Watching You Be You

To my darling daughter,


This week I have been on holidays from work. One of the advantages of my current job is that it provides regular breaks, in which I get to spend time with you.


This morning I placed you on your mat, on the floor next to the kitchen, while I emptied the dishwasher and brewed a coffee. This has been our routine all of this week, as it gives your mum a much-needed opportunity to sleep in – something she can never do while I’m at work.


Today, as usual, I watched as you happily played on your mat. You explored the toys around you and you interacted with them all, one at a time, moving from soft animals to hard plastic blocks, to small electronic toys with buttons that make noise. While playing with all of these toys, you rolled around your mat or used your unique back-shuffling method to reach what you wanted to reach.


A few times you rolled off the mat, onto the hard, cold tiled floor. You seemed happy enough in this position and you were not restricted from rolling back onto the soft, comfortable mat. Even though I could see this, I picked you up and placed you back on the play mat.


“She can’t possibly be comfortable,” I reasoned with myself. “It’s cold on the tiles and she’s just getting over being sick” came my next thought. Now I was on a roll, with reason after reason for my decision flooding in: “she’s rolled away from all of her toys”, “she might not be capable of feeling cold yet”, “she will probably bang her head on the wall if she rolls any further”, “I haven’t vacuumed that floor in two weeks”…


Feeling confident that I had made the right choice, I returned to emptying the dishwasher while you once again played happily with your toys on the floor. Soft gurgles, giggles and talking noises let me know that you were content with playing where you were.


A few minutes later, the sounds of exertion made me turn around from putting some glasses in the cupboard. I watched as you once again rolled/shuffled onto the tiles. You had a big smile on your face (in between some expressions of determination as you traversed the play mat littered with toys) and you appeared to be moving with purpose – a goal in mind.


This time, I supressed my first instinct – to drop everything and rush in and save you from all the dangers of the tiled floor (a good thing, as I was holding a glass at the time). Instead, I watched. And I’m glad I did. From the sidelines I was able to share in the adventure as you worked your way towards your goal (it turned out you wanted to lick the leg of the buffet!). I held back once again as you struggled your way over a particularly pointy triangular block – a part of the journey that I was sure would end it tears. I watched as you moved some larger obstacles out of your way, and continued to watch in wonderment of your ability to roll right over the top of a soft-toy pig that was half your size.


As you approached the edge of the buffet I felt myself involuntarily rise to move to protect your head, but again I stopped myself from intervening. Expertly, you navigated the tight spot and, with a final little twist/push, you landed exactly as you intended. The look on your face was pure joy as you gently stroked the leg and side of the buffet with your hand. The cool, smooth wood, brass hinges and sharp edges were all obviously satisfying to touch. For good measure, you opened your mouth wide, stuck out your tongue and gave the leg of the buffet a big lick. A gurgle of appreciation indicated that it was just as good as you were hoping it would be.


Satisfied that you had achieved your goal, and never one to stay still for long, you set your sights on the next object of desire – the vertical blinds. As you launched yourself into them and became immediately entangled in their cords, I jumped to my feet, untangled you, placed you back in the centre of your play mat and made a mental note to remove the hazardous cords.


This adventure of yours seemed to me an appropriate metaphor for your life ahead. I hope to be the kind of parent who supports you in your goals, who is able to identify when the right time is to sit back and let you take the risks that will lead to great rewards. I know that I will not always get it right and I expect that at times you will become frustrated by being carried back to the centre of the play mat. I expect that you will feel ready to take on life’s challenges well before I’m ready to accept that you are ready. But I think that you will have the determination to convince me that you are ready.


Remember as you grow and seek your independence, that I was the person who had to stop himself from picking you up off the tiles when you rolled. But, remember also that I will always be there to help when you got yourself all tangled up.