Of my two children, my daughter Ellie is the wild one. Her big brother? He is laidback and even-tempered. He’s energetic, but cautious. I never had to worry too much about what he might get into — even during his toddler years.
Ellie is a different story entirely. She started walking at 10 months old. And the climbing began shortly after. I’ll never forget the time I left her playing with some pots and pans in the kitchen floor while I changed over the laundry and came back to find her sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, happily snacking on the remnants from breakfast.
Since she’s younger but more adventurous, she and her brother actually make a good team on the playground. Anything he climbs, she’s right there at his heels — brow furrowed and hands gripping tightly. She ignores the smaller playsets meant for children her age. Instead she insists on following her brother straight to the top of the tallest structure there. In the beginning, it terrified me. She’s only two and not big for her age, so she looks quite small scaling a ladder that stretches two feet above my head! I watched other parents steer their little ones away from the ladders and toward the stairs and wondered if I was making a mistake, letting my little one climb. Or — more accurately — I wondered if the other parents thought I was making a mistake.
Conscious of the perceived judgment, I would hover underneath her, with my arms outstretched. Always ready to catch her, should she fall. She never did. And at her insistence (“I DO IT, MOM!”), I learned to give her a little space. Occasionally, another parent will eye her nervously or comment about how small she is to be climbing so high. And I start questioning myself all over again.
The thing is though? Ellie is fearless. But not reckless. She sizes up a challenge carefully before deciding to take it on. I can see the wheels turning as she studies the ladder. It’s taller than anything she’s climbed before, but climbing is climbing, right? Hands then feet, hands then feet — moving steadily upward just like she’s been taught. She waits her turn patiently and moves away from the edge the moment she’s at the top.
Despite her confidence and skill, her climbing makes me nervous — and probably always will. A big part of me wants to keep her on the ground, right next to me. Safe. The letting go and loosening of boundaries is always the hardest part of parenting, I think. It’s all too easy to talk ourselves out of taking even the smallest risks with these little people we love so much. But the rational part of me knows I can’t keep my children grounded forever. And I’d rather be the one teaching them how to stretch their wings.
So, I show my daughter how to climb — and give her room to fall. I let her push herself, and occasionally she amazes me with what she’s capable of doing. I would miss those moments if I never let her try.