I should be excited to hear those three little words. They tell me that my son Will is growing up. That he’s branching out. That he’s wanting to be independent and learn things by himself.
But I confess: Those three little words terrify me. Because I know the damage they can cause:
“Me do self!” on the playground really means “I’ll just go ahead and wobble across this 8-foot-high bouncy bridge without touching the handrails to see if I can make it without falling off.”
“Me do self!” in the car means “If you don’t let me try to buckle my seatbelt by myself, I’m going to arch my back and scream for ten minutes, which means you’ll be late to Pilates.”
And “Me do self!” at the breakfast table means I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon picking crusted-on yogurt from the cracks between his eyelids.
The truth is that when it comes to “me do self” us moms are in a lose-lose situation. If we say something like “no, sweetie, let’s just go ahead and let mommy feed you with a spoon until you’re twelve and you have the eye-hand coordination and emotional restraint to keep those ravioli in the bowl” then our kid’s kindergarten teachers accuse us of being a helicopter mom. But if we go ahead and let Mr. Me-Do-Self eat those ravioli all by himself, well, let’s just say there’s not a stain stick or scrub brush on the market strong enough. Not that I know about this from experience or anything.
But I also know from experience that the “me do self!” phase quickly transitions into the “I really can do this myself” phase. I know that there will come a day when I can make it through breakfast without pulling out the jumbo-sized box of baby wipes. Or when I can leave objects of terror like topless cups and washable markers on the counter without fear. There may even be a day when I can go to the playground and chat with the other moms while Will plays at the top of the superhigh toddler slide.
And so, this morning, when I heard those three terrifying words as I handed Will his Cheerios, I pasted on a smile and whipped out my video camera. Because while I know I’m going to spend this afternoon’s nap time fishing soggy cheerios out of the crevices in the high chair, I also know that he will beam as he learns to spoon those cheerios into his mouth. All by himself.