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Jay Lake
Date: 2011-11-05 07:34
Subject: [child] Parenting in a time of plenty
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, child, culture, family, health, personal, portland
I was reading this article on Play, Supervision, and Pressured Parenting this morning, and reflecting on my experiences of being parent to [info]the_child over the years.

Not to put too fine a point on it, she has always been a challenging kid. Very bright, very spirited, and stubborn as a Borax twenty-mule team all rolled into one. Parenting her has always required considerable mental judo and a good sense of when to let go, because she has never, ever, sat down and done what she was told. All the more so these days when she is a wilful teen exploring her independence while coming to terms with an ethnic identity that diverges from her parents', as well as living in her own head with my cancer and mortality issues.

Reading that article reminded me of something that happened on the playground years ago, when she was three or four, that I think says it all about both my daughter and my own parenting philosophy. [info]the_child has always been very physically gifted — her balance is so good that she can do handstands on a skateboard, and her speed and coordination are almost frighteningly deft — so her mother and I have always figured that it was up to her to set her activity limits, within the bounds of basics like traffic safety and behavioral appropriateness. As I must have said a hundred times during her early childhood, if she falls hard, I know where the Emergency Room is.

The playground near Viejo Rancho Lake was one much like those described in the article referenced above. Modern, soft-edged play equipment over a deep layer of bark mulch in an ovoid space surrounded by benches on which parents could sit and carefully observe the entire play space and all the activities within it. Working at home, and having slightly odd hours (my normal workday was and is 6 am to 3 pm Pacific, to conform with my employer's Central time zone office hours), that meant in the afternoons I was often at the playground with [info]the_child, usually with my laptop so I could wrap some Day Jobbery or work on some fiction.

(A side effect of these afternoon hours was that I was the only male playground mom. The neighborhood moms knew me and knew which kid I was connected to, but the park got a lot of drop-in play, as it is a pleasant space near three bus lines and two major through streets. Drop-in moms were often very suspicious of the bearded guy with the long hair sitting on the bench watching the children play. As [info]the_child and I are not of the same ethnic group, it was not automatically obvious that I was connected with a particular kid. I'm frankly surprised no one ever called the cops on me.)

The playground has these tall swings, the kind where the top crossbar is about nine or ten feet up to provide a long chain drop and therefore a higher peak for the swinging experience. The frame of the swings is 2" pipe, bent and fitted to make the structure. One of [info]the_child's favorite activities was to shimmy up one of the legs of the frame, then make her way across the fifteen or twenty feet of crossbar, then down another leg. Using it, in effect, as a jungle gym.

One day one of the drop-in moms approached me as [info]the_child was clinging ten feet in the air and hectored me about letting her do something so dangerous. I replied that she was over a soft surface and I knew where the ER was, and what was so bad about letting a kid push their physical limits. This answer croggled her briefly, before she retorted that it set a bad example for the other children. "Is it a bad example," I asked, "to be fit and active and pushing yourself?"

Apparently it was. This woman was so protective of her offspring that she didn't want them seeing someone else's child doing something interesting, fun and challenging.

We have so much to give our kids. Maybe we should put away some of the protective instincts and let them be children. Loud, dirty, rambunctious little creatures who jump off the garage roof and run around with sticks. And climb tall things. That her mother and I let [info]the_child do these things almost certainly will help her be a stronger, more confident adult. I'm glad I wasn't so afraid of the world that I stopped her from exploring its limits.

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Larry Sanderson
User: lsanderson
Date: 2011-11-05 14:53 (UTC)
Subject: w00t!
WooT! Well said.
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User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-11-05 16:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good for you. I wonder if she would have approached with the same comments had your child been a boy.
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User: kuangning
Date: 2011-11-05 16:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was wondering that too. It's also really probable that her own child was a daughter.
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User: adelheid_p
Date: 2011-11-05 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think that I would've let my daughter do that (if she had been inclined) but been underneath spotting her probably the first time she did it (or maybe the first few times). When my daughter was growing up, we let her try things like that. I would sometimes ask myself if what my daughter was doing would be life threatening to keep my urge to protect her in check.

On the whole I agree that fear has contributed a lot to the problems with childhood obesity.
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User: madrobins
Date: 2011-11-05 17:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When we moved out here, I was regularly confronted by San Francisco parents who thought that my permitting my 12-year-old child to use public transportation by herself was tantamount to abuse. (There are class issues tucked in there...lower income kids, kids of color, are more likely to use Muni or BART solo, because their parents are out there trying to make a living.) My feeling, as a city kid, was that learning to get around town on my own gave my ownership of my city--a very important thing. This was one of the reasons I insisted we live in the city proper, rather than the burbs.

