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When I became a mom, obviously I worried about worrying too much. I didn’t want to be the kind of parent who wonders aloud whether my child should be in violin lessons, pushes flash cards on him, constantly warns him not to get dirt on his tiny three-piece suit.
I’m a rule follower by nature. So naturally, I want Hank to be the opposite of me – Flexible! Carefree! Laid back! So naturally he made constant requests that I wipe his face when he was a toddler, and now that he can read? He gets anxious when he thinks I’m parking in a way that defies municipal signage.
Still, I’d like him treasure his childhood enough that some part of him never wants to let it go. If he has to grow up (and he totally doesn’t forever and ever amen) at least I’d like him to hang on to a bit of wonder.
Over the years, I’ve found ways to put some cracks in the system so we can let the light in. Here are my personal rules for loosening things up, and introducing a little magic into my kiddo’s childhood:
1. Get sand in the car.
I get tired, you guys. Often the thought of cleaning up after mud pies, or glitter, or salt dough? It’s enough to make me suggest a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders instead of a day at the beach — followed by a round of vacuuming sand from the car.
So now if Hank wants to do something, I think about what will make a better memory later — another game of UNO, or a papier mache volcano. And then I lay down some newspaper.
2. Bend instead of snapping.
A while ago, we talked about your childhood memories, and Martha said she had always felt at home at her grandmother’s house precisely because her grandmother was so laissez faire:
“My grandmother had no rules: she threw away toothpaste caps and slept in her clothes. My mom was the type that kept the plastic on things. I loved being so free [at my grandmother’s house] because it always felt like I was getting away with something huge.”
Ulp. I think about this a lot, and it’s one of the reasons why we have snacks for dinner about once a week. Hank doesn’t love meals, but he adores snacks. He gets so excited when I announce that we’re having Snack Dinner. We even have a song. Snack Dinnah! Duh-da-DUH! … You may have to be there.
3. Wake your kiddo up.
Remember how much more special things were as a kid when it was dark outside? Tiny ones have so few memories of being included after dark. I woke Hank up to carve his pumpkin, decorate the Christmas tree, and sometimes I wake him just to have tea and toast with me if it’s an especially early morning. Sometimes we light candles. Kids don’t get much access to fire either, which is probably for the best.
4. Give kids some grown-up perks.
I’ve been trying to keep fresh flowers in the house, so I started picking them up when we go grocery shopping. It feels like an extravagance even for me, so when Hank asked if he could pick flowers for his room, I hesitated at first. Then I caught myself. Five bucks. I’d spend that on a crappy plastic toy that he might not look at again. Why not?
5. Think before you say no.
Speaking of which, “Why not?” has become my mantra when it comes to Hank. If there’s a good reason why not, I can provide it. If there’s not, and I forget to ask myself, I can always count on him to Remind me.
“Can I have a cookie?”
“I want you to be hungry for dinner.”
“Can I have a cookie?”
“You just brushed your teeth and cookies will stick to them and give you cavities.”
“Oh. Can I have a cookie when I wake up?”
“… Well. Why not?”