It has come to my attention that parenting requires staying on your toes. I don’t just mean when it comes to chasing a toddler or making sure your six year old doesn’t cover the floor with choking hazards. I mean that kids are constantly growing and changing and so you basically wake up to a different human every morning.
Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But sometimes it feels like that. There are the changes they make on their own to surprise you. Like when they magically start sleeping at night. Or when they suddenly decide to STOP sleeping at night and instead devote that time to new skills like climbing out of their crib.
And then there are the changes that you expect, like learning to crawl and learning to walk and talk. And the changes you know are coming but somehow they still sneak up on you, like using the stairs, feeding themselves, and jumping off the diving board.
Those are the ones that catch me off guard most often. Not the big milestones we work toward, but these sneaky little milestones that are so easy to take for granted.
Example: toddler eating. We taught her how to pick up food pieces, so we knew she could feed herself. But when it came to putting a meal plate in front of her it was easier to just feed her than to give her a pile and teach her not to shove it all in her mouth. One meal turned into another and it was just how we kept doing it. One day it occurred to me: she should be able to eat from her own meal plate now. So I gave her a plate. And she ate. Like it was no big deal. She was ready. She was just waiting on me.
It’s a similar challenge with the stairs. Our house is full of stairs. (Insert loud sigh.) We never had an open staircase when my oldest was young so this is a new ballgame for me. Believe it or not, it took me a while to figure out that in order for her to learn to navigate stairs, I had to LET HER DO THEM. Over and over and over again.
And she has been doing great. But I’m still terrified to let her near the top of the stairs. I think she would stop and go down them the way she has learned. But in order for me to know that for sure, I have to let her have access to them without me grabbing her. And that’s surprisingly hard to do. She’s probably ready, but I’m not sure I am.
Last week the six year old finished swimming lessons. She has made amazing progress this summer. At the beginning of the season we stayed safely in the kid pool, but by the end we were comfortably navigating the big pool. She couldn’t touch the bottom everywhere but she could hold her own with a grownup nearby.
But the deep end was still a no-go. She had been off the diving board once with a swimming teacher at the bottom to help her, and that was our only venture to that end. (Even that made me cringe a little). But at the last lesson, the whole class headed to the deep end. I held my breath and silently threatened her to “stay by the wall” from the edge. But she did great and the teachers were attentive so eventually I relaxed.
Until the last five minutes when they announced it was time for the diving boards. AND ALL THE TEACHERS GOT OUT OF THE POOL.
UHHH….WHAT IS HAPPENING??? My mom brain didn’t know whether to panic or video tape, and I was already preparing to deal with the shame of having to jump in the pool to save her while fully clothed and enormously pregnant.
But she jumped off the diving board, popped right back up, and swam to the edge like a pro.
I literally have no idea how long it would have taken me let her do that completely on her own if it had been up to me. I wasn’t ready.
But she was.
And that appears to be the trend, doesn’t it? They are ready, but I’m not.
Perhaps it’s because I’m just not ready to let go. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think most of the time it is because I’m still seeing them the way they were rather than the way they are. I think I still see the baby who doesn’t regulate how much she puts in her mouth and isn’t coordinated enough to navigate stairs. I still see the girl who can’t swim.
But they are not those people anymore.
Staying present with who people are isn’t easy. If I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, we wouldn’t truly know each other anymore, regardless of how close we were in the past. That isn’t surprising. People are constantly changing.
Even though we see our children every day, we still face the same challenge of staying present with who they are. Each day they grow and change. Every experience they have impacts the humans they are becoming in tiny ways that add up over time. If I get caught up assuming that I know who my daughter is because she is my child and I see her every day, I will miss out on the chance to truly know her and appreciate each stage of her growth.
A swimming teacher who had known my child for two weeks was more aware of her capabilities than I was. They knew she was ready before I did.
Staying present as a parent may not be easy. But it’s worth it. Because, as parents, we have the privilege of having a front row seat to watch these amazing little people becoming who they are, one change at a time.