It had been a few minutes, three maybe. I looked at him, as encouragingly as I could, and spoke.
“OK, that’s good. It’s easy, just one, two, three and push.”
I’d tried to hide any stress (rapidly growing within me) from my voice.
My son looked back at me, seemingly unconvinced.
“We can have a cuddle when you come down the slide.”
“Just go down!” chimed in a boy, about twice the age of my son - part of the growing queue for the slide forming behind my little one.
“He’ll go when he’s ready,” I said, once again trying to appear calm - reminding myself that empathy isn’t a skill kids are born with. “Just one, two, three and push!”
It was going to be a long day.
Two years as a parent have taught me:
- Kids do not have an accurate view of their own ability. Their enthusiasm always focuses on something that’s just beyond their reach.
- As a parent, there is nothing quite like the thrill of watching your child achieve something today that they couldn’t do yesterday.
As such, I find myself in a constant quandary - how much room should I allow for growth, without allowing my son to bite off more than he can chew? Yes, I know parents have wrestled with this question for millennia - but it doesn’t make it any easier.
So, back to the slide.
For some time now, on our regular trips to the soft play, my son had stood at the bottom of the slide (causing an obstruction) watching the older tots scoot down it. It was, we agreed, ‘too big’ for him - a ‘big boys’ slide’. Yet, since his second birthday, his interest in the apparatus had markedly increased. The area where the slides reside is allocated to tots of ‘2 to 4’ and my little one now fitted within this boundary. So, when he decided to climb up the nest of blocks that took him to the top of the slide, I resolved to let him continue.
The thing is, this slide can only be accessed through a hole in the floor of the first level of the soft play centre. A hole that (as a large person) I struggle to squeeze through. Essentially, once through this opening, he was on his own, I could only cheer-lead from the bottom of the slide. As it was a quiet day in the facility, and we were the only people in this area, I felt we had the time and space to negotiate this clear rite of passage.
I was wrong.
As soon as I arrived at the bottom of the slide, where I watched my son seat himself at the top, an alarmingly large group of large (compared to my son) children vacated the more advanced section of the centre opting for the sedate pleasures of the tots area. Just our luck.
Evidently troubled by the sudden and vocal queue of ‘big boys and girls’ that had formed behind him, my son froze - deciding the best way to cope was total inaction. Leaving me with limited options:
- Make a fuss, and climb up to (through the tiny hole) retrieve him. This would necessitate getting the entire queue to move to allow me to enter.
- Make a fuss, and climb up the slide - hoping it would bear my weight - to retrieve him. This would likely not go down well with the centre staff.
- Stand my ground and wait until my little one was ready to slide. This might take some time.
I opted for the last option - endeavouring to maintain my best approximation of an unconcerned grin as I gently coaxed my son.
It will be no surprise to you that he did (eventually) come down. It took a LONG TIME, but he did it. His rapid descent was met with both happiness and relief from me - along with disgruntled mutterings from a selection of kids who were struggling to learn a lesson in patience.
In retrospect, I’ve got the feeling that I, rather than my son, gained most from the experience. It seems to me that growth can only be facilitated when a parent is willing to allow a child the flexibility to stretch themselves, enter a new environment, leave their comfort zone - while offering the security that comes with being a perennial safety net.
Overcoming the desire to solve every issue my son experiences for him, rather than letting him discover an answer for himself, will be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting in the years ahead. Of that I’m sure.
It’s bloody difficult to stand at the bottom of the slide - but what a thrill it is to watch the little one’s conquer the descent.
“Again, again!” shouted my son, on reaching the ground.
“Yes,” I replied, “but not today. Daddy needs a sit down.”