The Bean has lately realized that red, white and blue means the Fourth of July, and she is ecstatic about it. “Look at that Fourth of July flag, Mommy!” came bubbling out of the back seat a few days ago. At nearly 4 years old, she doesn’t at all understand the freedom she has by living in America. She doesn’t begin to comprehend that this space used to belong to other people. She has no idea how our forefathers and foremothers struggled to create this amazing country where she can wear her rainbow skirt with her red, white and blue flag shirt, and eat food she picked out herself, while sitting at the table in the air conditioned house. All she understands is that red, white and blue mean that we love America. And since she loves her life, she is happy to love the place in which she lives it. In her honor, I’d like to write a series on independence in children.
This is my Bean and her shopping cart. She loves her shopping cart. I love her shopping cart. It has saved us both a lot of tears.
Shopping used to be a miserable experience for us. Bean wanted to push a cart. She wanted to help shop. She wanted to do what we were doing. And it was a constant battle. She couldn’t see around a cart or maneuver something so big. She couldn’t carry a basket. And she was so busy grabbing things that I could barely get my shopping done for keeping up with her. We would often end up leaving the store, both of us tired and cross, and at least one of us in tears. I was at a complete loss as to how to get her to cooperate. The evening of one particularly rough day, after she had gone to bed, I told Papa to go down and get one of the toy shopping carts from the basement, put it together, and put it in the trunk of my car.
The next day, we went off to shop and when we pulled the bags from the trunk and discovered a miniature shopping cart, our world changed! Her face lit up. She listened to every request and pushed her cart as carefully as possible. She got a “friend” from the back seat to put in the seat of the cart. And we were off on a great adventure, instead of a great argument. The struggle for independence was over. I had let her win. I had given her the proper tools to be independent, instead of forcing her into my mold. I gave her something she could control, and I let her have a chance to show what she could do. And she performed beautifully.
I could have come up with a different answer. I could have put her in my cart (although I don’t know what I would have done with the Bug at stores where each cart only holds one child), and made her ride when she couldn’t listen. I could have dragged her out of the store, crying, on the days when she couldn’t listen. I could have tried to force her to what I wanted her to do. But none of those would have truly caused satisfaction for either of us. Empowering her to explore in a way that was satisfactory to both of us was a much better answer. Her sense of pride with her cart is so evident – wherever we go. She is neither reckless nor careless with it. It is hers, and she takes good care of it. She participates in the shopping, instead of hampering it. I tell her what we are shopping for and she helps to look for it. When she finds things that are light enough for her to lift, she confirms that it is the correct item and puts it in her cart. Her own sheer joy about having the power to do a job well keeps her from getting into trouble.
Occasionally people will tell me that I shouldn’t let my kids fall asleep in my bed, nurse as toddlers, cry when they fall down or some other such thing, because I will hamper their independence. I always just chuckle. I know what true independence is. So do my children, even if they don’t understand that they know it yet. True independence is being allowed to do what you are capable of. It means stepping out and testing the waters, even when you aren’t sure. It means having the opportunity to try something new. It isn’t being forced to do what you don’t want to, so that you will learn to do it. That isn’t what our forefathers did. They struck out on their own, bravely, into new territory and learned how to make a life in an untamed land. They supported one another. They helped one another. They fought the restraints that kept them from true independence. And they won. Just like my Bean, stepping bravely into the untamed land of childhood, where anything can happen and there is little control over what will happen to you next. She is brave, and I am brave. Together, we don our red, white and blue and step out into the world.