I can do it by myself. There was a sweet time when those were the most glorious words my son could say to me outside of please, and I love you. He would try to yank the lid off the Play-Doh container and when I went to swoop in and help him, he would look up at me with those big determined eyes and say, Mama, I can do it by myself! OK, dear, I would reply. And I would proudly watch him while he was busy building grit and character.
But now, those six little words have the power to freeze me in place while I contemplate what level of catastrophe my son is about to impose on this house and me. Encouraging his burgeoning independence is a priority around here, but it comes with a heavy and messy price. The child loves to explore and get into trouble. By four he has already tagged the living room heater with a fat Sharpie marker, broken the same window twice, and has lost two toothbrushes down the bathroom sink.
At bath time he wants to fill the tub and pour in the bath bubble liquid by himself. So this means I should put bubble liquid on the shopping list because the kid just emptied the brand new bottle. He missed the tub and created a glycerin pool on the wood floor.
At bedtime he wants to clean his room by himself, which means that all of his toys and that day’s dirty clothes will get forcibly shoved out of reach under his bed.
During art time he wants to practice stamping his name with the fun letter stamps. So he opens and dumps out all 250 little tiny stamps onto the table in one tremendous pile. Putting them away by himself means flinging them around the house with an improvised slingshot he made out of my hair elastics.
At dinnertime he wants to help feed the baby by himself. With great caution and two parents ready to pounce we let him try to convince the baby to use a Sippy cup. My son manages to get milk and the pureed food that I could have sworn was out of reach all over the baby’s face and arms…and walls. They both break into wild fits of giggling.
Every night after my husband and I negotiate our way through the cold war that is bedtime, I pour myself a glass of wine in order to fuel my evening scavenger hunt for missing art supplies and toys that have been flung, thrown, shoved and hidden throughout the house. I go through this ridiculous routine every day because as much as I don’t enjoy the mountain of clutter that I have to organize and repair, I do relish the simple fact that my kid is learning how to navigate the world on his own terms. He is surely building grit and character.
I can do it by myself. Indeed, little wonder…indeed.