This morning, I stopped by a local coffee shop on my way to work. As I walked up to the door, a mom with two toddlers—fraternal twins, a boy and a girl—went in ahead of me. The kids were—as kids are prone to be—very, very slow.

The little girl held her mom’s hand and wobbled up the two steps leading inside, while the boy puzzled over the obstacle. The mom encouraged him that he could do it, and he crawled on up, less dignified than his sister but no less adorable.

I stood behind them, waiting. Often, if someone is taking a long time to do something—walk through a door, climb a flight of stairs, get through airport security—I get impatient and resentful. (I’m not a good person when I’m in a hurry.) But I couldn’t help but smile at the blonde-headed twins tumbling into the coffee shop.

And not just at them, but at their mom. These kids were small enough that she could have swooped them up over the steps in a fraction of the time it took them to climb them.  Instead, she encouraged them, letting them do it themselves while offering a steadying hand if they needed it.

This is Part 2 of a blog series I’ve started that I’m calling “Do it with me, not for me.” The idea came from my experiences in the first few days of owning a terrified, clumsy three-legged dog—you can read that blog here (Update: Hooch will now go up and down the steps by himself!).

I’ve thought about this principle of doing with instead of doing for a lot, especially when it comes to kids. You see, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m a helicopter parent with my dogs. I can only imagine how much worse it will be with human children.

I could easily imagine myself in the shoes of those twins’ mother, wanting them to hurry up so the nice lady behind them could get her coffee. I probably would have slung one on each hip and scooted them inside as quickly as I could. And it might have made sense in that moment. But if I intervened like that every time they were too slow, or not getting something right, or not quite understanding, they would never learn.

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My dad taught me how to ride a bike. It went like this: we fitted my pink Schwinn with training wheels; I unsteadily climbed onto the seat; I pedaled while he pushed and we gained momentum together—

then he let go.

(And then, I got going too fast, barreled down the hill in our backyard, and crashed at the edge of the woods. Oops.)

I was terrible at riding my bike for a while there. I got plenty of scrapes and bruises losing my balance and miscalculating turns. But my dad knew that he couldn’t ride the bike for me. He had to let me be slow, be wobbly, and even get hurt, in order to learn.

What he did do was ride with me. We’d bike through our neighborhood and up to Main Street in our little college town. He did this with all 3 of us, my siblings and me—we started out strapped into the seat bolted on top of his rear wheel (how was that safe?!) and would graduate from there to a tricycle, to a bike with training wheels, and finally to a true bicycle. He rode with us all the way.

If I have children one day, I hope I will have the patience and the restraint to let them navigate steps and learn to ride a bike without controlling their every movement. Until then, I pray for eyes to recognize that patience and restraint in the world around me, and to see it as a small miracle instead of an inconvenience.

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