Our son is nothing if not a bouncer. Both in the sense that he is built like a tank and on one of his off days (today) he could stop anyone getting in or out of a nightclub, but also, in his exuberant joy at the simple act of bouncing.
So, I knew we would be up for some fun, when today we went to play at a bounce house (bouncy castle for the Brits), or rather, a bland space with lots of inflatables that are just pure joy to a child.
After being initially cautious, Wee Man jumped in with his usual enthusiasm. The greatest of all of these inflatables was a huge slide – at least 12 feet high. I could see that the veteran mothers knew this was the place to be, as most were sitting on the floor in front of this big beast, as they chatted, worked on their phones and read e-books.
After a flurry of excitement, Wee Man made his first attempt at climbing the steep inflatable steps of the slide. I was hoping he might have had a quick go, and seeing that it was too steep, he would go back to the smaller obstacles. Although there were one or two smaller kids, the majority were much bigger, faster and more impatient than my boy, and I knew that once he got away from the edge, I wouldn’t be able to reach in to help him, being a waddling whale of an expectant mum. And so a lesson in parenting began.
I encouraged him to go back to the other, smaller things, which of course he refused. Lesson one – why listen to your mummy when there are mountains to climb?
With eyes fixed, I watched him bounce along to the stairs, aware of the many other children also starting to gather in the small space at the foot of the stairs. Lesson two – sometimes all you can do is watch, then let them do it.
He starts to climb. VERY SLOWLY. The row of impatient, bigger kids is getting bigger. The mothers of the other kids don’t need to watch as their kids are older and don’t need so much supervision, so this means its just me, watching anxiously as the assault up the stairs begins for my boy. Lesson three – my son will have mountains to climb that as much as I want to, I can’t do for him.
It’s seeming to take ages – although I’m sure it’s seconds – but my boy has created a long tailback and is still only half way up. One boy is getting inpatient and clambers up over him. I want to punch him. But my Wee Man is hanging on and keeps going. Lesson four – other people are going to hurt my boy. I will want to punch them but I can’t.
I know that he only has a few more steps now, but he’s never made it this high before, and may turn back and get fearful. I am willing him on with an intense stare. If he could hear me over the ridiculous rave music, he would know I was saying come on, come on you can do it. Lesson five – if a mother’s encouragement was enough, a child could do anything.
The queue to climb is now down to the bottom the stairs and he has one step to go. My heart is beating, he can do it, he can do it. And, he does! As soon as he gets to the top, the big kids push past and whoosh down the slide, but I’m so proud of my boy that I could burst. Lesson six – My child is capable of many things without me. And more often than not, he will never know what I was going through as he does them. Even the most simple thing like climbing the stairs of an inflatable slide.
For a second, I worry that it is too high, and he might be frightened (he’s done that before), but no. In a second he is down with a huge grin on his face. He has achieved greatness today, in his own small way. I’m so proud of his perseverance and courage.
After that he goes up many times, and is more confident every time, although there is always a long line of kids behind him. I’m grateful that in many of these cases, an older girl has come up behind him and although she wanted to get past, didn’t push and let him do it in his own time. Lesson seven – I will have to rely on the kindness of others when I can’t be of help to him.
Like countless others before me, I knew from the moment he was born, that my Wee Man would bring some of the greatest challenges of my life. The conflicting desire to protect at all costs but to allow him to grow and discover is a painful but rewarding one, that I will of course have many more experiences to encounter. Today he did me proud. Today he made it. Next time, he might not be so successful. But my willing him to succeed will never go away.
Oh, and he also managed to get the first black eye of his life today. Bashing into a boy coming down the slide on maybe the twentieth attempt. But I guess you can’t win them all.