By Colleen Lowe Smith
It’s fine in theory to think about the massive responsibility it is to be a parent; how much we shape our children by our own actions, behaviors, and responses. It’s just that there are so many flippant moments that go by that I think we probably miss by the hundreds.
Yesterday at pick up time from our toddler class, Cassidy was playing with her three year old friend, Jane. I was talking with a couple moms and was half listening to my daughter’s interaction. Jane had a fistful of dirt and Cassidy wanted it. “No!,” I heard Jane tell her. “Cassidy,” I said, “You can get your own dirt.” Of course at two and a half my daughter thinks that her Jane’s dirt is somehow better, and after a minute I heard Jane say, “Get your own dirt!” I chose not to intervene, trusting in the moment and even proud of Jane for putting up a boundary. Jane’s mother, however, heard “Get your own dirt!” without the context of the whole story. She went around to her daughter and said “Are you playing nice? Play nice!” It occurred to me later when I thought about it how often we as parents push for kindness when really, our children might just be trying to take care of themselves.
As a Montessori teacher, we are trained to “follow the child.” The other catch phrase that stands out for me is “when in doubt, stay out.” A few months ago when we were new to the school, I as a Montessori toddler teacher, Cassidy in my class, we stayed on the playground past pick up time when the elementary aged children came out to play. My daughter was longing for attention from the older girls and it was all I could do not to round a couple up and say “Hey, could you go be nice to my daughter?” Instead, I hung back and watched. Cassidy got farther and farther away from me, a pink ball in her hand, which she ultimately raised up in the air and started yelling, “HEY, FRIENDS! HEY, FRIENDS!” Moments later there were three older girls surrounding her, bending on knees to talk to and hear her, and from across the playground I watched as they all started hopping through the grass like rabbits. Not even two and a half, and Cassidy was just fine on her own.
These moments have me thinking a lot about what awesome jobs we have as parents. We are constantly making choices, consciously or not, about how to respond to our children with or without regard to how these responses may or may not affect them. We are in a state of perpetual discernment. This morning I got Cassidy up in a half daze and put a blue and purple summer dress on her. I went to pull off the bright yellow and orange striped pajama bottoms she still had on, until she cried “No!!!!”
“You want to keep your pajama pants on?”
I knew how horrible the style, but who really cares? “Okay, that’s fine.”
On the playground this afternoon I stood next to another teacher and watched her from afar, and her blazing bright pants. I mentioned the fashion to the teacher I was with. She has a daughter of her own, and she sighed. “Parenting is weird,” she said. “Isn’t parenting weird?”
All I could do was laugh. I don't know if I'd put it exactly like that, but I agreed. “Yup,” I said. “Yup, it is.”
Colleen Lowe Smith lived as a wanderer and Montessori pre-school teacher in ten different states and New Zealand before meeting her husband and landing in rural Massachusetts. Together, they raise their two year old daughter, and pigs. She also has a 14 year old stepdaughter and 24 year old stepson. Obsessed with higher education, Colleen has an BA in Studio Art, a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Human Studies), a MFA in Writing, as well as AMI certifications in Montessori education, and Psychosynthesis, a holistic form of psychotherapy. She currently teaches at an awesome Montessori school where her daughter also attends.