As anyone who reads my pages knows, I get a great deal of inspiration from my walks in Central Park. I’ve begun book chapters in my head, written the end to a mystery, started a blog, figured out how to write a strong letter of complaint without being nasty…and on and on.
The other day I went for my walk earlier than usual because the temperature was to soar to near 100 degrees. Though it was only 7 a.m. there were already many joggers and walkers in the park. It was a beautiful morning and I decided to try not to let my mind wander from the scenery; the calm, dark satin, tree-reflecting water of the Reservoir, ducks floating along, people chatting in many languages, chirping birds …the great to be alive feeling I had as I made my way around the jogging path.
I was successful, in the main, and didn’t come away with any burning ideas for my writing… until I left the Park.
As I turned to walk down the street, which, seven blocks later, would end at my apartment house, I came upon a very young girl, perhaps 6 or 7, who was inching carefully around the base of one of the corner columns of the gate that surrounds the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the former home of Andrew Carnegie. The base was extremely narrow and the little girl had her arms around the column while she spoke animatedly to her father who stood watching, holding her scooter and backpack. I stopped and watched and my heart was in my throat, hoping she would not slip and fall and hurt herself. I thought to myself…If she were mine, I probably would have said, ‘Please don’t climb up there. It’s dangerous and you could fall and hurt yourself,’ a knee-jerk response from my own over protected past, which I, unfortunately continued with my own children until I wised up. And then I thought back to the early days of childrearing and my husband who would allow our children to do many things I would not have, had I known about them. My children happily told me about their exploits after the fact. I, not so happily, asked my husband, ‘What in the world were you thinking?’ But, mostly, he did right by them.
As I watched, the child made her way around to the other side of the column, jumped down and started on down the street, walking her scooter, her father at her side. I was not far behind them as I heard her say: “Well, daddy, if I felt like I was going to fall, I would have just jumped down!” I did not hear his reply, but I thought: ‘How wonderful! This little girl has been given free rein to explore the world around her, no doubt, many times before, and already has the confidence to know that she can protect herself.’ And her father…what a great thing he did by allowing her the freedom to explore, from which came confidence and self awareness, instead of her hearing as I had heard: ‘no, no…that’s not safe…no no…you can’t…’ leading her to believe (as I had for most of my life) that, indeed, she could not.
I wanted to stop the two of them and congratulate them for their courage, the father, particularly, for what may seem a small thing to many, but a large and important thing to me. He stood by and watched. He gave her the support to try her wings, and was there at her side… just in case. He was helping to create a strong woman who one day would realize that even if there were no father there to catch her, she could indeed jump down and save herself.
I didn’t talk to them because I didn’t want to intrude, and then when I thought about how much I really wanted to say something, they were out of sight and I missed the opportunity. So, I’m taking time here to acknowledge that young father and child and to say how wonderful it would be if all the dads and mothers of young children, boys and girls alike, but especially girls, allowed them the freedom to explore the world around them and find out early on that they can, most certainly, keep themselves strong and safe so that one day, without parental support, they will know that they have inside them what they need to make it through. No small thing.