Six weeks ago, against my better judgement, I signed my daughter up for ice skating lessons. Since November, when I took her to watch an ice skating competition at the local ice arena, Ellis has been begging to learn how to dance like an ice princess . She’s two, almost three, she’s tall and she’s determined. But she’s so young. What finally broke my resolve was the winter. The brutal temperatures have kept us indoors and we are desperate for a chance to get outside and burn energy. I bought her some skates and Dave took her to the park, where there is a little ice rink. She got out there and tried. She fell. She tried again. “Should we sign her up?” I asked Dave. He shrugged. “She’s determined.”
So, I signed her up. That first day, the lady at the registration table frowned. “She’s a little young,” she said. I nodded. Ellis twirled and proclaimed herself “Ice princess Ellis!” I tried to explain to her that you don’t spin at your first lesson. That learning to be an ice princess is hard work. You have to practice and try. That you have to fall. She just nodded and demanded I put on her skates.
The first lesson was hard for both of us. I know nothing about skating, so I failed to bring her gloves. I had to buy an oversized pair at the rental desk. And I only put on one pair of pants on her instead of layering like all the other moms had. “She looks cold,” one mom said to me. I said nothing. She probably was cold, but what was really bothering her was the falling. She kept falling. She didn’t know how to get up. Her teacher tried to show her, but she wanted to do it her own way. She sat on the ice, frustrated, her face red and wet, calling out to me to help her. I wanted to run out to her and wipe her nose. To tell her to stand and listen. I finally did go out there when I procured her a pair of gloves. I helped her stand. I tried to give her a pep talk. “You are doing great, sweetie! Listen to your teacher.”
She just whined. “I fallin’.”
On our way home, I wanted to tell her to stop whining. To get up. To try again. But, she was so little, sitting there in her carseat, clutching her gloves. So, I asked her if she wanted to go to lessons again. “Yes,” she said. “But I fall.”
“It’s okay, honey, everyone falls. Did you see? Even your friend was falling.”
She laughed. “Yeah, he fell on his booty. Next time, I fall too.”
The next week, I decided I needed to look away. I had to hide from her. So, I turned my back and talked to a friend, who graciously gave me updates. I didn’t even peek at the ice until the lesson was over. She was standing. She was still red-faced and soggy nosed, but she was standing.Thanks to the three-year-old who just sobs through the lesson, she’s not the worst kid out there. But she’s struggling too. It’s hard for me to watch that. So, I turn away and remember that she’s doing something she wants. She’s trying. And despite the sometimes tears and the sometimes whining, every week, she wants to go back.
Around this same time, Ellis started refusing to go to the bathroom when I asked her to. She’d sit on the toilet and deliberately refuse to pee for me. Finally, I gave up. “Fine,” I said. “Go when you want to, but if you have an accident, no princess dresses.” And after one accident in the middle of a mall, on a day when it was -9 outside and I had no backup pants, she’s taken herself to the bathroom every time. For the past three weeks, she has barely needed me at all, except sometimes to wipe and sometimes to help wash hands. One moment, she needed me completely for every bowel movement and now, nothing. She’s independent. I feel so relieved, so jubilant and a little deflated. The vast majority of these past three years have been spent cleaning her diapers, washing her diapers, changing her diapers, teaching her to sit on the potty, cleaning her undies, wiping up accidents and now, nothing. I’m free. She’s free.
When it comes to parenting, so often, my default response is to lean into the problem. To solve it for her. To be hands-on and accessible. She needs me, after all. But what I’m learning is that more and more, the answer to these problems isn’t leaning in, but leaning back. Turning away and letting her fall. Giving up and letting her learn from her accidents.
She’s getting so big. She likes to tell me that when I won’t let her use markers on the couch she get’s “fwusterated.” She also tells me she’s “furwious” when I say she can’t have ice cream three times a day. Sometimes I forget that she isn’t even three yet and I talk to her like she’s nine. But then, she starts crying because shoes are hard to get on by yourself and I remember, three is nothing. Three is so little. But she has little girl legs and a neck free of fat rolls. Often, I find her in the playroom with a stack of books. “Can I read you a story?”
“Go away,” she tells me. “I’m reading by myself!”
I walk away, because I know that what she’s doing needs to happen alone. It’s such a simple and profound lesson. But I don’t always remember it. I carry her upstairs, I try to pick out her outfits, I keep giving her sippy cups even though she’s big enough to drink without a lid. Letting go is an endless process I’m not sure I will ever fully master. I know in a month, in a year, I’ll learn it all over again and it will be as heart breaking and as wonderful as it is now.