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Childhood (In)dependence: "Tall Enough" to go by Herself

April 30, 2019

You wouldn't know it by looking at her, but my daughter is "five and three quarters" years old, as she'll tell you. However, she is tall. As in, she wears clothes made for eight year olds. As she whispered to me when someone asked her age recently, "Even my underwear says it's for kids who are eight." Underwear doesn't lie. She's really tall for her age.

While there are certain benefits to being a tall little kid---hey, she can reach all the chocolate in the cabinet by herself!---there are certain drawbacks, as well.

The most obvious drawback is that people assume she's older than she is, and they expect her to behave like someone who's three years older than she is, too.

Case in point: last week, we went somewhere that had some amazing kiddie rides. If there's one thing my child loves, it's pretending to drive a "real" car (real to her, anyway, even if it's on a track and the steering wheel only spins in circles).

She doesn't like jumping into new situations alone, however. She saw that most of the other young "drivers" were chauffeuring their parents around in the cars with them. So, that's what my kid wanted to do, too. Plus, the role reversal is fun for her. She likes taking mama out for a spin!

We walked up to the entrance and waited in line. As soon as it was our turn, however, the ride operator (whom I'll call the "bouncer") blocked me and claimed, "She's tall enough to ride this alone."

The panic entered my little one's eyes. Little did the bouncer know that my girl had just taken a big fall on the adjacent mini-golf course and had barely recovered from that. She wanted her Mommy near her, for sure.

Holding my ground, I replied, "She'd prefer that I go with her."

Bouncer: "Nope. The rule is that if she's <this tall>, she rides alone. You wait over there." My child and I both looked at the other cars full of kids with their parents.

I'll be blunt: some rules are incredibly dumb.

My daughter melted into a pool of tears, now saying that she didn't want to ride anymore. I knew how much she did want to ride.

While I comforted her, my husband went and spoke with the bouncer. Shortly thereafter, the bouncer was beckoning us to return.

She smiled apologetically and said, "You go on in."

I smiled back, genuinely, and noted that just because someone looks "too big for something," it doesn't always reflect their real age or what they're ready for.

It's about kids being ready when they're ready.

They might be five, or they might be eight---or any age at all. Tall or short; that's not the point.

It's about tossing out the textbooks and the measuring tape and trusting that kids will find independence at exactly the right time for them. It's okay not to need Mommy; and it's okay to  need her, too.

We rode in that car together joyfully. My tall five-year-old took her driving very seriously, never taking her hands off the wheel or her eyes off the "road." At one point, she leaned over and said with an ever-so-serious smile, "Aren't I a responsible driver? What would you do without me?"

Truth be told, I'd probably still be stuck on believing some textbook version of motherhood. I'm so thankful she's taught me otherwise.

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