I doubt that I would see eye-to-eye on any political topic with Leslie Kendall Dye, but we are muy simpatico when it comes to child-raising philosophy. Dye writes in the Washington Post that she’s tired of busybodies warning that her daughter is about to be maimed.
Dye is more tactful and calls the free advice dispensaries “worried strangers” but we know what they are: Childhood killjoys, exuberance extinguishers and professional hall monitors. These are people who are experts on raising your child and not in the least reluctant to share their wisdom.
Since Dye is a woman, I’m assuming she gets more of the benefit of their expertise than I did. My son was also an unguided missile when he was young, but for some reason the Nurturing Police were less eager to share with me.
Even though she knows letting her daughter enjoy childhood is the correct policy, Dye is still defensive: “She scales rocks and swings from gates. She leaps over six concrete steps to the pavement below. Sometimes I wish for a less active child but I remind myself that this trait - this athleticism - will serve not just her body but her mind as she develops.”
That reasoned explanation never occurred to me. I just liked watching Karl sail through the air.
I recall a family cruise where the dining room was located four or five decks below our room. Taking each stair individually slowed him down, so Karl would leap from landing to landing like Ricochet Rabbit.
My job was to make sure the coast was clear and prevent collisions with elderly passengers who gave him astonished looks as he rocketed by.
Even before he learned to fly Karl eschewed normal stair etiquette.
When we moved into the house where Karl grew up he was still crawling. There were stairs into the basement and stairs leading up to the second floor where his bedroom was located. I should have done the responsible Dad thing and installed one of those mini-cellblock gates to keep him from tumbling down.
But before I got around to it, he solved the problem. Karl would crawl to the edge of the stairs wearing his onesie - if it was winter he would wear two, Janet called it double-bagging - then make his body rigid and slide down feet first on his belly like a human surfboard. He could even negotiate the turn at the bottom without stopping.
When Dye’s daughter was a toddler she “had to run her like a Labrador to burn through her extra energy.” I have an idea I came to parenting later than Dye did so I used a combination of technology and subterfuge to tire Karl.
Again prior to walking, Karl got around the house pushing a Fisher-Price plastic scooter. Evidently this form of locomotion so dangerous its manufacture was subsequently banned.
To me the best feature of the scooter was a compartment with a flip-up blue lid. I filled the box with rolls of quarters, dimes and nickels then sealed the lid with duct tape. A few hours pushing that 20lb bale and he was ready for bed. The extra weight had an advantage at the mall, too because it slowed him down enough that a brisk walk could keep up.
Other days we put him on a child leash and just endured the stink eye from other parents wishing they had possessed the courage necessary to rein in their escapees.
Dye doesn’t mention her daughter’s views on meteorology, but you couldn’t get Karl to wear a coat. He would look at us with this disgusted expression and explain for the umpteenth time that he was going to play football for the Green Bay Packers and was therefore immune to the cold.
Dye thinks part of the criticism she receives is because her active child is a girl: “I wonder also how often I’d be criticized if my child were a boy.”That’s undoubtedly part of it. Even with active children there are sex differences.
I’m assuming her daughter hasn’t spent much time armed. Karl wouldn’t leave the house without a weapon and the Dollar Store was his armory. Swords, light sabers or a Super Soaker he called his HALO assault rifle were perennial favorites.
Both of us regret he was born before the recent advances in Nerf weapon technology. The times we could have had...
Dye’s daughter is very fortunate. She has a mother who is strict when it comes to manners and permissive when it comes to play. Today it takes a strong, confident parent to raise a child like that. Dye’s next test will be when her daughter becomes a teenager.
I’m hoping she hangs tough on manners.
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org