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Ripe and Sweet

Last summer, I met a vendor who had set up a kiosk inside our neighborhood grocery store. She was selling pints of locally-grown strawberries from a nearby farm. She offered me a sample, and I commented on how very red the insides of her berries were.

She jumped at the chance to explain to me that their berries were completely red inside because they were naturally grown and picked at their peak ripeness. Berries do not actually ripen after they've been plucked from the vines, apparently. The best ones are harvested and must be consumed within a few short days.  However, most strawberry producers pick their berries when they are still not-yet-ripe (white in colour), and then artificially "ripen" them with gasses like CO2 to turn them a bright red shade. Obviously, these not-yet-ripe berries look just as good (sometimes even better) than the ripe ones, and last a lot longer too, but don't taste nearly as flavourful and sweet when you bite into them, because the gasses simply aren't able to cause them to ripen the way that time and nature can.

I thought that this was such a fitting analogy for the unnatural push towards independence in young children in our culture. I see so many parents try to rush their little ones to grow up and be independent, when naturally they simply haven't matured to that point yet. There is a high value placed on two year-olds being able to sleep alone in their own beds in their own rooms for 12-hour blocks of time. There is an expectation that toddlers can be left in Sunday School classes and IKEA play spaces with designated strangers without causing much of a fuss. Potty training is initiated despite a lack of readiness or desire on the part of the child. Bragging rights center around tots who are attending some combination of gym - music - dance - swim classes several days a week, whereas practices like full-term breastfeeding, which promote parent-child dependence, are frowned upon like some sort of debilitating disservice.

Because children are resilient and adaptable little peeps, they do manage to thrive despite this push into early independence. Like a strawberry reddening under the care of carbon dioxide, however, it's a deceptive sort of thriving. These dear children likely cling a little tighter to their "loveys," and sleep with night lights on and midnight visits to the bathroom and mommy's bed. They may cry until they're just too tired to muster another tear, and simply resign themselves to the care of strangers in unfamiliar settings. They learn to accept their daily grind of classes at the tender age of 2, and form early attachments to their peers to quell anxieties. They become adept at "holding in" their pees and poops until UTIs and accidents become issues. They wean and they adapt.

Outwardly, these kids appear to be doing well and adjusting, maybe even moreso than kids who are raised in a child-led, attachment-oriented environment. However, like the strawberry picked before its prime and aged artificially, these youngsters only look good superficially.  When you look inside, they may still be dealing with feelings of anxiety and fear and rage and despondency stemming from this thrust  into early independence. It's also possible that they do not desire self-sufficiency over being dependent on mommy and daddy; it is hard to determine readiness when they've been forced into levels of early independence from the outside, in.

My take-away is that I value giving Little L the time that she needs to ripen naturally, and to grow and develop her independence at her own pace. I want her to mature from the inside, out. I want her to be ready to be independent and to do things "on her own" before I set up external situations that promote this kind of independence. I push back at the social norms and values that seem to elevate traits of independence and self-sufficiency at the expense of actual readiness. I don't allow myself to be bothered by the judgmental stares of parents who wonder why my 2-year-old still needs me to stay in Sunday School with her, or why she continues to breastfeed. I don't force the potty-training issue despite constant queries from my mom or the many humble-brag gems from social media about same-age peers who have "already" potty-trained. I make decisions to opt out of signing Little L up for any "toddler classes" that she doesn't want to attend. I wait. And wait. And wait.

And although it may seem like my choices are a kind of foolishness to the world, I know that I am doing my best to honour the supernaturally-driven processes of development that were woven into the fabric of my child's very being from conception. She is biologically created to grow and mature, and independence is something that I know she will one day exercise, given the opportunity to ripen on the vine of attachment and security and respect. And in my humble opinion, kids who are allowed to flourish and ripen before getting "picked" turn out to be healthier adults, which of course is my end goal anyway.


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