During high school and through college, I used to be the most laid-back, chill person around; not caring about whether things were clean or orderly, nor whether chores or activities were done a certain way. But at some point between then and now, my carefree spirit floated away and was replaced by a regulator needing order and things done systematically.
I didn’t realize this change had occurred until just a few months ago when I became a SAHM and was home with Laird all day, everyday. Being a curious, normal 2-year old boy, this meant that he needed and wanted to be involved in, well, everything. And I wanted him to have fun helping me bake, or clean, yet, I could feel myself getting irritated watching flour fly all over the floor, or seeing washable marker all over his hands, clothes and walls in our house. Thoughts of, “Ah! You’re creating a mess!” or “Really, do you have to do it that way? Let me help you do it my way,” were (and still are) common for me throughout the day.
In hindsight, I think I started becoming a control freak in dental school. I’m not sure how or why things changed, but they did. At that point in my life I was, for the most part, able to control most things. This all changed when I had a baby. My guess is this is part of the reason I suffered from postpartum depression. For once in my life, I had to deal with something that I could not control. Unlike my job and the patients I treated, I couldn’t escape my crying baby. I was home with him 24-7 and suddenly no longer had control of my baby, my time, my life. (Hah! Just interrupted by crying baby #2, and I thought I had another hour to myself. Go figure.)
My reality check was the day I bought Laird watercolors. I’ll rewind…you see, it also occurred to me when I became a SAHM that toddlers need to be entertained. I was accustomed to leaving for work in the morning and not seeing the little booger until after work. Someone entertained him during the day, his friends, the sitter, who knows. All I knew was that by the time I came home, he was tired. Sure, we did activities as a family on the weekends. And on my days off when Curt wasn’t home, I’d plan playdates or run errands. But, now that I was home 24-7 with him and Leina, I discovered that handing him a box of crayons and a coloring book wasn’t enough to keep his attention nor did I have the stamina to schedule playdates and run errands every day of the week. He needed activities, he needed to play….with me. No longer were the days of surfing the net, knitting or reading between patients at work. My free time was gone (which is why I am typing this at 11:30 pm). I scoured Pinterest and the internet to find playful activities for kids. Yes, I actually had to do that. I eventually headed to Michael’s with a list of things, one of these being watercolors.
I put everything he would need on the table: a tub of water, his watercolor pallet, some sheets of watercolor paper and a paper towel to blot excess water. Laird immediately fell in love with the watercolors. He couldn’t get enough of dipping his brush in the water, putting it into the black paint and smearing it on the paper. He would repeat: water, black paint, paper, water, black paint, paper. Then it became: water, black paint, yellow paint, paper. Then: black paint, red paint, black paint, orange paint, black paint, purple paint. Getting the picture? Soon every color (and there were 25 or so colors) was black and filled with water. I could feel myself getting more and more irritated. I encouraged him “Laird, maybe now is a good time to wash the black off,” or “How about blotting some of that water off your brush?” But he simply ignored me and kept on with his free style water coloring. I finally had to walk away.
As I sat there watching him, I reminded myself, “What’s the big deal? It’s his water colors, let him do whatever he wants. He needs to play and be creative.” I knew this. After all, what is the big deal? Who cares if he paints every single paint hue black or dumps the tub of water in his colors. He’s having fun. Oh, but this is so easy to say, and so very hard to do. To Just. Let. Go.
I think Curt had a similar realization when I set him and Laird up with a painting activity on our living room floor (notice how I conveniently let them play and stood back and watched.) We covered the floor with a painter’s tarp and were using washable paint. Laird, like most kids, has this obsession with wanting his hands to be covered in whatever medium we are using (paint, watercolors, markers, crayons, etc). So, naturally, he switched from using his paintbrush to using his hands. Curt quickly instructed him that he should use his brush. I cut in and suggested that it was washable and really, what was the harm in finger painting. I knew where he was coming from, once the paint was on his hands, anything he touched (and he touches a lot of things) would be covered in paint. Oh the mess! Well, we talked later about us needing to find that balance between encouraging Laird to explore and create, yet setting limits for our sanity’s sake.
My guess is that 80% of new parents experience this point in time when they have to make a choice: I can keep trying to control my child’s every move and constantly be irritated and frustrated or accept that this is life. Blowout diapers always happen right when I am headed out the door. My 2-year old cannot move as fast as I can, so stop trying to rush him. Tantrums are the norm, not the exception. If there is a mud puddle, I have better chances of winning the lottery than of Laird not running into it. We (parents or not) don’t have control of anything, really, no matter how much we think we do.
Life really is such a balance. I don’t want to overly restrict my kids, yet neither do I want to be stuck cleaning up messes all day. So where is that fine line between letting kids be kids and not being the pushover parent that lets their kids run the show? I have no idea. But, having L&L has made me realize that life is too short, their childhood too fleeting, to quibble about black watercolor paints or some flour on the floor.