A few months ago, I was at my neighbor’s house who has a son around Oliver’s age. She also has a pool. The first time I hung out there, she assured me that the doors were always locked. So I would go over with Oliver and keep an ear out for him as they would play and explore throughout the house.
One day, I went over with Oliver and suddenly I realized it had been a while since I heard him. And then there was my friend’s son sitting on the floor in the living room, but no Oliver. I went from zero to 1000. I saw that the door leading to the pool area was open. Drowning is the number one cause of death in children under 7 (I hear my dad’s voice in my head) and I am running, screaming hysterical, because I know that Oliver loves the water and I know that he has no reasoning ability and I was expecting to see him at the bottom of the pool. I still feel panicked writing about this. I ran out and there he was, thank God, standing right at the edge of the pool. He looked at me and smiled, pointed to the water and said, “pool!”
What I decided to do from the experience was to be a scared, overly-anxious-hovering mess around the pool and water in general. When we would go to the neighbors (which is practically every day, btw), I would lecture and warn (ad nauseum) about never going in the water without Mommy or Daddy; about always needing to have his floaty on; and if he got too close to the water I would warn him that we would leave if he did it again. Now this was with us all standing there and my eyes glued to him. The fear that that experience instilled in me made me become the parent that I have the most grievances with. I was the worst. Irrational and scared and hovering and annoying. Just terrible.
Another story: I am a huge fan of Dayna Martin: a rebel hippy, very brilliant advocate of unschooling and I was listening to this interview with her. She shared an anecdote. When her son was around 4 he became fascinated with fire. Her instinct was to say no and build a wall around it. Much like mine was around the water. But she knew better. She fought her instinctual response, and would sit with him and light matches and explain it to him. She was hands and eyes on, and encouraged his safe exploration of this curiosity. She said that no is for lazy parents and it actually creates more dangerous situations with your children. Your child will explore their natural curiosities but they without your guidance and protection. Eventually, her son’s interest lead him to learn fire throwing and now is a blacksmith. What would have happened if she didn’t encourage his inclinations?
So I completely remodeled my approach. My son is a water baby. He loves the water. I can’t let my own baggage interfere. Thankfully my husband is a total water baby himself and has always created a positive relationship with the water and Oliver, hopefully mitigating some of the well-meaning neurotic tendencies he witnessed in me over the past few months. But I really get that the way to keep your children safe is by leaning into what they are curious about, not saying no.
The other day Oliver got a hold of a pair of large scissors at his grandparents’ house. There was lots of activity and children running around and my knee jerk reaction was to grab the scissors out of his hand and say “Nope, these are not for you.” Instead I said, actually let’s explore this. I sat down with him and we looked at the scissors, noting the shininess, the size, the way the light reflected. We cut paper together and made shapes. We were exploring for almost a full half hour (this is a lot with a 2 year old) It was awesome.