I love when you overhear fellow parents telling their kids how to play. At the park yesterday, there was a Dad telling his daughter “not to swing like that” and “you don’t play under the bridge, you run across it” Really? Are you serious?
It’s funny how as adults we tend to see things more as black and white – you swing on your butt, going forward; you climb the ladder with your feet not your knees; that stick looks nothing like an ice cream cone; and plastic bins are for storing stuff in not for pushing around your animals, golf balls and stale bread. (Don’t ask) Kid’s imaginations are so vast and magical – they see incredible worlds that our brains have been programmed not to notice anymore.
I have been pretty low-key about reining in the messes at our house and outside- some may say too much so. I let my kids draw all over their white kid chairs and kid table with marker that I later found out does not come off - oh well. Maya has completely colored the top of her toy chest with a variety of crayon, marker and paint - no biggy. Oh, you want to wade in the water at the beach in October with all your clothes on? Ok, that's why I brought an extra outfit in my bag. You want to eat blueberries and spaghetti sauce while wearing a white-striped sweater? Go for it. What's the worse that can happen? You have a colorful toy chest (as long as they know not to draw on furniture that is not theirs), you have a wet but happy kid and you may have to toss that sweater. That's why I don't spend a lot of money on the kid's stuff - I don't want to have to worry about them getting dirty and stained and trashed.
Randy Pausch wrote a great book called The Last Lecture. One story in particular (the entire book is amazing, you should read it!) jumped out at me. One of his pieces of advice to parents was to let children draw on their walls, to let them express their creativity. His parents gave him carte blanche to paint on his bedroom walls, and that act of freedom left an indelible mark on him…and his walls. “Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids' dreams too. Once in a while, that might even mean letting them stay up past their bedtimes.” It's an amazing piece of advice really. I mean, so the walls are covered in drawings and words - you can ALWAYS repaint it if you can't stand it or if the kid changes their mind. The canvas can be blank once again. By letting your kids have that freedom to express themselves, you are showing them that you have all the confidence in the world of their abilities.
"Allowing your baby to freely self-express (self-feed, cry, smile) shows her that you have confidence in her abilities, which increases her self-confidence, independence and self-esteem. Your tolerance, patience and acceptance teaches her that the world is not a restrictive, formidable place and that she is free to be creative."
(Another great quote that I wrote down from a book that I have now since forgotten the title to - I believe, strangely enough that it was a baby cookbook, maybe SuperBabyfood.)
People say having kids makes you older – you sleep less, you are constantly negotiating and haggling – but I think they create an opportunity for you to feel and act young again. Give me another instance where crawling on all fours, making forts with quilts and pillows and painting with your hands is deemed acceptable as a thirty-something year old? With a toddler to entertain, you have to expand your mind a little – look beyond that toy chest and come up with some old fashioned imaginative play. THAT will keep them entertained for hours. The toys are good too – they act as props for playing house or airplane or Pooh, but the mind is where the real magic lives.
So please, let your kid get a little messy, swing on their bellies, wear their shirt backwards or splash in the puddles. It’s kind of like when Rabbit wants to take Tigger’s bounce away only to realize that he likes the old Tigger best, the bouncy Tigger. And what does Tigger do when Rabbit lets him bounce again? He invites Rabbit to bounce too! While Rabbit is skeptical at first, once he let’s go and gets into it, you truly have never seen a happier bunny in your life.