I’m all for lending a hand. I’m a teacher and a mother, so sensing people’s needs and responding to them is something I do.
However, as a teacher and a mother, I also realize that there are times when the greatest gift I can offer someone is to let them figure something out for themselves–even if that means bearing witness to the inevitable and at times painful-to-watch struggle.
And the playground is rife for these sorts of experiences.
I have never been a fan of helping my children negotiate playground equipment they weren’t ready for. You never would have seen me lifting my children so they could go across the monkey bars; I barely push them on the swings. I always take my cue from them and let them decide what they’re ready for and watch them decide when something is out of their league. My eyes are on them at all times, but my hands are not.
Oscar, at eight, can handle a vast array of the playground’s offerings and is now especially enamored of a particular zip line that just a year ago he could not (or would not) use.
However, today while exploring this newfound thrill, the handle wound up sliding just out of his reach. The simplest thing would have been for me to walk the three feet to where he was playing and push it over to him.
But I didn’t.
“Mom, can you push that handle to me?”
I told him I could but that I wouldn’t–that I wanted to see what he could do to solve his own problem.
After an incredulous look, Oscar embarked on a tour of the perimeter of the playground, searching for sticks that might give him just enough of a reach. He learned about the qualities of different sticks–some were too short, some were too weak. He then stared up at the handle and donned what I can only call his “thinking face.” He studied his conundrum and analyzed his options. And I watched.
All of a sudden he removed his jacket (it was a balmy 37 degrees today) and started batting at the zip line handle with his copious winter coat. The handle moved–slowly, inch by inch, but it moved. And after ten or so strikes, the coat was back on and the handle was where it needed to be.
And I realized that if I had simply, mindlessly moved the handle for him, I never would have seen his face–the face of determination, the face of accomplishment, the face of having worked hard at something and succeeded, the face of someone suddenly empowered.
Then there was my face–the one that understood this is what parenting is all about.