There are two kinds of people: those who pretend that incredible—and wildly fake—desserts can be made with a rice cake, and those who eat the actual dessert that inspired this pathetic creation. I am not the former.
There are also two kinds of people at the play area in the mall. Actually, to begin with, this should be prefaced with why I even went to the play area at the mall.
I started going there kind of by accident—I think desperation is often involved with the mall play area. I’ll admit to this straight away–desperation to finally sit down, or to give our kids the opportunity to play, or to finally make it in to a Sephora store.
My kids were bored; it was another cold-as-hell, end-of-winter, everyone-is-getting-antsy sort of afternoon. We went to the mall, which alone is something that I never do. (Okay, I’ll be honest–I went to take my kids to Build-A-Bear, and I didn’t even know that it had closed a year ago.) So, now I’m trying to make up for the fact that they aren’t making stuffed bears, and, obviously, I do the one thing that—up to this point—I have not been desperate enough to do: we go to the mall play area. And they freaking love it.
I’m having mini panic attacks. I’m watching the way that the other kids are running around like Lord of the Flies. I actually felt proud of my daughters, and of how aware they are of other people, and of their environment, and, mostly, of their manners. Many of the other children are seriously acting insane. Which brings me to the two kinds of parents in these scenarios: those types that are relaxed, and those of us who aren’t.
I’m the latter. I have to force myself to sit back, and pretend that I’m not screaming internally.
I have to, for instance, repeatedly ask a child to stop picking up my baby, and placing her inside of kid-sized toy cars and rocket ships, and I’m looking around wondering why I’m asking her and not her own mom and dad.
I’m also watching my oldest child’s face emit pure joy as she goes down the slide, and as she makes a friend to play with. I watch the baby cautiously enter a tunnel instead of squeezing through it without any concern over another kid being already in it. I see also how my little one goes down the slide like her sister and the other big kids, and how delighted she is with herself; how delighted I am with her.
I notice a mother smile at my girls when they come over to say hi. I can’t help but pay attention to a mom who is acting like it’s her first time here, and she’s literally hovering over her son.
Yet I’m not relaxed either. At one point, a child runs out of the play area, through the one entrance-slash-exit, and a parent catches her and holds this tiny girl up calling with increasing volume, “Who is this girl’s parent?” Finally someone grabs her, and they are in the Starbucks nearby, and not even inside of the play space. I’m shocked. I’m surprised that anyone would want to be totally relaxed here.
I know that my kids need me to sit back and pretend that I’m comfortable—to give them the space to explore and learn, and to fall, and meet new friends—but that they need me to watch over them, too.
My kids are 5 and 1. My kids are the average ages present. This is good practice for me, and for all of these other parents of little ones, on learning how to straddle this line of over-protection, with the uncomfortable area of un-caring.
Because I might be the sort of person who doesn’t believe in gross, phoney “healthy” desserts—and I am this way because I believe in moderation. Parenthood is the ultimate lesson in moderation.
I’ve learned to have two glasses of wine—but not the entire bottle (on most occasions, at least).
I’ve learned that I much prefer enjoying a few pieces of dark chocolate on most nights, than to pretend I’m happy with an unparallelled substitute.
But motherhood is different. It takes more practice than ever before to let a child fall, and to trust our children that they can figure out how to get back up on their own. It takes even more careful attention to have them think that we aren’t either waiting in secret on the other side of a ginormous playground caterpillar the entire time, or that we’re out of sight worrying, since they’re at school, or somewhere else that we have to trust because we physically cannot be there to catch them.
I cannot catch my kids every time they fall. I have to learn not to want to catch them every time they fall.
Part of love is trust. Part of love is balancing our own needs to want to protect and nurture with recognizing when the loving thing to do is step back.