When the younger girl started in middle school, the school she had wanted was 40 minutes away by city bus. By the end of her three years there she was, certainly, bored to death with the trip. But there is nowhere in the city she can't get to on her own, if she's willing to spend the time. And she has friends all over. And she has the confidence of ownership in San Francisco.

I yield to none in my tendency to be anxious about my kids, but really, parenthood is all about the planned obsolescence, and if I don't let her go out into the world, she'll never leave home at all.
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: criminal minds jj and prentiss shirt
User: matociquala
Date: 2011-11-05 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:criminal minds jj and prentiss shirt
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User: martyn44
Date: 2011-11-05 18:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It is an interesting fact that no man, no matter how intelligent, experienced, well read, etc, can possibly know better what is good for their child than any woman. Any woman at all. Its a gender thing.
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User: voidampersand
Date: 2011-11-05 18:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I grew up as a free-range kid, but now they are oh so carefully cultivated in hothouses. I wasn't part of the cultural shift in any way, so I really don't get it. What happened?
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User: adelheid_p
Date: 2011-11-05 21:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fear. The abductions of children on the news, child molesters, the prosecution of children under 10 left at home alone, etc.
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Sue Burke
User: mount_oregano
Date: 2011-11-05 18:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was a free-range kid. I climbed a lot of trees, hiked and biked a lot of miles, and had a great time. I'm 56 now, and I feel so sorry for kids these days. They're prisoners of adults' fears.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2011-11-05 18:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
as a kid, I was ususally covered in bruises, scratches, bandaids and scabs. I was very good at hide n go seek, kick the can, and anything that could be played on the corner lot (which is now a community garden spot in Sellwood), the ER was three blocks away.
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orangemike: SParky
User: orangemike
Date: 2011-11-05 20:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I too suspect it's a class issue. This kind of obnoxious "my little Rudy Sue is a fragile flower and must be kept in plastic wrap away from the horrible grubby dirty world of reality" attitude seems to arise primarily in upper-middle-class and higher white folks (i.e., mostly suburbanites and a smattering of New Urban yuppies). Actual cityfolk and country folks alike are mostly immune to it; and it doesn't reliably correlate with any ideology except the prissiest "But what about the CHILLDRUUUN!??!</> censors and suppressors (left or right). Sadly, I occasionally encounter such swaddlers among my leftish allies, and I just don't know how to explain real human life to them.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2011-11-05 20:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was a protected child but my parents were in their 40s when I was born and I was the only girl (not just in my nuclear family but of my mother and her siblings, only girl out of 12 cousins). I also had allergies and such. But my parents chose an isolated rural farm to keep me isolated and protected from the late 60s/early 70s--which made things worse for me when I finally left home. It was a rough few years.

DH, though a rural kid, was not overly protected.

While our DS was not necessarily a protected kid (once he was about nine or so, he got the freedom to rove the neighborhood with his friends), we did try to watch out for him because he had expressive and receptive language issues. We actually pushed him to try more things than he would on his own. Once he was in high school, though, he was riding the city bus to and from school. We also taught him how to handle guns (necessary, considering we go out hunting), how to behave around large animals (I had him on a horse from age eight on), how to safely handle fireworks, and so on.

My students up at my small rural school are, for the most part, free range kids. The community pretty much is aware when there's a predator in the area and spreads the word. While there's problems with the free range aspect (some kids verge on being semi-feral as a result), overall they tend to be tough, self-sufficient kiddos. I myself prefer kids to have the ability to be mostly free range with boundaries. Amongst other things, it makes it easier to wean them from scaffolded academic supports.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2011-11-06 00:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I used to terrorize my mother by climbing on the storage shed roof and thence to the top of the 12-foot-tall decorative brick wall, which I would use as a balance beam.

But she never stopped me [g].
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User: spencimusprime
Date: 2011-11-06 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well said. I get so frustrated by the typical day at the playground with Adia, where I let her run wild and other mothers and parents are shouting from the sidelines about what kids shouldn't do or worse, standing right there hovering over the kids.

The ones who don't want their kids to go up the slides backward drive me FUCKING NUTS. First of all, because Adia wants to do it the instant she comes down the slide, and if I sit back and let her do it, my instinct, the other parents start glaring and telling their kids out loud that my kid shouldn't do it.

It's lovely if you can catch the playground alone, or catch one of those extremely rare parents who just sits on the sidelines and lets the kid roam freely.
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