Full confession: Griffin used to lick the floor. Seriously. He always was a kiddo who loved his pacifier. (I, as a speech therapist, was not going to let him use a pacifier, but it was either that or me and I was SORE.) It started this way: he and I would go to the mall on my days off and find a quiet corner. I would read a book and G would hang out on a blanket. One day, before he was really mobile, I looked over and he was licking the tile floor. GROSS. I moved him to the middle of his blanket, which was a good size, and watched. He figured out how to move himself purposefully to the edge of the blanket to plaster his face against the floor.
That was the beginning of our floor tasting phase. It was gross, I know, but I could either let him put his mouth on a new floor surface twice or fight him every time we walked over a new kind of mat or flooring. Sometimes he’d get a mouthful of dirt and complain, but it took about 6 months or so before he had put his mouth on all the floor surfaces he could. I guess that can be the definition of a NOT helicopter parent.
That was an important parenting lesson to learn. What I thought was disgusting was fascinating to him. Yes, I worried about the chemicals used to clean the floor or what might have been on people’s shoes, but he was exploring. He just happened to be exploring in a way that was not typical.
We got many looks of judgment from other parents as Griffin’s mouth was plastered on any given surface. I would meekly smile and shrug as moms looked horrifyingly at what I was allowing my child to do. If I had to do it over again, I would have owned it. He was safe enough and thought something about feeling those surfaces with his tongue was cool. Kids put things from the floor into their mouth all the time, much to the chagrin of their parents.
If something was unsafe, I would say no and fight that battle. Just like there are some things that were non-negotiable like no metal things in outlets, helmet wearing (for biking to snowboarding) and seatbelt wearing. If you really look at all the decisions kids can have control over in a day, there are few that really matter.
It is this piece of parenting that really would not click until Reese came along. What I wanted or needed was often very different than what my kids wanted or needed. That is a hard differentiation to make, especially when our children are young. We, as adults, think we know what the consequences of our children’s actions will be based upon previous experience. Maybe our kids will have different results.
It is inherently hard to let our children explore and experience life without wanting to interject our experience. I knew that tasting the floor would be gross. Sometimes I would warn Griffin, he would do it anyway. I saw that independent streak consistently through his early years. Griffin was also a climber and adventurer. He, from a very early age, knew his body and what it could do, so I let him. How else will he learn to trust his body and himself if I don’t let him see what it can do?
As a teenager, there are decisions that Griffin makes that exasperate me. His decisions to not turn in his homework consistently (he still gets good grades) drive me batty. His food choices sometimes give me a glimpse into his life as a college kid living on his own. His bedroom cleanliness leaves MUCH to be desired and I tend to be a bit of a clutterbug as it is. I feel like we have talked about why making different decisions in these instances would be important, but in the end they are his decisions. I have to remind myself out loud that he and I are two completely different people.
I could have won the licking the floor battle, Griffin was portable and easy to restrain. However, letting him lick the floor set the stage for allowing him to make decisions that I may not make. He survived the lick the floor choice. He has regretted others, but those teachable moments are important too. They allow us to talk about his decision making process and what he might do next time. I am seeing, now that Griffin is 16, that the battles we picked were good ones to pick. He’s learning to weigh out his options and make the best decisions he can. He’s respectful to others. He’s kind. He’s helpful when it’s important. He can carry on a conversation with anyone and he has a wicked sense of humor. He even gave me permission to share the fact that he licked the floor as a kid. For him, I am thankful.