Friday, February 07, 2014

Kids can create magic if you step back and let go

From today's Briefing:

According to recent online quizzes, I am similar to Hermione from Harry Potter, I should have gone to Stanford University, I should live in Los Angeles, and my ideal career choice is a writer.
Also: I am a helicopter parent.
No way. That silly little online quiz with answer choices that don’t even apply to me has got to be wrong. Right?
Now, I am in no way a 1970s-style mom. We wear seatbelts and bike helmets, for goodness’ sake. But I let the kids play outside unattended. (Though they are never out past dark, and I always know where they are, and there are limits and boundaries in place.)
Cooper completed a huge science fair project with two friends with very little input from me. (Though I did ask more than once to edit their work and was slightly disappointed when no one took me up on the offer.)
Over time, I have become skilled in the art of dropping children off at birthday parties and meetings. (Though I will never drop off a Damm child at a skating party. We aren’t skilled in the art of skating.)
I like to think of myself not as a helicopter parent but as a keenly interested parent ready to swoop in only when necessary.
Honestly, I don’t have time to be too helicopter-y.
Last Saturday, we had a long list of chores with absolutely not enough available hours, forcing me to divide and conquer.
The front yard was in serious need of pruning, with perennials that had lost their beauty in the first freeze of the season. Too many fallen leaves littered the backyard. Light bulbs needed replacing. Papers needed filing.
We started as a team in the front yard, with me hacking at dormant plants and Cooper and Katie scooping up and bagging debris.
But oh, they were slow at the scooping and bagging. My instinct was to join in — swoop in, if you will — to get us moving to the next project. I fought the urge to swoop, though, and left them in the front yard so I could move on to the backyard.
When I checked again, they were still working. I tackled bills.
Finally, they were done. There was barely a twig to be found.
By Monday night, we were out of project mode and into school-week survival mode. I was preparing dinner. Cooper was studying Spanish. Katie had finished her homework and was antsy for activity.
“You could plan your Valentine box,” I suggested.
A few minutes later, she showed me a sketch of her plans. “I don’t want it to be the plain old shoe box with paper on it.”
Clearly not. Because this drawing was a tree with branches and a giant owl on the side.
“Can I start making it now?”
“After dinner,” I told her.
While I was rinsing dishes, folding laundry and answering emails, Katie worked. She gathered a shoebox, a brown grocery bag, pieces of felt, glue and tissue paper. She drew and cut and glued with no supervision, no input, no advice.
Before bedtime, she had created a box very similar to her sketch. The only help I offered — well, insisted upon — was handling the utility knife to slice a big round oval in the trunk of the tree.
Her Valentine box is nothing like I would have suggested or created. It is so much better. It is so very Katie.
It is an excellent reminder of the power of stepping back, of letting go, of refusing to swoop in — unless knives are involved.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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