“Can we go to the forest park, mama?”
It is bigger than most of the parks in our area and as well as the stock standard, primary coloured jumble of metal and plastic play equipment it has a large, grassy hill (perfect for rolling down) and, at the bottom of the hill, the most wonderful, wonderful trees. There are tall, imposing trees with trunks you cannot stretch your arms around that have stood sentinel over this place for generations. There are plane trees with leaves that turn brown and crinkle under our feet when the weather turns cool. There are shorter, younger trees that I have never identified (but I think they could be some type of pine or fir tree, do fir trees grow in Australia?), and it is the small groves of these particular trees that on our very first visit inspired Immy to christen this playground, ‘The Forest Park.’
The trees provide cool, hiding spaces out of the hot sun of summer and their subtle darkness is perfect fodder for imaginative stories woven by my small girl, stories that usually feature the fairies that she carries with her in a wicker basket. On one occasion they fly together from tree to tree. On another, she works industriously alongside a curly haired companion to create a miniature party wonderland just right for the tiny, magical creatures on the carpet of needles beneath the trees in that cool, dark place.
I hear the distant tinkle of laughter and see a flash of brightest pink as they run amongst the trees. Their voices calling to each other drift further and further away and I can see them no more from my perch at the top of the hill. My heart beats just a touch faster as they seconds pass and they still do not reappear. The rational part of my inner being attempts to shush my racing mind,
“They are together, three of them flying beneath the trees.”
“They know not to go near the road on the other side.”
“I would still hear them if they called out in pain or alarm.”
The seconds pass as I peer into the distance hoping to spy pink amongst the many shades of green. I call but although I can still hear their distant voices there is no response. I am sure it has only been a minute, surely less than two, or has it? My anxious mind plays tricks on me and time appears to race. I call again and start to make my way down the hill, eyes scanning. It seems my limit has been reached.
I try to give her space to explore, to know the joy of adventuring with friends but so often this freedom strains against every fibre or my protective, parenting being. I want her to be strong and confident and I know that she needs space and trust to develop independence. But every day I grapple with the question of how much is enough? What is safe and appropriate at this age and stage? How much space? In what context?
As a parent I believe all I can do is be open to the ideals of providing this space my girl needs to grow. I need to equip her with the necessary skills and behaviours for staying safe. And I need to trust her and her choices as she learns to step boldly out into the world that exists beyond the confines of our family home.
For now, as I reach the bottom of the hill, I exhale in relief as I see them come running joyfully towards me in response to my call. And once again I mentally commit to taking one (small) step back at a time.
How are you doing? Do you step back and give your children the space they need to explore out in the world?