Lessons from french fries

Today, while helping Kerrie eat an “anything but routine” McDonald’s dinner, Sierra grasped a french fry with a clenched fist, routinely dipped it in ketchup and shoved it in her mouth.

I thought nothing of it. That is, until Kerrie pointed it out.

“She just dipped her french fry in ketchup,” Kerrie said.

“Where did she learn that?”

For a while, we were probably a little too crazy about what we allowed Sierra to eat. No hot dogs. No pop tarts. Especially no french fries. We’ve since slacked off a bit (still no pop tarts, though – that’s sugar for breakfast, and even I know better) but we don’t actively feed her anything we wouldn’t feed ourselves.

However, here she was. Grasping and dunking. The surprise wasn’t the act itself, but the offhanded nature of it – as if it was simply natural, that she’d been doing it for years.

And it hit us.

She’s learning without us.

There are a lot of things Sierra learns. Every day, she picks up new habits – thing she sees from other kids, things we do without thinking, our bad and good and forgettable (and regrettable).

Regardless of what we try to keep her from – the habits we’d hope she could stay away from until she’s old enough to know the consequences – we are slowly coming to the realization that she’s going to learn things without our guidance.

That she’s going to be exposed to things we might not want her exposed to.

That, eventually, she’s not going to simply surprise us with French fries, but with something more serious, with the things that scare us – the nightmares every parent has. As much as she depends on us, she’s an independent person with an independent train of thought that soaks up as much influence as it can muster, filtering only based on need and desire, with little recognition of the ramifications that could occur.

She’s going to be exposed.

And the question becomes, do we worry about it every second of the day – worry about whether our little girl is being exposed to the right things, and over-analyze every moment of her day – or do we take one thing at a time, realizing that, ultimately, she’s going to grow stronger from each experience?

Do we cling for dear life? Or do we let her stumble on her own?

This was lovingly handwritten on December 19th, 2008