Article reprinted with permission by the publishers and the author (that's me).
So my youngest is at that age now where I start getting evil looks from other mommies in the park. I know why they’re annoyed with me and my frightful parenting ways, but let me take a moment to explain why I do what I do:
I am a very over protective mom, but like every parent, I have my pet peeves, soap boxes, personal creed, etc. For instance, I am very over protective about people watching my children. They could be crazed ax murderers, serial killers, homicidal kidnappers, or lawyers. You just can’t be too careful. I am also very over protective about the things they learn and just who in the blazes they’re learning it from. Thus the sheltering – er, I meant to say homeschooling. I am very over protective about what they put into their bodies and like the cruel mother I am, I follow in my own cruel mother’s footsteps and serve them homemade granola instead of Sugar Frosted Sprinkled Cocoa Puffed Candy Balls for breakfast (an important part of your nutritious breakfast… when served with eggs, orange juice, toast, and a side of vitamins). I am over protective about the little things like wearing seat belts and having a buddy to take to the restrooms and looking both ways twice before crossing the street.
But here is what I am NOT over protective about (and the source of the evil looks coming my way):
For instance: climbing. Climbing trees and play equipment is a child’s job. You get strange looks if you leave this part of childhood for when you are fully grown. Trees are made for climbing, folks! And climbing high. We’re not talking one branch up, a mere six inches from the spongey playground floor. Sure, they could fall out I suppose and then I suppose they would more than likely break a limb, but they could also find a way to fall off your couch while watching other children climb trees on television, land on the coffee table, spill their snack which flings the fork into the air, only to be caught by their eyeball. Life has risks.
Anyway, though, my kids are climbers and this somehow warrants every well-meaning (or perhaps, meddling) parent to approach me and kindly tattle on my own children because they are not swinging properly on the swing at a perfect arc and in a five-point harness; they are instead three stories up in a tree, usually upside down, sneakers untied, ponytails dangling. Instead of swinging, they’re perched atop the swing’s supports. If I’m feeling a bit small from the rebuke I just got, I’ll give a half hearted, “Hey, kids, not too high, ok?”, but inside I’m wondering if the adult next to me was ever a child. My three gremlins have been climbing since they could walk and yes, something bad could happen. But it wouldn’t be worse than having good old childhood fun taken away from them, or worse: being forced to only go down the slide. Going down the slide is boring, moms and dads. Going up? Going up is fun and requires some know-how, some gumption, a little upper body strength, and toes that grip like a spider monkey’s.
My eldest daughter used to put boys twice her age to shame by the way she’d shimmy up things, no fear, and they’d be staring at her trying to figure it out, and just when they’d get up enough courage, their mommies would yell at them (their names are usually Percival or Egbert or Cyril or something equally manly) and they’d scuttle off with disappointment in their perfectly groomed faces. Now I know we need these boys to grow up to become poets and poodle hair dressers and fashion designers just as much as we need cowboys and truck drivers and alligator wrestlers because together they all make the world go ’round, but I just can’t help being sorry for the boys and girls who are not allowed to play. Really play. With trees and mud and torn jeans and worms and swords and water guns and snakes and snails and puppy dog tails (preferably with the puppy dog still attached however, I do draw the line somewhere). I was at the park just last week and a mother was shouting across the grass at her son a threat to ground him for three days if he even sat in a tree. Another mom at the same time was royally irritated at her toddler because he wouldn’t go over to the proper play equipment but instead wanted to run circles around the tennis courts and splash in the mud puddle. It was as though she was smacking him down for playing incorrectly. Since when are there rules for imagination?
If it’s the end of a long summer day and my kids aren’t grass stained and holey and smell like a gym sock, exhausted and hungry and in need of a Bandaid, then I have failed as a mom. Sometimes I think we as parents need to have a good grounding ourselves, with a day of digging to China and building forts and having snow ball fights and just remembering what it felt like to play. Now, my kids are just as susceptible as anyone else’s at being bored or needing their eyeballs pried off the television with a spatula. Those are the days I unplug everything that has a cord (exception: coffee maker), gently prod them out the back door, and then cheerfully proceed to lock that same door until they get tired of knocking and hollering and yelling that they have to go to the bathroom and wander off in search of fun.
Back in the olden days, by crikey, my friends and sis would take off first thing in the morning, pack a lunch, hop on the bikes or the horses and be gone until dusk, when our bellies were growling for dinner and we could distantly hear Mom calling us home. And yes, it was uphill both ways and in the snow. Now that is a childhood. They only get one you know.