don’t climb my hair, quoth rapunzel

2-24-09

My brother Sean just wrote an interesting blog about his 2-year-old Barnaby, specifically after a hot radiator scared Barno and Sean tried to comfort him. This led Sean to ruminate on how we were either helped or failed by our own parents in that respect – an eternal tightrope act, the effort it takes to balance your desire to shelter your child from all harm, and the (occasionally unconscious) wish for him/her to get over it and grow some skin.

I think Sean and I will always fall pretty heavily on the protectionist side, partly because we felt our own childhood was shaped by benevolent wolves, and – not to speak for my brother – but I feel like my having children is such a blessing of unbelievable luck that I’m hardly ever willing to create a School of Hard Knocks for Hard Knock’s Sake.

Life is hard enough when you get older; there are plenty of ways our kids will be pushed to the limits of their sanity through their social worlds, their jobs, money, alcohol, drugs, war, or the vicissitudes of an unknown future – so I find the nickel-and-dime “stop whining” parent mentality to be vaguely creepy. In Tessa’s movie Five Wives, her 89-year-old father Blakey is on a couch with one of his granddaughters, then about ten months old. She kinda falls off part of the couch, and her mother rushes to get her, but Blakey gruffly stops her, saying, “Oh leave her. She’s tough as a boot.”

Ever since, Tessa and I always use the phrase “She’s tough as a boot” for pretty much any situation where a helpless creature is expected to show incredible strength and fortitude for no reason. But alas, again, I digress.

Case at hand, Lucy just started her first sport: a tennis class with a gaggle of other 3-year-olds. Actually, calling it “tennis” is a stretch – more like a lot of munchkins swinging racquets in space and occasionally hitting one of 17.5 million balls. My brother Steve gave me the highlight: one time a little girl smacked a tennis ball that hit the teacher’s cap and then bounced into the tennis ball basket. Hilarity – and I mean hilarity – ensued.

So Lucy was swinging her tennis racquet with the insouciance of someone getting to swing something for the first time, and hit one of the boys in her class. He collapsed in 3-year-old agony, and then the teacher – a haggard, no-shit older German woman – descended on Lucy and shamed her immediately. So Lucy, who is not a big crier, collapsed onto the court as well, bathed in misery and sobbing uncontrollably with disgrace.

Tessa ran and picked Lucy up, saying, “it’s okay, honey, you didn’t mean to do anything wrong.” And of course Herr Tënnis Tëacher said “She DID do something wrong, she hit that boy with a tennis racquet.” At this point, I think to myself – fair enough, if we’re in a criminal court with adults, but this is a fucking tennis court with toddlers.

My immediate impulse? Swoop up the family, get the fucking fuck OUT of there, go to Baskin Robbins, get an ice cream cake, go home, and walk on our carpet with muddy shoes. Instead, Tessa just asked Lucy if she still wanted to play tennis. Eyes cast downward, she nodded. And went back to her place in line, racquet in hand. Minutes later, the teacher – showing a little more depth than credited – asked her if she wanted to come to the front. And Lucy did, hitting three balls in a row over the net.

Later at dinner, I asked Lucy if she had fun today. “Yes,” she said, “soccer is very fun.”

“Um, don’t you mean tennis?”

“Yes. Actually, I’m a very good tennis player.”

“Did you like your lessons?”

“Yes, but actually I already knew how to play tennis.”

And then she told me about the friends she made, and how she was looking forward to next week. No mention of the boy, no mention of the teacher. And if I had called the shots, I would have probably whisked her out of there before any of that redemption – or even forgetting – could have taken place.

I pride myself on being a protector, I have many safety plans in place in case of a national emergency, and when there’s a strange noise outside at night, I’m out there with an aluminum baseball bat within 2.8 seconds. But for those of us slightly-damaged knights in shining armor who grew up feeling vulnerable, the message is clear: sometimes your damsel doesn’t want to be rescued.

