Independence

“Self!” is Bea’s new favorite word. She uses it for everything, even when she can’t do it herself. She insists on clipping herself! into the car seat; She doesn’t need a stroller – she can walk all by herself! She only occasionally needs help cutting her food, and she now washes herself! We try to indulge her independence as much as possible. Coupled with self! she knows when to ask for help. Usually a cry of “Help!” is followed by a statement of “Self!” Even though it’s exhausting, it’s been a fun stage to enter. It’s amazing to let our baby be an independent toddler.

Yesterday, we went on a hike. Bea started out strapped in the pack, but soon wanted to walk by herself! We had already passed the halfway point, so decided to let her out to explore. She loved climbing on the red rocks and tried very hard to stay on the trail, even when explorations took a detour. She would call out to other hikers to “Pass!” as we stepped off to the side. A new favorite activity is walking Daisy by herself! Daisy weighs about 50 pounds to Bea’s 20-something, so we usually try to hold the end of the leash as Bea “walks” Daisy. On this hike, she was having none of that, and insisted that she was old enough to walk Daisy alone. Fortunately, we were at a deserted part of the trail, so few distractions were nearby. Daisy walked next to Bea as she held tightly to the leash, proud of her responsibility.

Hiking with Daisy
Hiking with Daisy

It’s so much quicker and easier when we do things for Bea. The car seat would take a fraction of the time if she didn’t have to fasten the clips herself! Meals would be much less messy if she let me help her. But, as I watch her become her own little person, as she models our behaviors and vocabulary, I realize that this is the most amazing thing about this stage: The mess and chaos of an 18-month-old doing things herself!

At 18-months, everything is brand new. Bea is doing everything herself! for the first time. But, at 18-months, 18 years, 58, we’re all still learning things for the first time. One of my favorite things about college was learning so many new and amazing things – both academically and as an independent adult, living away from home. One of the reasons a friend and I started a book club after grad school was that we missed learning new things. We wanted to continue to challenge our thinking. When I look at my own activities, most of what keeps me energized involves learning new things, hearing new ideas, and discussing differing opinions. One of my birthday goals last week was to learn something new this year. I meant it as more of a skill and I haven’t yet discovered what that will be. Watching Bea discover her world has reminded me of how important that act of discovery is and how it shapes who we are.

What is something new that you have learned recently? How do you keep energized in your daily routines?

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Being Human

“I don’t want to be a girl; I don’t want to be a boy; I just want to be human,” my four-year-old niece told my sister-in-law over Christmas. Mary Beth is an amazing mom, and she lets her daughter’s humanness shine through, no questions or comments. My niece is every bit a four year old: She loves imaginative play – sometimes she’s a princess, sometimes she’s a Lost Boy. She tramps through leaves on the winding trail behind her house, wearing a pink tutu-skirt and furry boots. I wouldn’t call her a tomboy, but she’s not a girly-girl, either. She encompasses the balanced humanness of a young child.

I’m not sure where I fall on the nature-vs-nurture spectrum. I know there are some boys who are rough-and-tumble, and others who are nurturing. Most boys I know are a combination of those two. I know there are some girls who quietly read for hours and others who are outside climbing trees. Most girls I know are a combination of those two. I know there are innate differences between boys and girls, but I also wonder how we, as parents, help create boxes of otherness in our children. When we encourage boys to be boys and we try to protect our girls, are we creating divisions that wouldn’t be there otherwise?

We were at a party last year and I was talking with a mom whose boys were running wild laps through the house, knocking things over, and screaming. Bea was quietly doing a puzzle with another little boy. The mom of the wild boys laughed and said, “You’re so lucky to have a girl! I can’t even imagine my boys sitting quietly for anything!” She laughed at how boys will be boys as I watched one of her sons smear a chocolate hand print onto the wall. I debated if I should point out that my daughter was playing quietly with another boy but decided to just smile and nod. Later, I wondered how much of that behavior is boys being boys and how much of it is parenting choices.

As Bea’s personality is starting to assert itself, I see wild moments of running through the house, roaring like a lion followed by quiet moments of having a tea party with her dolls. In this stage, Bea doesn’t know what girls do and what boys do; she just knows how to explore the world as a human. I hope, as I encourage and create boundaries that I allow her humanness to be at the forefront of her play and her exploration. Maybe she’ll end up being a flowery princessy girly-girl. Maybe she’ll end up being more of a scraped-knee tomboy. Maybe she’ll be some sort of mix of the two, and most likely she’ll be someone more amazing than I can even imagine.

What I want to learn from this stage of life, and what I hope I can remember as I grow as a parent, is that my daughter is first and foremost a human. And I hope my words, encouragement, and actions reflect that back to her.

Where do you fall on the nature vs. nurture spectrum? Veteran Parents: How did you encourage your children’s humanness?