Independence and Broken Bones
I've been happily and greedily reading international parenting books for some time now. It started with Bringing Up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything when I was pregnant. It was love and inspiration and culture and travel dreams all wrapped up together; I was hooked.
More than a year later, I was still trying to figure out daily life with my 10 month old. The two nap schedule, with short pockets of time to get out of the house before she inconveniently fell asleep away from her crib, was wearing on me. I was tired of winter, tired of breastfeeding, tired of being tired. I needed a reset so I turned to books.
It was more international parenting books that pulled me back into the thrill of reading. Luckily they also gave me a fresh take on this parenting gig and made it feel manageable. The Danish Way, The Happiest Kids in the World, and Simplicity Parenting topped my list last winter. Simplicity Parenting isn't actually an international parenting book, but it asks the reader to step outside twenty-first century American parenting norms, which makes me group it with these others.
Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to move to northern Europe. Something about the parenting culture in the Netherlands and Denmark clicked for me, and Simplicity Parenting indirectly offered ideas for applying some of those principles in American family life. Now that my daughter is two, I'm going to re-read those three books, as the applications will look quite different now than they did over a year ago.
As late winter dragged on this year, I read There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather and The Year of Living Danishly. The first is about parenting in Sweden and the second is about the culture in Denmark, though not exclusively about parenting. Again, I was inspired and encouraged and felt that something just clicked.
Independence, curiosity, exploration, free play, and embracing the outdoors are common themes across all five books. In some ways I think I already do a decent job of fostering these things, especially at home where there is enough familiarity in the environment. There is so much more I can do when it comes to environments with other parents and their children, as well as personally with patience, confidence, frustration, and communication.
My timing for reading There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather turned out to be exceptional - I finished it just as our mid-April foot of snow melted. I am not currently prepared, mentally or physically, to embrace daily hours of snowy outdoor play with my toddler, so spring was a perfect time to put Sweden's outdoor parenting culture into practice in our family.
Decked out in her new birthday rain boots and my classic duck boots, we spent much of April and May tramping through our soggy yard in search of mud puddles and icy remnants that "need" stomping. We walked the block, no stroller involved, and followed birds as they presumably scouted out worms in the soft ground. We prioritized playgrounds and imagined a backyard sandbox that we could flood on hot days for messy goodness. There's nothing revolutionary in these activities, but I'm thankful for the encouragement to get outside, to say yes, and to think creatively.
As luck would have it, my toddler was practicing her new climbing skills on her kitchen chair in late April and as I walked toward her she missed the seat and toppled to the floor. After bouts of hysterical crying, calm, and a questionable nap with more crying, we landed in the the ER with x-rays, a broken radius in her wrist, and a splint with directions to contact orthopedic for likely casting.
So much for fostering independence and risk-taking. Oops. I know these things happen, and I know I didn't actively put her in danger. She's two. She's curious and loves to climb. Kids, people, break bones. I don't want her to get hurt, but I do believe we all learn from these experiences. She learns something about heights and risk and caution; I learn the distinction between actual injury and toddler meltdowns.
I thought she was ok when I finally got her in her crib to nap; I thought she was shaken up from the fall and really tired. When she woke up crying again I thought she was frustrated with too short of a nap. That's how it goes on plenty of other days. Some parents learn to distinguish their baby's cries: hungry, tired, dirty diaper, needing mama, etc. I never figured that out in her baby days, but slowly I'm learning her distinctions in toddlerhood. Patience, deep breaths, grace. With my little one crocodile tears and shuddering breaths are true upset, not a tantrum, and there's no reason for me to get worked up too.
There were certain limitations that came with a cast that couldn't get wet and a wrist that couldn't handle much pressure. There were also huge opportunities for creativity, hers and mine, as we navigated one-handedness, a few extra doctor's appointments, and continued to bring northern Europe's parenting culture and concepts to our neighborhood.
Now summer's winding down, the cast is long gone, and she's still as committed to climbing as ever.