Abandoning fragility

This just in: little girls are not made of glass.

Kalista knew this before I did. I’m still learning, actually.

For years, I’ve treated my 6-year-old like a baby. Not a 1-year-old or a toddler, but as an infant, keeping her from carelessness and growing through keeping her from climbing cupboards and falling off her bike. It’s been entirely uncalled for, really.

I’ve realized this by seeing its ill effects the past year of her life. Entirely by chance, the friends I get to see her with are boys – they seem beautiful through their carelessness and growth, throwing caution by the wayside as they climb, flip, slide, rip and tear.

They are boys, one may contest. Reckless, untamed males who act reckless and untamed. They are supposed to. 

A friend of mine with three sons – 10, 7 and 7, I believe – came over Sunday to watch the football games. His boys settled in quickly, running inside and outside of our house within an hour of their arrival. Kalista looked sad at one point.

“What’s the matter, baby?” I asked.

She opened her mouth, clipped a word and changed her tone as she replied, “Nothing.”

I gave her a hug, planning to bring it up once the commotion had passed.

Later in the day, the three boys were joined by a fourth – a 6-year-old Kalista knew very well who almost naturally gravitated toward his male accomplices. Kalista inserted her passive self when she could, but the opportunities amid the flipping and chasing in the back yard were far and few between. She ended up watching the action from afar and swinging on the swing set when the boys weren’t using it.

She didn’t fall and hurt herself one time.

Perhaps she’s the polar opposite of a tomboy, uninterested in getting dirty, sweaty or feeling her heart pound. Maybe she’s naturally a “thinker” rather than an action-taker. Or it could be she doesn’t know how to be careless and wild during the only stage of her life it will be permitted.

I’m left to wonder if this is my fault and, if so, I can (or even try to) change it. I could be responsible. She used to love to do “situps” on my chest – a living room floor exercise where we’d be face-to-face as I lie on my back, kicking my legs to rock us both forward to her giggling delight – until I remembered she might fly off and get hurt at any moment. She’s now too big to do this with me.

She still can’t ride a bike without training wheels. I had a friend with a daughter Kalista’s age tell me his lesson became a success only after he padded his child “like a football player” and let her fall a few times in an open parking lot. I can’t bear the thought – Kalista’s never even been allowed to have a real crash with her training wheels. She lacks the confidence and ensuing bike stability to pedal hard or lock the brakes.

I can’t, try as I may, bring myself to leave her alone with neighborhood children, who are as old as Kalista and unwatched as, well, any children of a safe neighborhood.

Should I be surprised when she comes home from school with tales of conflict she’s not learned to overcome? I’ve sent her out from under my wing virtually unarmed – what should I expect? It’s no wonder another little girl telling Kalista she’s not good enough to be her friend rocks her fragile world.

If it’s not too late, I hope to change this about my parenting. I need to. If I treat her like a porcelain vase, she will act like one. She is a malleable, powerful, living being. Rolling with physical pain – the minor stuff boys her age put up with – may be good practice for social scratches.

Hopefully I can exchange a fascination with how her body looks with an appreciation for what it can do.

Hopefully she can learn to play with the boys instead of declaring them “too rough,” as she eventually told me of the three brothers on Sunday, and delegating herself to obscurity.

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2 Responses to Abandoning fragility

  1. It is sad to see children (regardless of gender) who seem afraid to take a risk – being the passive observer can even lead to what psychologists call, fear of failure; the child won’t take a risk unless they are absolutely certain they will succeed. Somehow, we seem to reward our children (in subtle or not so subtle ways) for getting things right, being well behaved, and following the rules/instructions. Their creativeity, capacity for joy and their enthusiasm and spirit are damaged – like birds in a cage, who don’t even know the joys of flight. Teaching kids to be comfortable with ambiguity and risk is really essential to healthy growth, in my opinion.

    Nice post.

    Sippin’ Coffee on Sunny South Main St

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