I’m thinking about boundaries lately.
We spent an amazing afternoon at the Naples Botanical Garden when we were on vacation last week. If you find yourself in SW Florida I definitely recommend it: very walkable (and stroller friendly), lots of shaded chairs and benches, beautiful plants (of course), and a thoughtfully-designed children’s garden.
Here’s why my girls loved the Children’s Garden: water feature to splash around in, playhouse with brooms, gated gardens with low fences and gates they could open themselves, watering cans you could fill at a hand pump, tree house with bouncy bridges and a balcony you could climb up to, small hidden garden with plants growing in funny containers like cowboy boots and toilets and purses.
Here’s why I loved the Children’s Garden: excellent placement of benches and swings, looped paths so even when you wander away you pop right back out where you started, and clear sightlines.
Margeaux and I spent a long time swinging and enjoying the breeze while the girls filled watering cans, opened and closed gates, swept the playhouse, smelled herbs and flowers, made friends with another little girl, and talked nonstop about bugs and sunshine and vacation and whatever else 3 and 5 year old girls talk about.
It’s this amazing moment in my parenting life, when they are beginning to be independent in so many ways. Amazing, and lovely, and scary. Because I worry about what happens when they’re out of sight, out of reach. Will they fall in the water? Will they get stuck in the tree house? Will they encounter a scary stranger who offers them candy and lures them to a van? I know, rationally, that like every living thing they need space to grow in. The roots start to ball up in the pot and the leaves twist back on their stems as they struggle for the sunlight. I don’t want to be the dreaded helicopter parent, filling their watering can and carrying it for them and telling them where to pour. Part of the magic of this moment is watching them realize that they are capable of so many things.
But they are still so little, and the world is so big, and so it is such a feeling of pleasurable relief to walk into a space that feels as though its creators understood exactly what I’m always hoping for: a comfy seat to watch them grow and explore and reach and sometimes fall or spill or figure it out on their own or with a little help from a sister or a new friend. A clear view of the world as they move through it.
I’m longing for this clarity in the rest of my parenting life. What school do we choose for kindergarten, how many hours a week can I work without going insane or becoming a terrible mother, will they fall out of a bunk bed, will the baby choke on a Polly Pocket shoe, how do I know where this path goes? There’s no design to my actual life and sometimes that lack of design doesn’t feel wide open and wonderful it just feels terrifying: how the fuck do we get down from this tree house? Boundaries, expressed clearly and thoughtfully, offer a safe place to put down roots AND plenty of room to grow. I know how to build that garden. I am still trying to figure out how to build that life.