting hurt, climbing too high, wandering too far... That no one was watching him every second of his life.  And yet here he is, a very confident, strong, extraordinarily healthy almost 8 year old.  Nearly fearless.

Kids need wildness. They need to get messy and dirty and wander off and find their way back home.  I'll never forget my memory of the trill of being sent to the corner store to buy a loaf of bread all by myself for the first time. Clutching that dollar in my hands and turning the corner and crossing the street and then returning home, mission accomplished.  I was probably 8, maybe 9.

How many 8 year olds are sent out to buy a loaf of bread by themselves anymore?

When Spring really arrives I might start letting my kids ride their bikes all the way around the block. My fears about ax murderers lurking around the corner are ridiculous. If Lily falls off her bike, the whole neighborhood will hear her, I'm certain of that.  I will let them make giant messes in their playroom. (Gulp. No, really, it's okay.)  I will allow the corners of our garden to brim with sticks and mud and hiding places.  I will send my 8 year old to the store to buy bread.

We modern parents are so afraid. We cultivate our fear like we cultivate our gardens... Weeding out dis proven threats and planting new ones based on the latest research and data.  We are afraid that if we aren't afraid, we are being neglectful.

But here is the difference, I believe, between a neglectful parent and a parent who allows her child to be free.  When the child returns home with dirt and leaves in her hair and a scrape on her finger, the loving parent helps her wash up, puts a bandaid on the finger, hands her a sandwich, and listens to her adventures. Then she sends her off for more with a smile.  And the child knows mom has the sandwiches and the bandaids and the ears to listen.  She knows mom will let her go, and welcome her home. She clutches her dollar or her stick or her bundle of wildflowers or her new friend's hand and turns the corner.

Yesterday at the park Lily climbed to the top of the playground monkey bars for the first time. She stood up and shouted gleefully,  "I can see! I can see everything!" Then she looked down and whimpered, "I'm scared!"

And she smiled.

And climbed down all by herself.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Early Mornings...

walking with a friend on a day whispering of Spring.

I woke up early this morning, and actually got out of bed instead of laying there worrying and getting kicked by our daughter. (Yes, Lily is still spending her nights in our bed. Nope, I don't want to talk about it.)

Andrew and I are having one of those weeks when we don't see each other. We should invest in fog horns, so that we can act out the metaphor we are living... Honk at each other like the passing ships we are Monday-Thursday. So it was nice to sit and drink coffee together and catch up a bit. We are leaving for Ethiopia (!) in 4 weeks. And we don't have the kids' passports yet. And we just got a letter from the State Department requesting another document. Soon some office in Maryland will have the ORIGINALS of my children's Ethiopian birth certificates, their Ethiopian adoption degree, and their USA name change certificates. The thing about international adoption is that you are forever needing 12 pieces of paper proving you are a family. (Our health insurance still hasn't really figured it out. Their names are all kinds of wrong on our forms.) So, I'm working on suppressing my anxiety that the passports will not be ready by the time our (very, very expensive) plane trip is supposed to happen. The fact that some stranger in some office has the original, completely irreplaceable paperwork proving my children are, in fact, my children, doesn't help.

So I've got a few things on my mind, all racing each other to the front of my worrying and hitting each other trying to take the top spot...   Here they are, in no particular order.

- Did our Contractor go MIA? The work is pretty much done, well except for the doors that aren't hung, the steps that need staining and that one piece of missing molding in the hallway... oh, and the big falling down garage full of contracting materials and old toilets.  The view from our back windows is... less than scenic. Right now the contractor is not returning our texts. I'm hoping that one day he realizes that we actually owe him money and show up.

- Will Lily EVER sleep in her own bed, or are we doomed to waking up with little heel shaped bruises all over us forever?

- Will I ever recover from Daylight Savings Time?

- Will I ever find room for all the THINGS that we own? I was stunned to find that all the stuff that fit into our tiny apartment somehow cannot be properly put away in our much larger house. Leading me to rethink every purchase I've ever made. Why!? Why!? do we own 3 picnic baskets? And how did we wind up moving them? The joke is, and I think I even wrote about it here, (!) that I thought I had really purged our belongings. Now here they all are, in my house, laughing at me. Someone come over and show me where I should store the cupcake carrier, please! *

* The good news is that we will probably have a yard sale, which has been Daniel's dream for some time now. He thinks we will make a lot of money. Ha! Of course, he thinks $7 is a lot of money, so he may be correct.

I hope all of you have recovered from Daylight Savings Time (or government-enforced completely-unnecessary Jet Lag time)... unless you are lucky enough to live in Arizona where they don't change their clocks around twice a year for no good reason.  I hope you all don't have a cupcake carrier you can't fit in your cupboards, or any other silly problem keeping you awake in the dark.

Happy Friday Everyone!