I’m not sure.
Perhaps you can tell me.
After my run in the morning (yes, I’m still at it - woot!), I decided to take a shower while My Guy was busy working in his home office downstairs and both girls were being all sweet and cuddly in my bed.
I asked Little Miss, “Will you play with your little sister and entertain her while I’m in the shower?”
To which she replied, “Of course!”
I wasn’t worried. They’ve played together, unsupervised, countless times, and other than the occasional squabble, it has worked out well for everyone.
In the shower, I soaked in the heat of the water to counter the cold that lingered on my skin from my run outside. I was still on a high from my best run yet. But that all came crashing down soon after.
When I stepped out, I heard giggling. Oh good, they’re playing well together. I took a peek at the girls and gasped a little. They were both on their feet, on the bed, and they were making a game out of falling onto pillows, like trees going “timber!” Except trees don’t get hurt. Little girls do.
My instinct was to whisk Thumper off the bed and stop the game. Instead, I voiced my concern, “Little Miss, I don’t think this is a good idea. You are steady on your feet, but Thumper isn’t. She may fall off the bed and hurt herself.”
“But she loves this game!” she protested. And she was right. Thumper cackled every time she fell onto the pillow. She also added, “We’ll be careful!”
The overprotective mother part of me wanted to put my foot down. They could get hurt after all. And the other part, the one that wants my kids to learn their own limits, said so what? If they fall, they learn; if they don’t, they would’ve had a ball.
WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?
I saw the hardwood floors and gauged the danger level to be 6.5/10 or so. Perhaps it would’ve been higher had it not been for my own childhood where I fell many times on head-crushing concrete floors. Had my girls been playing with matches, it would’ve been a 10. But this wasn’t the case.
And so I decided to help Little Miss pad the edges of the bed with more pillows and made sure that they both knew to aim for the middle of the bed as they dove forward.
I then proceeded to the rest of my post-shower regime, with more girlish laughter in the background. Just as I was heading back their way, I watched Thumper, as if in slow-motion, roll off the bed and onto the floor. I was neither close nor fast enough to prevent the impact. By the time I got to her, the bawling had already started.
Mad at myself, I held her and rocked her in my arms and glowered at Little Miss.
“And that’s why we don’t play these games!” I seethed, but the moment it came out of my mouth, I regretted it. I knew I had misplaced my anger, but it was too late. Little Miss started crying herself.
“But I didn’t push her off the bed - she fell herself!” she objected as tears streamed down her face. Perhaps out of fear or out of guilt. Or maybe a little of both. I certainly didn’t help assuage any of that with my accusatory tone; I felt ashamed and started to apologize.
Having heard the thud on the floor directly above his head, My Guy rushed upstairs and found two crying girls and their remorseful mother. He gently took Thumper from me and made sure that she was okay, and she was. I reached over to Little Miss and pulled her to me, cradling her.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. The last thing I wanted was to have her shoulder the responsibilities of everything that happens to her sister. At least not now, when she’s not even four. “It’s not your fault that she fell. It was an accident. And look, she’s okay...she’s hurt, but it will go away. She’ll be fine.”
I wanted to add that it was my fault. I shouldn’t have allowed this in the first place. But I wasn’t convinced, even at that point, that that was the case.
MAKING MY CASE
Kids fall. From that, they learn to a) never do something again and/or b) get back on their feet. It’s a fact of life, and even though I could’ve prevented it this time, what of the other times when they’re not under my protective wings?
Besides, this time, it wasn’t so much about my toddler falling. It was a lesson for Little Miss, who had to see for herself that Thumper couldn’t always keep up. That her actions do affect the others around her, especially her little sister who dotes on her and wants to do everything she does. At 16 months, Thumper’s too young to take anything away from this experience, even if it’s her head that bumped the floor, but Little Miss isn’t.
I try not to intervene when they’re fighting. I try not to helicopter-parent. They’ll have to figure some things out for themselves. Not in the jump-off-a-building-and-see-if-you-can-land-like-a-cat kind of way, but more akin to the things one might find in the school of hard knocks.
For example, trying to keep a toddler who’s part monkey from pulling herself up onto the couch or the bed is a losing battle. Instead, we taught her to climb down safely - from the couch, bed, stairs, you name it - because we know we can’t always be right there with her. If climbing seems to be her calling, why not just arm her with the ability to come back down safely rather than prohibit her? That way we don’t have to be glued to her side at every moment.
I’m not trying to make myself feel better about the incident, but if this is the parenting route we’ve chosen, which is to empower our kids to test their own boundaries, we’re going to have to accept that sometimes, we’re going to learn the bitter end of that philosophy.
Our hope is to instill independence and confidence in our girls at an early age - skills that both My Guy and I value deeply. Looking back at the incident, it might not have been the best decision to let them indulge in a rather precarious game. But it was a necessary one.
Yet, even when the decision is right, with two babies sobbing in my arms against my aching heart, it doesn’t necessarily feel right.
I suppose that’s parenting, in a nutshell.
* * *
Do you think I should have prevented the situation when I could have? Let me ask you this: What would you have done?
On another note: Here’s my most recent post on Families in the Loop, a site for Chicago families, about my experience this past year with all the acronyms created for moms and their careers (WAHM, SAHM, etc.).