Recently graduated to butter knife cutting

Recently I have had this little thought floating around my mind about children and readiness. It’s pretty basic. When they are ready, they will.

This applies to potty “training,” breastfeeding/weaning, transitioning to solids, walking, talking, manners…..just about everything you can think of they will do when they are ready. (Particularly provided the environment reinforces an independent exploration and learning of these things.) This readiness can make itself quite apparent when all of a sudden a child is doing something they never were doing before or when (after weeks or months of cajoling and coaxing and whatever other desperate parental tactics) all of a sudden a child easily and willingly does something they have previously refused or chosen not to do.

Two recent incidents with my daughter brought this idea of readiness straight home in a concrete way.

For months and months we have had a basket of blocks available for my daughter to play with. She rarely would go to them, and when she did she would dump them out. End of game. When an adult would begin building a tower or something, she would knock it down gleefully, as many a toddler will. (Isn’t that the purpose?) For better or worse, I just stopped building towers since I only ever got to a maximum of three blocks. I began to wonder if she would ever start building up instead of knocking things down. I was starting to doubt my trust in her unfolding at her own pace and wondered if maybe I should be doing something. Since I couldn’t think of anything, and I didn’t feel concerned at all (more curious), I did nothing.

My wait ended abruptly a few days ago. My daughter dumped the blocks out as usual. This time, though, she stacked one block on top of the other (haphazardly) until they fell. With a loud shriek of excitement, she built the blocks up again. The word tower was thrown out there and she began to say “I building a tower, tower, tower!” Then they would fall. She got up to 10-11 blocks at one point, with me watching on the sidelines as she bumped the shaky snake of blocks with her elbow. (I wanted her to see what happens rather than have me “fix” the tower and her not learn the important laws of cause and effect that apply to blocks — Jenga, anyone?) After months of not a hint of interest in doing so, she played “tower, tower, tower” non-stop for over half an hour with little to no encouragement from an adult.

Why did she build towers for so long all of a sudden? I was surprised. She was ready.

Another readiness moment happened last night. For two weeks of her life, we (I) took my daughter in and out of a crib to nurse her and put her down to sleep (often bringing her into bed at some point because it makes more sense for us). Then that thing sat in the corner gathering dust for over a year….a year! When I finally got ready to get rid of it, we got pregnant and I began envisioning a possible use as a sidecar. Once I got past the serious nausea phase and had more energy to think ahead to another baby, I had my husband set up the crib, minus one side, between the bed and the wall.

For months, my daughter has had the opportunity to sleep in this comfy space. As soon as she saw it she was thrilled, so I first thought she would be sleeping in it pretty quickly. I never asked her to sleep there or put her in there myself. I wanted to see when she was ready. She regularly played in “my own bed” and put babies to sleep in there before sleeping herself in the bed with me. When she didn’t ever seem to be interested in laying down in there herself, I wondered if she would ever see that as a place for her to sleep.

Then last night, as she was almost asleep, she sat up and said “I want to go sleep in my own bed.” She crawled over me and lie on her belly and went to sleep in a few minutes. She slept there for about half the night or so before crawling over to be with me.

What?! My daughter chose to sleep in her own bed, all of a sudden? She was ready.

The reason this simple concept of readiness has been striking me so hard is because children are sponges, gathering information and learning at an unimaginable rate. We are always showing and leading our children by example. Sometimes, though, there are are things that they haven’t figured out and want to explore.

It’s so easy to try dominate our children in every aspect of life, including learning, and parenting can sometimes feel like an endless roll of choices about how I use my power. I can watch my daughter figure out how to open a jar, or I can show her how to open the jar. I can tell and show her about the “wrong end” of a strawberry, or I can let her explore for herself why that isn’t the tastiest end to begin with. I can tell her the names of a whole bunch of things, or I can wait to see what things she asks me about (another sign of readiness — asking to be shown or asking questions).

With all there is to learn in life, here’s the hard part about readiness: There is a balance to find between my showing and telling and her exploration and discovery. When it comes to readiness, I feel that patience and observation are gifts I can give my daughter. I watch with wonder and joy as the mystery of who she is unfolds and emerges before my eyes. Watching my child develop more and more personhood feels like one of the blessings of being a mother. I hope to honor her process of becoming as much as I can possibly manage.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lata on November 19, 2011 at 5:04 am

    Beautifully stated, Sheila. I need to learn to follow your example (and Uma’s!) and do more of this with Ivy.


    • It really does not come so easily to me as it seems to for others. What keeps me trying are moments like these that bring me such joy and make me realize what I miss when I overstep my role….and sometimes it’s so hard to know when I’m doing that.


  2. […] I wrote about my daughter and readiness, and one of the things she seems to be ready for is building with blocks. Here are some of the […]


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