Playing with Sticks
“Put that down!”
My head snapped up in surprise, to see another mother glaring at my son as she grabbed her own little boy by the shoulders and dragged him away from the sandbox, where our two boys had been playing side-by-side.
I didn’t know her name, nor she mine. Our relationship began when her son scampered into the sandbox and settled down a few feet from Shane. We smiled at one another, learned the names and ages of each other’s children, and chatted a bit, just small talk, as we kept careful eyes on our boys.
Her sudden reaction completely caught me off guard. I watched her storm away, feeling completely confused about what just happened. Then I looked back at my apparent juvenile delinquent, trying to figure out what had upset her so much.
All I saw was my little boy, quietly digging in the sand with a short, stubby stick.
I honestly didn’t see the harm in it — there were no sand toys in the sandbox, no shovels or rakes or scoops of any kind — and Shane had simply looked around, saw there were no shovels, and quickly discovered something else he could use. He wasn’t waving it around, poking it at anyone, or otherwise acting dangerously. He was just using it as a tool, just digging in the sand.
Maybe I’m a bad mother. This other mom certainly seemed to think that I was, for failing to immediately leap up to confiscate that stick. But I have to confess: I let my son play with sticks. And rocks. And mud puddles and piles of dirt. Just this week we’ve marveled together over all the different stones that can be found in a gravel walkway, and explored the concepts of big and little, heavy and light, as he attempted to lift various rocks along the edge of our driveway. I’ve allowed him — encouraged him — to dig in the dirt with small sticks, to draw in wet sand with scavenged bits of driftwood, to huff and puff and struggle as he made a valiant try at dragging a fallen branch across the yard.
I never looked at a stick and saw it as a weapon of mass destruction in my toddler’s hands. Rather than freaking out when he picks one up, I’ve been teaching him how to be safe. To keep it pointed down, away from other people. To never use it to hit or hurt someone in any way. To walk carefully, rather than run, while holding a stick. My view is, kids are drawn towards sticks, and I’m not always going to be nearby to grab them out of his hands, so maybe it’s better in the long run to teach him how to play with them safely.
Or maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. After encountering that other mother’s reaction on the playground, I’m doubting myself a bit. What’s your take on this? Do you let your kids play with sticks, or do you take them away?