Parenting and the Hhhhhheeh Reflex

One of the hardest things about parenting a mobile toddler who is increasingly intent on doing things and being independent is knowing when to chill.

Try this: Open your mouth and inhale a sharp breath as fast as you can. The noise that makes? That’s my mom’s gasp of horror. That “hhhhhheeh” noise is what I’d hear when, say, I was about to knock something over or drag my sleeve through food while reaching for whatever condiment I’d use to try to drown my meat (I was never a big fan) at the dinner table.

This is not to criticize my mom, who is possibly not the most laid-back person in the world but still awesome. It’s to let you know that I have the hhhhhheeh gene. My involuntary hhhhhheeh response is usually triggered when Soren does something that might be dangerous or annoying to other people. It comes out when, for example:

  • We’re at City Park Jazz and Soren is running wild and getting up in other people’s business/personal space or too close to the lake.
  • Soren stands on (or, horror of all horrors, stands and bounces on) the furniture (this summer’s catchphrase is “Butt on the ground!”).
  • Soren goes up and down and up and down and up and down concrete stairs or a wet and/or angled and/or uneven surface where, obviously, there is a possibility of falling.

I get a little tense because, when we’re enjoying an afternoon at the Mordecai Children’s Garden (which is fantastic), playing in the little stream where you can move logs around and do all kinds of fun stuff, I don’t want Soren to slip, fall, and whack his head on a rock or something. As a general rule, hitting our heads on rocks is something we as civilized humans try to avoid. That said, as a mobile toddler who is increasingly intent on doing things and being independent, Soren wants to do things like play in the stream and, well, my job as his parent is to let him.

What I’m afraid of is that my generation’s hhhhhheeh parents have mutated into this generation’s helicopter parents, and the last thing I ever want to be is a helicopter parent. This means keeping my hhhhhheehs to myself and doing my best to give Soren a chance to run, learn, experience, and be independent in the safest and least-annoying-to-other-people ways possible. Sometimes, he’s going to faceplant on the stairs. One day, he might run through your ladder golf game at City Park. That sucks, but it’s better than rolling him up in bubble wrap and never letting him do anything or being the mom who’s always worried about everything.

There’s a delicate balance between holding our children close and letting them be free. I want Soren to be safe but also adventurous. He needs to learn that the world isn’t without risks but isn’t terrifying, either. Right now, he’s learning so many little things, like how to put his bedtime story back on the shelf; how to mimic Ben entering the code on the alarm control panel when they get home after school; how to throw out garbage (although we’re still working on learning that the garbage is like Las Vegas and what goes there stays there); how to identify and distinguish things like bees and flies; how to navigate different types of terrain — and all these little things will come together to form the basis of his understanding of the whole world. And that’s some pretty amazing stuff right there.