Free-Range Victorian Robot

As I write this, Brexit (and Megxit) are official, the US Senate is about to acquit a president charged with impeachment, and a strange new virus named after a beer is starting to swirl around the globe. My four year is oblivious to all of this, as my husband and I have a no-news policy for right now. But as I keep up with these times, I wonder how do we prepare her for the world she will one day too soon know about?

Over the past few years I have been directed to books on parenting than I care to count. I remember the first time I heard there were books to learn about something called attachment style parenting. My mouth dropped. Books? I don’t do attachment parenting; I am attachment parenting. If anything, I probably need books to help me be a little less attached:)

But over time, and conversations with her father, my then-therapist, and her pediatrician, different styles and expectations began to contradict, then clash, and finally, frustrate. Until one day I spoke back facetiously, “What would you like her to be, a Free-Range Victorian Robot???”

Let me break this down.

Free-Range. I have this image of her running through a field in the middle of Pennsylvania in a calico dress attending a one-room school house with no adults in sight. Something out of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Something in my dreams. We live in the suburbs of Connecticut, where believe it or not, strange things happen. Do I want her to be independent? Yes. Creative? You bet. Safe in the parameters in the backyard? That too. Somewhere the line of independent and creative got mixed up with free for all. She will need a sense of the free-range in her life; she will also need to know what a boundary is and how to negotiate one when she encounters it in the real world.

Victorian. One day it occurred to me that my husband, who had a green mohawk when we met in college, was actually a Victorian gentleman in disguise. When she was two, he decided that saying please and thank you were the greatest goals he could master as a parent. Yes, manners matter. But honey, relax. We got a few years. His biggest fear? Halloween. Would she say please and thank you at every door? I’m happy to say that the yearly ritual went off as well as can be expected and I did a rebellious dance of joy when she did not say it perfectly Every time, just some of the time. I also had no idea that he harbored a deep-seated fear of….glitter. The day it entered the house, he looked panicked stricken. “You are letting her have THAT?” Um, yes, With glue. And safety scissors. Apparently he is not the only parent with this abhorrence as demonstrated in the ubiquitous toddler show, Peppa Pig. In one episode, the playground teacher, Madame Gazelle, reveals that the one vial of glitter in the school house is safely locked behind a multi-layered vault, never to be touched. It’s glitter. That’s what brooms and vacuums are for. I understand the need for manners and cleanliness. What I don’t understand is depriving a child of a couple of years of imperfection, spills and fun.

Robot. From the beginning I have revolted against one word that consistently shows up everywhere in ParentLand – Routine. It is quite possibly because I hate routines myself, though I have also come to learn the value of having certain ones. But one blog I read actually said that a routine allows something like bedtime to function on, and I quote, “autopilot”. Haha, who are you and would you like to come to my house? And I suspect, many other houses as well? Autopilot??? I cannot think of a more soul-crushing word for a 3 or 4 year old. I understand the need to “get out the door” or to get to sleep before the alarm, but c’mon. Aren’t toddlers supposed to put the wrong shoes on their feet, put the sweater on inside out, or flat out refuse clothes? And teeth. I am happy to say that at 4 she now brushes and flosses. I am in shock that this happens. When she was 2-3, that was not quite the case. Someone well meaning suggested I give her a timeout in the morning – no playing until teeth were brushed. Um, do you not know me? So no, while she and I have established (some) routines that do help things along, there is little to no sense of going on autopilot here in this house. I am not Captain Von Trapp prior to meeting Maria.

So thank you to all the books and styles and methods, and advice. She is not, I am happy to say, a free-range Victorian robot. She knows how to critique a cartoon that is silly and she knows how to invent her own stories. She knows how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome, but we often move our food plate to another corner or chair in the house. She is happily covered in paint, glue, glitter more times a week than I care to count. And she knows how to keep it fun and real – from tiaras and wands to trucks and dinosaurs, she is already learning how to say yes, how to say no, how to ask if someone is feeling ok or is feeling better, and to solve problems on her own and to learn to ask for help. I believe these qualities will help her to better navigate the world she is going to inherit more so than any chart, schedule, or rigid rule ever will. Besides, don’t all dinosaurs love wearing tiaras while covered in glitter an hour past their bedtime?

Published by Marissa Smith

Marissa Smith is a mother of one full time four year old daughter, an in hiatus English teacher, yoga practitioner, writer and faith journeyer. She lives on coffee, hope, and love, and hopes one day that the words on the page will accurately reflect all the ideas in her head.

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