Sunday, January 30, 2011

Break those Rules

I grew up with a lot of rules. They were so seamlessly put into place, that I didn't even notice that they were there. I lived by them and only rarely ventured outside of their perimeters. And this tendency lives in me right into adulthood.

I've had an inkling of the way I operate for a while, but it is only now, that I have a four-year-old, that I truly realize how hampered so many of my actions are as an adult, because of all those rules that were placed on me when I was a little girl.

Because so much of my life has been ruled by fear, insecurity and limitations, I try to give our son as much freedom to discover and create as is possible, safe and reasonable.

I try to stifle the gasps when he dumps 20 hazelnuts in his grape juice (knowing full well that he will eat only a few of them and that the rest will be wasted) and try to remind myself that he is learning about mass, weight and flotation.

I gaze in awe when he stuffs a heap of raisins into a tea infuser shaped like a little house.

I marvel when he takes his marbles and lets them roll down the spiral road of his parking structure, all over the floor.

I succeed often at giving him the space to discover.

And then there are days where those rules from the past just clash with the way I would like to parent our child. Today, was one of those days.

When I saw the Little Man bustling intently over to the shelves in the kitchen, I wondered what project he had come up with for himself. He reached out for the aluminum foil and my first thought was, aha, it's road-building time.

This was followed by a slew of self-dialogue along the lines of:

If he puts the foil on the floor, it will get dirty and then I can't reuse it.
Yes, but, he's already used this roll before, see how it's all crinkled.
Well, maybe I should tell him to put it on the rug, instead of on the tile floor.
Like the rug is cleaner than the tile?
Well, that's true.

And so after some more back and forth, all in the span of a few seconds, the two voices came to the same conclusion.

Give him the freedom to experiment. It's just one (recyclable) roll of aluminum foil.

I looked at my husband, sensing that he was going to say something about putting the aluminum foil back on the shelf, and gently shook my head.

He understood and instead of making him put it back on the shelf, he joined our son in building a fancy aluminum foil road that ran across the rug and then up over a chair, creating a ramp that was then used for much joyful play, which involved rolling cars down it, and later the rim of a cake pan.

Who knew cake pans could roll so beautifully!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Broccoli à la Little Man

Just last week, I made an unforgivable faux pas. As I prepared dinner, our four-year-old son asked me to cut off the bottom of a raw broccoli so he could prop it up on the table and pretend it was a tree. He played with it for a while and then walked away to play with something else in the living room. Thinking he was finished with it, I did what came naturally, that is, I chopped it up and threw it in the steamer.

The minute I threw it all in the steamer, the Little Man came back to the kitchen table and asked me where his tree was. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I had cut it up.

He let out the most pitiful "NOoooo!" and walked away utterly crushed.

Thankfully, he ate the broccoli once it was ready, but I vowed that the next time I would do it differently.

So come yesterday evening, I was once again preparing broccoli. And once again, the Little Man played "tree" with it. This time he even disappeared for a moment, only to return a moment later with a small Lego figure of a little man. He put it under the tree, and after a while he put it on top of the tree. And when he was done playing, he looked at me sternly, "Mom, don't cut it up!"

And this time I was ready.

"Do you want me to try cooking it whole this time, Honey?"

His eyes grew big in wonder at the possibility.

Why not? Who says that we have to chop up the broccoli and cook it in the same way we've always done. Who says that we have to eat it in the same way we've always eaten it?

I had no idea if it would be cooked enough, or if it would fall apart when we took it out of the steamer, but wonder of all wonders, not only did it stay in tact, but it also stood up like a tree. Albeit a cooked tree, but a tree nevertheless.

And the Little Man leaned over and bit right into it while it stood up in its full, glorious, cooked broccoliness.