Lucy with her Uncle Steve yesterday

0 thoughts on “don’t climb my hair, quoth rapunzel

  1. Anne

    My own instinct is to be a hovering protective parent too, Ian. Please don’t be offended by that description; it’s one I, at least, own up to.
    The danger, as you have intuited from the tennis lesson incident, is that with good intentions we may stifle our kids’ coping skills and adaptation to the world.
    I tried to walk a line between rescuer and hard-ass with our kids, but even now I can see that perhaps I/we sheltered them a bit from disappointment and rejection. Our daughter calls us to help her WAY too often now that she’s at college and is unhinged by mere slights. (She gets over them, which is good.) Our oldest son is still a bit lost in the world at 23, and our youngest wants to stay as close to home ( = safety, insulation) as possible when he enters college in 2010.
    It’s tough, because our tiny children are so damn cute, and we are hard-wired by evolution to protect them. But we have to remember the other part of mammalian child-rearing, which is when the mother fox pushes her sweet young cubs roughly out of the nest and lets them whomp each other’s butts as they tumble on the grass.

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  2. julie

    As a mother of two boys, 4 and 6, it is a constant struggle. My husband would say that his childhood was much like yours and that just by sheer luck he is where he is. Mine was almost the complete opposite. I remember screaming at my parents to stop being so paranoid and hovering and over-protective; to let the chain loosen up so I could make a mistake or two. Trying to find the happy medium is so difficult, and it brings me to tears at some moments.
    But, in the end, I hope what prevails is that if we are really there as parents, if we try our darndest, if we hope for the best and work towards those ends, and if we can have a two-way avenue of communication and respect–these are the things our kids will remember when they are older.

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  3. Salem's Little Sister

    I have had to learn that it’s ok for Ben fall down, take a hit and to encourage him to recover from those things without a hug from Mommy or Daddy. I learned these things on the fly during YMCA sports. I swear it’s the best thing we’ve ever done for him. He started soccer last spring(3-5 year olds) and when we learned the team motto was “There’s no crying in soccer”, James was thrilled and I got nervous. Our coaches whipped us all into shape and because I respect and trust their methods and being a sports coach myself, I see where they are taking Ben and how they are getting there. The first few practices and games, if he fell down or God forbid got dirty(only myself to blame for that one)he’d make a beeline for us on the sidelines. It was all I could do not to pick him up and love on him, but we did our best to get him back out there. James, being from Texas and a former football star would always yell “Rub some dirt on it” when Ben fell down and got scraped up. By the end of the season, Ben would in fact pick up dirt and rub it into his wounds and I swear I saw James chest grow with pride.
    We’ve had another season of soccer with the same players and coaches and are now deep into basket-ball season. Not once has Ben come to us for comfort and if he falls down, takes a hit or just gets pissed, he looks at us gives a thumbs-up and takes off after the ball.

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  4. julie

    Wow, our YMCA sports sound so different here! Not once have I ever seen a Y coach be like that or have that kind of motto. We’ve been through three soccer seasons, several swimming, and are just finishing up the first b-ball season. I know different methods for different people, but I guess I had assumed that YMCA was more of a national organization. We wanted more of that I don’t know to describe it any better than “old school” motivation, so we moved on to Richmond Strikers for soccer and NOVA for swimming.

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  5. Salem's Little Sister

    I’m going to guess that our YMCA is a bit different down here in Durham, NC. Plus, our coaches are parent volunteers of two of the players. We absolutely have the best coaches for our particular team of extremely rambunctious boys.

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  6. Susan

    I agree with Lyle…the running and tattling drives me crazy too! why do kids do this now? Now granted I have an ADHD son who since he was 2 has nearly always been the cause of the problem…pushing, hitting, etc… he didn’t have an ounce of self control. Now he is 5 and doing well on meds but that is another story. That being said we have taught him if someone does something he doesn’t like then tell THEM. Running to an adult or teacher should be reserved for serious infractions. I love seeing him at the playground telling another kid “hey don’t push me that isn’t nice”…sticking up for himself instead of being a ninny. Whatever the cause of the “hurt” the kids I see just run run run to tattle. I think it is a result of the “playdate” phenomenon of our society…everything is supervised by an adult because of safety concerns mostly. My husband and I were talking just last night about how we as kids would leave the house in the morning and be gone ALL DAY all over the neighborhood playing with other kids. We worked out our differences with the other kids and learned our place in the world from those early unsupervised interactions. The era of planned activities and playdates has in my opinion deprived kids of this social learning. Anyone else think so?

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