I'm not an overly cautious parent. I realize my kids are going to get bumps and bruises and cuts. Right now, