WHAT THE PARENTING BOOKS DON'T TELL YOU: Your Kid Is Not A Mini-You
Let me tell you a story about me as a child: I was scared of a lot of things, like falling down and skinning my knees, or going to the doctor. Even though I climbed my share of trees, I did not like to take risks. I preferred reading books to nearly every other activity. I was shy around new people. And my mother sent me to summer camp and I was absolutely terrified to sleep on the top bunk.
Everything about a bunk bed makes me sweat. The climb up. The feeling that once I’m up there I can’t get down or I can’t find my footing and how do I turn my body around to get back to the ladder and oh God why is this thing wobbling is it going to collapse. The bottom bunk isn’t much better (what if the top falls and crushes me while I sleep?!), but the top is the very worst.
In fact, the thought of sleeping on the top part of a bunk bed still makes me nervous when I think about it. I sort of believe in reincarnation, so I often wonder if in some past life I met my end by rolling off the top bunk at summer camp.
So when Oliver begged for a loft bed on a recent trip to Ikea, I had this feeling of dread. What if he falls off? What if his foot slips on the ladder in the middle of the night? What if he has a stomach bug and wakes up and pukes all over the bed and then I have to climb up there and clean it up? (Emetophobia AND fear of bunk beds all at once! There is no limit to the scenarios my mind can cook up.) What if the bed randomly collapses or what if there’s an earthquake?
What if, what if, what if? Of course I told him “absolutely not.” I said our ceilings are too low (not true). I said the ceiling fan would be in the way (sort of true). I probably gave some other reasons, too. Instead, we picked out a sensible daybed for him, with underbed storage.
I set a budget and went about designing his new room, which would be an early gift for his ninth birthday in April. I picked out his new comforter and bookshelves and a poster of a dog riding a skateboard. I showed all of these to Oliver, and he approved -- but he still really, really wanted that loft bed.
Jeff and I planned a trip to Ikea on a weekend when Oliver was at his dad’s house (say what you want about the place, but it really can’t be beat for redoing a kid’s bedroom on a budget). I had my shopping list ready, complete with that sensible daybed.
And then this happened: As we were strolling past all those wonderful fake rooms we came upon a fake boy’s room that was freaking awesome. And it featured the loft bed I had said "no" to so many times. I knew it was what Oliver really, really wanted.
In that moment, I realized that I was keeping my kid from having something he really wanted for no other reason but my own fears. Of course accidents happen. But most of the time, they don’t. This is the reason I do not take Oliver to the skate park: because it practically gives me a heart attack and I want him to have fun, not listen to me yelling “Be careful!” from the edge of the park.
I also realized that the loft bed was $200 less than the daybed and 100 times cooler -- and really, it was the most practical decision for Oliver’s tiny bedroom. A loft bed might solve a lot of problems, like where do we put Oliver’s new desk and chest of drawers? In the little cubby under the bed, perhaps, freeing up the rest of the space for bookshelves and toys.
Plus, what kid wouldn’t want his own personal cave under a loft? With some curtains, maybe, to make it feel even more private and cave-like. The kid in me, while still terrified of climbing up a ladder just to get in bed, was pretty excited by the potential. Jeff looked at me. I looked at Jeff.
“We should really get him the loft bed,” he said.
I nodded. We should get Oliver the loft bed. After all, my son is not me -- he doesn’t like to read books, he is not shy around new people, and he is scared of absolutely nothing (including a bunk bed). He is not afraid to climb up the ladder and he would not feel stuck at the top once he’s there. He is fearless and full of joy, and I wanted to see his happiness when we surprised him with this thing he thought he might never get, but desperately hoped he would.
Plus, Jeff promised to clean up the barf if that scenario should ever play out.
Do you find that you project your own fears (or interests) on your child? Anyone else have an Alex P. Keaton-type situation like I do, where you wonder how two parents who are one way produced a child who is completely another way? (In my case, both Oliver’s dad and I were quiet, bookish types, and our kid is loud and prefers skate boarding to books -- not sure how that happened!)
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.