This past week, we spent a lovely time at the family cabin in northern CA that my husband’s family has owned for decades. Most of our time was spent at the lake in town, which boasts a pretty beach, water slides, floating docks, diving boards, you name it. The smaller of two slides is for kids only, and my boys quickly were interested in trying it out. My 6-year-old adores anything that allows his to hurl his body through space, and so he went down the slide again, and again (and again and again…).
On the second day, for whatever reason, he became afraid of the slide. Multiple times, he climbed to the top of the ladder, paused, sat, waited… and eventually came back down. The other kids waiting in line were really gracious and patience, for which I was thankful. But by the third or so time that my son did this, I was starting to get frustrated. I KNEW he could do it, and besides, he had already gone so much the day before! I also wanted to teach him that it wasn’t really all that polite to keep going to the top while other kids wait, only to climb back down. So on his third or fourth attempt, I pushed him down. I tried to reason with him from afar to encourage him to slide, but he wouldn’t go. By now, I’m sure I had the attention of other parents who looked up to see what was going on. I climbed the ladder, said “you’re going to go,” and started to give him a firm but gentle push down the slide. My son said, “No! No!!” and flipped onto his belly while he white-knuckled the sides of the slide. I pulled him back up to turn him on his bottom (I’m not so mean to shove him down while facing backward on his belly), and told him, “No, you’re going down” and pushed him (not HARD) down the slide. Guess what? He came up out of the water and was smiling and cheering, remembering how much fun it really was.
I climbed down off the ladder and turned to see about 20 glaring mom eyes right on me. I’m hoping there were a few sympathetic ones in the crowd, but it sure didn’t look like it. It was as if there were thought bubbles above their heads saying things like, ‘wow, she’s so mean,’ ‘what the heck is she thinking?’ “If the kid doesn’t want to go, she shouldn’t make him.’ The part I haven’t even mentioned yet is that my son has special needs, so I probably seemed even meaner (that really isn’t the point of this article, but we do treat him the same way we treat our other boys. Any medical/developmental considerations were taken and I would never endanger him).
My son was safe. My husband was at the bottom ready to catch him. He had done this before. It was a growing moment. I was the momma bird almost literally pushing my baby out of the nest so he could experience flight.
My job as a parent is not to provide this safe little bubble where my children aren’t encouraged to grow. I am not interested in crafting an environment that is always predictable, comfortable, and stagnant. When an appropriate opportunity arises, there is a space to grow and be stretched. It’s a mentality and a skill that is essential for survival in this world. My boys know that I adore them, and yet I don’t coddle them (except when our 4-year-old asks to sleep in our bed at night… again, a different article). They will always have a nest to which they can return and I can kiss them and tell them I love them a thousand times. And I will continue to teach them how to fly.