When Backing Off Is Best

Standing back and letting my daughter enjoy herself - her own way - turned out to be difficult... and immensely rewarding.


Recently, I took my three year old daughter to see her first show ever, The Wiggles at The Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. It's the final tour with the original cast, and while neither she nor I are extreme Wiggles fans, I'm sentimental enough that, in an impulsive moment, I bought tickets.

Fast foward several weeks and we are sitting in our seats waiting for the show to begin. My daughter is already having a fantastic time: we bought popcorn and a juice box for her and diet soda for me; there's a big screen on the stage showing little snippets of the show with the new cast members of The Wiggles; and all around us are other families wearing The Wiggles clothing or carrying signs. Clearly, we are part of an "event."

As we're sitting there, I sense a familiar anxiety, but become objectively aware of it, maybe for the first time, because it's directed at my daughter this time, instead of at me.

I notice that I'm trying to see if her view is good enough, feel vaguely guilty that we didn't bring a sign, and start mentally planning how I'm going to leverage her so she can have the best view without obstructing anyone else's.

I'm on the verge of acting just like my mother.

Now, my mother is a lovely woman. If you've read any of my previous columns, you may have seen references to Yiayia. We have a wonderful relationship, and I could not be more grateful to her for the loving grandma she is to my kids. But...she has always been on the anxious side, and that includes worry over whether or not the people in her care are having enough fun.

This worry manifests itself into repeatedly pointing things out to observe, asking if you need this or that, and trying to ensure that you always have the best vantage point. Naturally, my mom also wants to actually see her charges having fun, so proddings to dance, or smile, or get up (whatever the fun action of the moment is), are also on the menu.

I know I'm going to surprise no one when I write that nobody has fun when they're prodded to have fun.

And that's exactly what I decide not to do as I sit next to my daughter. I remind her to let me know when she needs to go to the potty. And then I firmly shut my mouth.

I don't offer her the popcorn, and she is perfectly happy grabbing a handful when she wants it. I don't tell her to stand up and dance, and she happily jumps around nearly the whole show. I don't ask her every few minutes whether she can see well enough, and it appears that she's perfectly satisfied with her view of the action. At one point, she does try sitting on my lap (her idea), but then hops off after a few seconds to boogie. 

I do lapse for a moment when Jeff, the purple-shirted Wiggle, walks by to collect roses for Dorothy the Dinosaur. I point him out to my daughter and say, "Look! There's Jeff!" Naturally, she has trouble picking him out, and gets a little upset when she can't. I mentally curse myself, and remind myself again to what? Shut. My. Mouth.

When the show is over, I take my zen approach even further and don't even ask her how she liked it, or what her favorite part was, as we walk out to the car. I have always hated that question immediately after a movie or show, feeling as if it's a bit of a test, and feeling pressure to "pass." I need some time to allow the images to float around, and discover over hours or days which ones float up the most. I imagine my daughter may be the same way. In any case, it can't hurt to have some peaceful moments after two hours of intense stimulation.

We quietly walk to the car, and I buckle her in. I leave the radio off as we wait in the parking lot traffic. My daughter starts singing one of The Wiggles' signature songs, Toot, Toot, Chugga, Chugga, Big Red Car. I smile and join in.

Diane St John August 21, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Christina, fun post! It is hard to sit back and shut your mouth--I open mine far too often. I will make a conscious effort to keep it shut and see what happens! I am sure I too will have more fun!
Christina Dreyfus August 21, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Thanks, Diane!


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