Roots and Shoots and Fences

I’m thinking about boundaries lately.

We spent an amazing afternoon at the Naples Botanical Garden when we were on vacation last week. If you find yourself in SW Florida I definitely recommend it: very walkable (and stroller friendly), lots of shaded chairs and benches, beautiful plants (of course), and a thoughtfully-designed children’s garden.

Here’s why my girls loved the Children’s Garden: water feature to splash around in, playhouse with brooms, gated gardens with low fences and gates they could open themselves, watering cans you could fill at a hand pump, tree house with bouncy bridges and a balcony you could climb up to, small hidden garden with plants growing in funny containers like cowboy boots and toilets and purses.

Girls watering plants outside playhouse

Watering the plants outside the playhouse.

Here’s why I loved the Children’s Garden: excellent placement of benches and swings, looped paths so even when you wander away you pop right back out where you started, and clear sightlines.

mama and baby on bench

Enjoying the breeze.

Margeaux and I spent a long time swinging and enjoying the breeze while the girls filled watering cans, opened and closed gates, swept the playhouse, smelled herbs and flowers, made friends with another little girl, and talked nonstop about bugs and sunshine and vacation and whatever else 3 and 5 year old girls talk about.

It’s this amazing moment in my parenting life, when they are beginning to be independent in so many ways. Amazing, and lovely, and scary. Because I worry about what happens when they’re out of sight, out of reach. Will they fall in the water? Will they get stuck in the tree house? Will they encounter a scary stranger who offers them candy and lures them to a van? I know, rationally, that like every living thing they need space to grow in. The roots start to ball up in the pot and the leaves twist back on their stems as they struggle for the sunlight. I don’t want to be the dreaded helicopter parent, filling their watering can and carrying it for them and telling them where to pour. Part of the magic of this moment is watching them realize that they are capable of so many things.

Girl peeking out from treehouse

Look at me! Mom! Look at me!

But they are still so little, and the world is so big, and so it is such a feeling of pleasurable relief to walk into a space that feels as though its creators understood exactly what I’m always hoping for: a comfy seat to watch them grow and explore and reach and sometimes fall or spill or figure it out on their own or with a little help from a sister or a new friend. A clear view of the world as they move through it.

I’m longing for this clarity in the rest of my parenting life. What school do we choose for kindergarten, how many hours a week can I work without going insane or becoming a terrible mother, will they fall out of a bunk bed, will the baby choke on a Polly Pocket shoe, how do I know where this path goes? There’s no design to my actual life and sometimes that lack of design doesn’t feel wide open and wonderful it just feels terrifying: how the fuck do we get down from this tree house? Boundaries, expressed clearly and thoughtfully, offer a safe place to put down roots AND plenty of room to grow. I know how to build that garden. I am still trying to figure out how to build that life.

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One Response to Roots and Shoots and Fences

  1. This has been on my mind in a big way lately. When to help, when to push, when to wait? I really want my girls to believe in their own suffiency and problem-solving. And, I want them to persist even if it’s tricky or they aren’t sure (lord knows I’ve wasted enough of my life feeling fearful and not doing it anyway). Confronted with a challenge, I want them to figure it out, not feel helpless or scared. But, what’s appropriate? Should I make Holly climb the slide ladder on her own, even though it makes her nervous? Do we press Robin to sleep all night, every night in her bunk bed even though she’d happily stay in the big bed until college?

    We’re working on that bunk bed thing right now. Robin woke up about five times the first night, crying each time. First I was sympathetic; then I was impatient (and tired). “There’s no room for you down here. You have to stay up there.” *sniff sniff* oookkkkk. And she made it all night. She was so PROUD the next day, so excited that she was “brave Robin.” But I felt AWFUL denying her comfort! It hurt my heart! But I guess that was the right thing to do. Maybe we should do another post about the way our instincts sometimes lead us astray. :P

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