Independence or Efficiency? Those are the Choices with a Toddler in Tow.

Hello from North Haven!

The sun finally came out on Sunday. We’d been cooped up all day Saturday, a little sniffly with the tail end of a cold and struggling to feel enthusiastic about the snow outside. When Penrose started running laps around the house Sunday morning yelling “I WANT FRY! I WANT FRY!” (your guess is as good as mine as to what that even means), we figured we’d better get her outside while the warm weather lasted.

The process of going from indoors to outdoors in cold weather with a person under the age of – I’m going to guess 18 – can be excruciating. It begins with the bathroom. Penrose is now capable of performing every step of the bathroom process, from setting up her toilet set to washing her hands and turning off the light, all by herself. We’ve been nudging her that way as she gets ready to move up to the 3 – 5-year-old preschool this summer. Our lack of oversight, however, means that sometimes some steps get skipped.

This morning was no exception. We watched Pen trot out of the bathroom, ready to get her boots on and get going, but noticed a few things were missing.

“Hey Pen, we didn’t hear the toilet flush or the water running.”

Immediately, her demeanor changed. She threw back her head and began wailing full throatedly. “I diiiiiiiid it alreeeeeeeadyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!”

“But we didn’t hear you, boo. We can tell when you flush and wash your hands because we can hear the water.”

She trudged back into the bathroom. Not that we were in a hurry, but this little hiccup had added a few minutes onto our departure. The dog, who had caught wind of the impending outing, was getting restless by the front door.

All geared up and ready for adventure! Photo by William Trevaskis, used with permission

With hygiene completed for real this time, the outdoor gear process began. At her last parent/teacher conference, her amazing teachers let us know it was time to help her become a more independent dresser, again in preparation for the “big school” transition. She can now line up her boots and slip them on, often getting them on the right feet, put her coat on the floor upside-down and “flipsydoodle” it over her head, and put on her mittens and hat. It just doesn’t happen very quickly. We let the dog out to blow off some steam in the yard, rather than continue to tap-dance in front of the door, while we waited.

Pen put her boots on fairly quickly, then got distracted while laying her coat out. She began inventorying all of the things she’s stashed in there this winter – a sticker, a rock, some spruce cones.

“Let’s go,” we urged, “Claude’s waiting outside.” She tenderly spread out her purple coat, stopping to fix the orientation for her upside-down maneuver. She smoothed each wrinkle out of the sleeves. Our new kitten came over and immediately took advantage of the fuzzy lining. Progress came to a halt.

“Sorry kitty, we have to go!” I said, moving him off of the coat. Pen finally stuck her arms in the sleeves and flipped the coat over her head. I zipped her and she popped on her tasseled fleece hat. I stuck her mittens in my coat pocket and we catapulted out the door.

That tug of war between independence and efficiency played out a few more times that day, as Pen trudged through deep snow on our way to the golf course for a run around, and as we hiked a steep hill to catch the spectacular view on Crabtree Point. Letting a toddler do things herself certainly isn’t the fastest way to get things done. But the pride on her face – and ours – when she lands her coat just right, or climbs over a mound of seaweed, or balances just so on a footbridge is worth the wait.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!