Monday, June 20, 2011

Rushing In to Help

Oh my god, Henry, he's going to fall! I just know it!

Would you please relax Martha. If the boy doesn't fall every once in a while, he'll never learn what to do when he does. What happens if he falls for the first time and you're not around to help him through it? Better he falls now, than later.

Henry, how can you be so callus? You know what's going happen. He's gonna fall off that thing and hurt himself. He might even break a leg or arm. We can't just sit here and watch.

Martha, first of all, the base of the thing is filled with sand. Second, the top of the thing can't be more than four or five feet off the ground. If he does fall, and I emphasize the word "if", then it's highly unlikely that he'll hurt himself let alone break something.

Unlikely you say, but not impossible. It could happen.

Yes, Martha, it could happen. A meteor could drop from the sky an smash the whole thing to bits, but it's not likely.

You think that could happen?

Look Martha, there are twenty kids on that thing. There isn't one parent standing up there waiting to catch his kid if he falls.

Henry, if twenty kids were standing on top of the Empire State Building ready to jump off and no parents came to stop them, that wouldn't make it right.

Uhhhhh… Yeah, but this ain't the top of the Empire State Building we're talking about here, Martha. It's a kids' jungle gym. It's designed for kids to climb. It promotes development of gross motor skills and balance. It's a good thing.

Sure, they say it's safe, but I mean, really, how do you ever know for sure?

Martha, the answer is: you don't. You can never know for sure. For sure is not a luxury that any of us can afford.

So you're saying that he's not worth it!

No Martha, I'm speaking metaphorically. All we ever have is possibilities. We never have guarantees. Nothing in life is certain.

Oh my god, Henry, look, he's trying to stand on the top of that thing. He's gonna fall for sure. Tommy! Tommy!

Martha, would you relax. You're gonna scare the hell out of him. Shoot, he's not paying attention to what he's doing, looking around to see who's calling his name. I think he's gonna...

Oh Henry. I can't bear to look. Is he OK. Would you please go help him. He's may be unconscious. He's probably balling his little eyes out. Please do something.




You can open your eyes now. It would appear that he's not unconscious or hurt.

He's not?

No. And further, he's motioning for you to look at him.

He is?


Henry, oh my god, he's standing on that thing again. How'd he get up there so fast. Why's he waving like that? Oh my god! Henry, I think he's gonna...


Henry, did you see that. He jumped right off the top of that thing! I think he's gonna do it again. What are we gonna do?



Yeah, we're gonna watch.

When Joy was born, Rene and I were both twenty-two. We felt utterly responsible for her well-being and utterly powerless to protect her from all that could possibly go wrong. As she learned to crawl and then to walk, we provided a steady stream of cautionary advice. Be careful not to... if you do this, that will happen... you never know when...

By the time Eila came along, we were much older, twenty-four, and with those years of experience under our belts we relaxed a bit. We provided Eila fewer warnings and even encouraged her to embark upon dangerous activities such as climbing on the couch. By the time Luke came along (we were twenty-six), we were pretty chill with most activities.

Since the kids are each just two-years apart, you would think that they were subject to pretty much the same parenting and that the effect would have been similar. However, it's remarkable to me how differently the kids grew up based on the changes in Rene and me over those first few years. Granted, there are other factors involved; I don't believe in the "blank slate" theory. However, even at early ages, Eila was much more fearless than Joy, and Luke more fearless than Eila.

I remember watching Eila and Joy playing one morning at a local park. A balance beam stretched across a pit of sand about three feet from the ground. Joy, who was three-and-half, pulled herself along clinging tightly to the beam as she went. As she approached the far end, Eila, who was eighteen-months, climbed onto the beam, stood upright and walked casually across.

Luke would later approach such beams full-throttle riding skateboards, roller-blades and bicycles.

Sure, there are many possible points of attribution for these differences, but I believe strongly that kids are innately fearless and that they mainly learn it from us.

Happy Monday,


  1. Full agreement.

    When we had our daughter we decided that we weren't going to freak out when she tried to do things and bumped her head etc. Just warn her to pay attention and encourage her to try.

    It was really funny watching grandparents and friends try not to freak out on our behalf when we were calmly watching her after a thud while she was trying to figure out if she was hurt or not. She's three and climbs and swings and is definitely fearless and the only hospital visit so far had nothing to do with that.

  2. Beth, I must admit, we did have our share of emergency encounters. By the time Eila was five, she'd managed to break an arm on one occasion, an ankle on another and need her appendix removed on a third (the last not really being relevant to the current topic).

    By the third emergency room visit, we were able to take it all in stride. I remember the neighborhood kids running to tell me how they'd been climbing onto the horizontal ladder and jumping off. Eila been raising the game by standing atop it, jumping through the rungs and then catching herself on a rung with her hands as she passed by. One time she missed.

    Rene and I had dinner plans for the evening. She asked me, "So, you wanna take care of the dinner plans or you wanna take Eila to the hospital?"

    Stuff can happen. But, stuff can happen regardless. I think you nailed it with suggesting your daughter pay attention. Since kids will likely be kids, the best we can do is to help them become good at it.



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