Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Daring Chick and the Delicate Chicken

At Easter time, two-and-a-half-year-old Livie got a toy baby chicken from her Sunday school teacher. It was about two inches tall and looked to be made of the synthetic fuzz on pipe cleaners.

"Be careful," I told her from the driver's seat on the way home. "That chicken is very delicate."

Not understanding the word delicate, and being totally smitten with her chicken, she assumed it meant something like precious or special. Before we reached home, she was cooing to it over and over again, "I love this delicate chicken. This chicken is so delicate to me."

Jeff and I have derived endless amusement from this. Because while our big girl Sophia is the most daring girl on the block, scaling trees, jumping off sea walls, and diving into surf, Livie is afraid of heights, going down new slides, walking up hills, having her diaper changed in our SUV's ample trunk, and many other things. One day, when she was refusing to climb up some 18-inch-high toddler park structure, Jeff said in aside to me, "That's our delicate chicken."

I've read lots of parenting books, so I know that you're not supposed to label your children: "Oh this is my shy one, and this is outgoing one," etcetera, especially within their earshot. But I have to tell you, my kids are so opposite of one another that they label themselves. They don't need me to tell them that one is brave and one is cautious. It's obvious even to Livie. And she's not living up to some assumption I have about her, either. She came out of the womb like this.

I also know that you have to let your kids be who they are. I believe that the oft-quoted Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.) means that I should help my children grow into the best version of their natural bent. But some situations take more wisdom and discernment than others, as we try to bend them toward their strengths and away from their weakness.

Like taking your Delicate Chicken to the Orange County fair. Friday is Dollar Ride Day, so last night we paid our fortune to enter, bought a twenty-dollar ride card, and set out to get us some thrills. Our Daring Chick Sophia was ready for action, and Jeff and I decided to "help" Livie overcome some of her fears, because we saw them as an obstacle to enjoying the evening.

First item on the agenda: a family ride down the thirty-foot high Euroslide. What must the other fair goers thought of us, as we took our shrieking toddler up the steep ramp to the top? I managed to sit down with her in my lap, flash Jeff a what-are-we-thinking-smile for the camera, and sluice down with Livie clawing my forearms all the way. At the bottom she hopped up and said, "I liked it. But I don't want to do it again."

Next on the agenda: the petting zoo! Bizarrely, Livie has never been afraid of animals. She loves dogs, goats, sheep, and will wrap her arms around a horse's head at the local stable if allowed. So goat feeding seemed a good confidence-building activity. Unfortunately, just as I was snapping a picture of her, a baby goat chomped on her index finger and wouldn't let go. She had a purple bruise and a swollen digit. All daring adventures were pretty much shot from that point on.

Sophia spent the rest of the evening whooping it up on the dragon roller coaster, running the kids' obstacle course, and riding the sky-way with Mommy. Livie watched, hands over her ears to block out the carnival machinery sounds, and occasionally waved at her big sister.

In one last moment of madness, or perhaps frustration, just before we left the carnival area, I dragged Liv up the smaller kids' version of the Euroslide and made her go down just one more time. She clutched me so wildly that a kindly fellow fair goer had to help me turn her around to a sitting position with his muscled and tattooed forearms.

So what is the moral of the story? I'm not sure, actually. But I will say that this morning I asked her what her favorite part of the fair was, and she said, "Going down the BIG slides."

And I will also state for the record that when Jeff and I point to her and say -- out of earshot -- "That's our delicate chicken," we believe delicate, as she does, to mean something like precious and special.

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