Personal Post: Giving My Daughter Space to “Do it Wrong”

35 mm Film Photos Door County Raising a toddlerTalking about parenting right now means putting a vulnerable voice out into a critical culture. This isn’t to say our generation is somehow more judgmental than past generations; we just see more of one another’s lives thanks to social media. So now instead of collecting “feedback” from your auntie and mother, you can also collect it from that friend-of-a-friend from high school and someone you used to work with. Oh joy. And whether or not you choose to post to social media or comment on the posts of others, you are probably still consuming the media and drawing your own conclusions.

The good news is this criticism has sprouted from the best of intentions: concern for the safety of children. But when concern for safety becomes concern for lifestyle and we aren’t prepared for how to interact in this culture, we end up stuck in a place of shame, guilt, and fear of “doing it wrong”.

Parenting in the Toddler Years

That said, I know some people will find my parenting too hands off (I get looks as my daughter runs through the farmer’s market 20 feet ahead of me) and some will find me too rigid (really mom, she can’t have any juice?) I’m sure others will find ways to see me as overprotective, old fashioned, or crunchy, but for myself, I am quite surprised at the kind of parent I turned out to be.

When I thought of the future, I imagined myself fretting over my child’s every move, holding my arms around her to protect her from bumps and bruises, chewing my nails and saying that warning phrase one extra time to give myself peace of mind. But what I failed to account for when I imagined myself as a mother, is that I would be a mother to a little person with a personality all her own.

Juniper is fast and loud. She climbs everything, devises complicated ways of stacking things to reach what she wants. She likes the fastest rides and the biggest challenges. At two, this kid eats more at a meal than I did in middle school. She is bold and talkative, and usually searching the house for her galoshes so she can find a way to be outside…even if it’s raining…even if it’s 6:00 am…even if it isn’t her house. She. Is. Wild.

But this wildness comes from her curiosity and her passionate impulse to consume everything as though life is something to be swallowed whole. And can I just say what a gift it is to see life this way?

Leaving Room for Imagination

Things I haven’t the smallest interest in, she will find deeply fascinating. Toys which have a specific use will gain new life with her interpretation of their purpose. She wants to reorganize the crayons instead of coloring with them, use the bath boats as teacups, and make car noises as she pushes the doll stroller. And I’m going to let her. Just like I’m going to let her eat the uncooked zucchini that fell to the floor as I was making dinner and wear swim diapers over her clothes. She can ride in the cargo portion of the stroller, wear all my jar lids as bracelets, and refer to every full grown dog as a “little baby puppy” (with her voice high and her nose scrunched).

Doing these things “wrong” isn’t going to hurt her or anyone else. She’s learning what it means to make her own decisions and she’s figuring out how things work (or devising new ways for them to work). And, when it comes right down to it, it would be pretty self-important of me to tell her the “right way” to play.

What Does it Mean to “Do it Wrong”?

My grandma has a story from when she was a little girl that has always stuck with me. She was at school in art class drawing a sky filled with pink, fluffy clouds. When the teacher saw it, she told my grandma it was no good because clouds aren’t pink. Imagine all the ways we can crush a child’s spirit in the name of teaching them the “right way” to do things.

And whether those clouds were pink or neon green or floating underwater or made of cotton candy or drawn with dandelion rubbings, I never want to be the person who makes the world a little smaller by closing the door on possibility and imagination. Grandma gets her revenge every time sunset turns clouds from white to yellow, yellow to orange, and from orange to a bright, rosy pink.

I guess what I’m saying is, Juniper will have plenty of opportunities to learn the correct pronunciation of the word, the right purpose for the tool, the proper way to respond to the circumstance, but for now, there is play. There is big, big play. And I’m going to give Juniper all the space I can to “do it wrong”.

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Film scans above from this summer (May-July) from 35 mm Kodak Portra negatives.

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