Part III – Leo in the Sandbox, Nico in the Tree
Although I am against fruit loops at Mass, I have a typical American belief in allowing kids a fair amount of liberty, unlike the French and Italians. Pamela Druckerman told the story of how she learned from a French Mom how to speak to her son Leo sternly and decisively so he would stay in the sandbox instead of escaping from the playground so that she could enjoy her chat on the park bench. Her story brought back memories of my years spent at the Villa Glori Park near my home in Rome with my three children. Near the playground there was a tempting Roman Pine tree that leaned out at an angle, went up for about 25 feet and then forked into two separate branches. My son Nico figured out how to shimmy up that tree and nest himself comfortably between the two branches where he could enjoy a bird’s eye view of activities below. Every time we went to the playground he went straight up that tree. I was scolded over and over again by other parents and grandparents who warned me sternly that he could fall and break an arm or a leg, that he was risking his life up there. Some other mothers told me I was setting a bad example by letting Nico stay up there because it made their children want to try. I steadfastly refused to call him down remembering how much I had enjoyed climbing trees as a child. Without feeling any need to discipline, I was able to relax and enjoy myself sitting on the park bench with my Mamma friends.
The regular tree-climbing scoldings were not the only ones I received. I was admonished by other mothers for letting my children take off their shoes and run barefoot in puddles in Rome after a rainstorm. “They will catch a fever!” was the most frequent comment, and letting them go outside with wet hair, “They will get sick!”
My feeling is the French children can stay in their sandbox, and the Italians may never have the thrill of climbing a tree, but how will they get confidence in themselves, become free-spirits, risk-takers and independent thinkers? I wonder if Steve Jobs’ Mom kept him in the sandbox when he tried to run out the gate. How about Amelia Earhart, did her Mom let her climb that tree? Certainly learning patience, respect for others and delayed gratification is useful but demonstrations of courage, creativity and willingness to accept challenges should not be squashed.