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Parenting On the Loose: How a five-year-old taught her mom to chill.

I watch my daughter sitting, smiling, in the middle of a merry-go-round. She throws her head back and squeals, “Faster, Mommy. Faster!” I’m dying to say, “Oh, but you’ll get dizzy and feel sick!” Instead, I grin over my clenched teeth and say, “OK! Is this fast enough?” and give her another spin.

When I was her age, I was afraid of heights, germs, boats, planes, restaurants, amusement parks, sleepovers and most-definitely, merry-go-rounds.

That list is just a partial one. I worried myself into a frenzy for most of my childhood. I moved through life like a little sponge, absorbing the worries of anyone around me. If someone was sad, I felt that sadness. If they were scared, I was scared, too. I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I lay there, thinking about what the next day would bring. Then I started worrying about not sleeping.

When I turned twelve, I stressed about the inevitability of turning thirteen because I had heard someone say that teenagers were bad. On the first day of sixth grade, I began worrying about seventh grade when I would go to junior high. I just knew that drug dealers would push me into my locker. When they didn’t, I assumed it would happen eventually. The years and the worries continued, one after another. By age twenty, I had a permanent furrow in my brow – a scar of worries.

Just when I had begun to manage my own worries at age thirty, I became a mother. I was now in charge of helping two little people not just stay safe, but enjoy life. How could a born and bred worrier like me let go and teach my children how to have fun?

Last month my five-year-old daughter Mia sat at the kitchen table coloring, her crayons spread around her Tinkerbell coloring book. She worked thoughtfully and then stopped. She looked at me, standing at the counter, and asked, “Mama, want to color on the loose with me?”

“What’s that mean?” I said, smiling.

“It means you don’t worry about the lines or anything. You just color anywhere. You don’t have to stay inside the lines. You can go like this.” She proceeded to scribble all over the page, with such passion that her hair swung wildly. She looked up at me with a grin. “Want to?”

“Of course!”

I pulled a chair up next to hers. We sat, elbows bumping, and scribbled all over our papers. Crayons rolled down the table and fell onto the floor. Her hair fell into her eyes, but she kept moving the crayons across the page without stopping. She’d turn to the next page, giggle, and with crayon poised ask, “Ready?” And we’d begin again.

I asked her where she heard of the phrase “coloring on the loose.”

“I made it up. That’s what it is,” she said matter-of-factly, shrugging her shoulders.

I nodded my head, vowing to myself to be more on the loose. Over time, we began to add “on the loose” to the ends of all kinds of activities. Eating on the loose (when you don’t care that ice cream is all over your face and dripping down your arms), shopping on the loose (when you go to CVS for a prescription and end up buying glittery barrettes), and dancing on the loose (when you start out walking down the street and end up dancing instead). We broke down laughing at all of the possibilities. Mia didn’t realize it, but I was also adding “on the loose” to all sorts of thoughts in my head like “mothering” and “living.” Doing anything without thinking through every possible consequence.

I now realize that I’ve struggled with mothering on the loose since I gave birth to Mia five years ago and then to my son, JJ, two years ago. Every cell of me craves control, but I know that control is the last thing my kids need. I must remember that it’s okay if they get a stomach ache from too much cotton candy or a cramp from swimming after lunch. It’s okay if they get hot or dizzy or dirty. Every day, I must vow not to slow the merry-go-round or the swing. Instead, I must push the swing higher and the merry-go-round harder. I must let my kids get dizzy. Then I must remember to take a deep breath because I might be a little dizzy, too.

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