FREE to be ME! by Jennifer Sullivan

Jennifer writes: A few weeks ago during a visit to my parents’ home, my oldest daughter was working contentedly with her Opa.  I was on the phone at the end of the driveway, when suddenly she walked towards me.  Making eye contact only briefly, she paraded past me with her chin up and a grin on her lips.  She defiantly walked down the sidewalk away from the house never so much as glancing towards me—and I let her go.  I let her go to see how far she needed to go. 

This entire summer we have all been struggling with our personal freedoms.  My youngest has been screaming at the top of her lungs in order to communicate her frustrations as she struggles to learn to walk, speak, and try everything she witnesses, from eating to climbing.  She seems to want freedom from my restrictions (such as climbing into our bathtub and eating everything she picks up) and the limitations of her developing physical body (a desire to run before walking). 

My oldest daughter is also mastering her physical body.  She has watched the older girls at the park this summer perform cartwheels and climb using just their arm strength.  She is ready, too, for freedom from my restrictions and directions, and she is fed up with the fact that she cannot play or treat her sister as she desires.   She has asked twice in two days if she may walk a certain distance away alone.  When I allowed it, she came back beaming and when she went too far, through a misunderstood landmark, she came back flustered and upset.  The struggle within—between the emerging self and the child—bubbles over daily.  She would like to do everything at her own pace, but still desires help.  Her frustrations end in tears, and there seems no end in sight.  She is her happiest when she meets a new friend at the park or we have friends over who will run and play with her. 

And then, there is me.  It has been quite challenging these past several months, between the energy of the girls and sleepless nights filled with nursing and teething issues, and adult decisions involving new directions.  When I have attempted freedom (by which I mean going out for a quick errand) my oldest refuses to let me walk out the door without a breakdown and a cry to go with.  I have since released my frustration with this and have considered it as a wonderful time to spend alone with her.

As I put my oldest to sleep this evening, she told me I say “no” more than “yes” and that I should say them in the same amount.  I was impressed.  She didn’t ask for more yes than no, just an equality.  It got me thinking about the word “no.”  I recalled from the LifeWays training, that most spaces in your house should be available for a child.  Instead of following them around and saying “no” all the time, the child is allowed to move in any way that is needed to develop his or her physical body.  One should reserve the word “no” for times of danger, such as hot items or crossing the street in traffic.  I have asked my oldest daughter to restrict her use of the word “no” when speaking to her sister for these reasons.  Why is it then I do not use this same ideology with her too?  “No,” of course, must be used more frequently with my oldest as she asks questions.  “Can I have ice cream?”  (We just finished breakfast, no.)  “Can we please go to Betty Brinn [Children’s Museum]?” (No, I’m sorry; we don’t have a car today.)  “I can pick up my sister!” (No, please put her down gently.)  But my “no’s” are carried throughout the day.  It was interesting she stated her observation today, as it has been on my mind that I follow her around all day to correct her behavior.  This is mostly due to her interactions with her sister.  If I find this annoying… well, it is no wonder she is frustrated! 

Tomorrow is a new day.  As I continue to teach my youngest daughter sign language, and allow her to have new experiences through taste and touch, she will take steps at her own pace (pun intended) to find her way to freedom.  I will work on finding ways to release my control—restrictions and directions—over my oldest daughter.  In three days, she will attend kindergarten for the first time.  She and I will be separated for the longest we have ever been.  I must show her she is trusted and have faith in what I have taught her these past five years.  She needs to find her way to personal freedom and trust I will always be there to guide and have patience and empathy when she finds she needs help. 

As for me, all I ask is for one hour to get my hair cut.  Please?

Jennifer Sullivan is a LifeWays certified, Waldorf teacher-in-training, momma of two beautiful girls.