Raising a Risk-Taker: Watching the Olympics with my Daughter
My daughter is two years old, and we never really let her watch TV until after she turned two. I was so excited to start sharing a few things with her after her birthday. So far she adores Winnie the Pooh and Daniel Tiger. She has recently started greeting people with a piglet impression "P-p-p-piglet ME!" instead of a hello, which is, I'm sure, a bit perplexing to strangers... We still limit her TV, but this weekend I was thrilled to introduce her to the Olympics.
I have a very beautiful, intelligent daughter who happens to be both extremely strong-willed and extremely tentative about new things. She was always shy in her baby gym classes and took a very long time to want to turn over or crawl or explore. When she started to speak in sentences, one of her early ones was "Mommy do it" or "Daddy do it." She would want us to play with playdough or draw pictures for her instead of trying it herself.
I think there is a great danger, especially with firstborn children, to blame yourself for all of their challenges or congratulate yourself for creating all of their amazing qualities. I know I say "Be careful" and "Watch out" way too often, but did I do this to her? Did my concern for her make her feel uncomfortable taking risks? I see crazy daredevil toddlers everywhere. I don't want to be a mother whose own worries cause her daughter to be paralyzed with fears or anxieties.
Having a second child is freeing in a number of ways, but perhaps the most important one for me is discovering immediately how different their temperaments can be. My son is already trying to move and explore everything with no hint of timidity. I love this side of his personality, partially because it helps me recognize that sometimes children are who they are and what we can do as parents is love them unconditionally for all of their individual quirks and struggles. As a mom, I desperately want my daughter to experience the world without feeling trapped by fears or insecurities.
This weekend, we let her stay up past her bedtime to watch some of the incredible athletes in the Olympics. We kept her globe beach ball on hand to find the athlete's countries, We talked about diving and swimming and cycling, and how hard each of the athletes worked to get there. But, it wasn't until we saw Gabby Douglas march onto the floor and start her routine that she was mesmerized. She loved every second of the gymnastics competition. I was so excited to watch her see strong, spectacular women doing amazing dangerous things. Her eyes were glued to the screen as she saw them fly through the air and "fall" (her word) gracefully to the ground. She loved it!
As I get older, it's easy for certain things like the Olympics to get a bit less exciting as some of the novelty of life wears off. One of the more paradigm-shifting parts about parenting is the opportunity to return to that innocent sense of wonderment through your children's new experiences. She has never seen anything like these gymnasts before. To her, they are superheroes. They are doing things she has never seen. Flips and jumps and twists and twirls that my daughter never knew were even possible.
What an experience it is to watch her learn that dangerous, risky, and sometimes scary things can be beautiful. Can be possible. Can be achievable. I will never forget this little moment of watching her, sitting between me and my husband, seeing the Olympics for the first time. After each routine, she said "Again! Again!" I want to encourage her to know that she can be brave and adventurous. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that when I'm feeling a bit too fearful for her on the playground or when she is riding her trucks outside up and down the driveway. I cannot expect her to be that gritty risk-taker psychologists write about until I show her how much I believe in her. Every day as a mom I learn a new lesson.
After the TV was turned off, during bath time with my husband that night she vigorously ( and with frequent hand gestures) described the amazing performances she had just watched.
She kept saying, "I watched the b'lympics. I watched the b'lympics."