Clara spends every day exploring the world around her. She is bold and brave and gives me heart palpitations when she tries to climb up the crumbling cement stairs in the courtyard of my building. She has a very fuzzy sense of depth perception and seems to think walking off the edge of the slide works as well as sitting on her butt and going down. It's all terrifying - but through it all I am trying to limit what I actually say no to. For example - I say "No" when Clara reaches up and tries to fiddle with the oven burners. I explain about it being hot and that she will get burned but I do not allow her to play with the oven knobs. That's a firm "no."
I don't mind if she chews on sticks or leaves in the park but I do take away unfamiliar berries, small rocks, and pieces of garbage which she seems to want to chew on with equal enthusiasm. I watch her carefully while she explores her environs. I let her lead the way...unless she is leading us off the edge of a cliff or into the street.
Sometimes this relaxed parenting style bites me in the ass. Take the other day. I was showing Clara the herbs in our co-op's garden. Anyone who lives in the building can take a few clippings of mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, or thyme to cook with. I was bruising the leaves so Clara could smell the different herbs. And then Clara's attention was inexplicably diverted to the one plant I didn't want her to touch - a cactus. She squeezed past three pots and a dangling prism I hoped in vain would distract her to get to the dumpy looking cactus.
ME: "Clara - don't touch that it will hurt - "
I should have saved my breath. She reached down and snapped off a plump piece of cactus and held it out to me.
ME: "Clara - give that to me."
ME: "No really...give it to me"
CLARA" "Hee hee..."
Laughing, she squeezed past the pots and toddled away, cactus in hand. Luckily she quickly dropped the cactus in favor of a more interesting, much more squishy rotting tomato she found.
I wiped off her smelly tomato hands and picked her up. She seemed unhurt and happy. The Cactus gods were smiling down on us.This was great. Or so it seemed until I put Clara down and discovered a bunch of almost invisible cactus thorns up and down my arm. The upside was almost all of the barbs seemed to have transferred themselves to my skin. The downside - cactus barbs hurt and looking closely at Clara's hands I saw she still had some in her.
I carried her upstairs to our bathroom and proceeded to get the barbs out of her hand with tweezers. Tears pouring down her face, Clara looked like a bereft Hummell Doll. She was very mad at me, though she recovered quickly.
I am torn between giving Clara the freedom to explore and trying to protect her. Has she learned not to touch thorny plants? Probably not. What have I learned? Get to the cactus first.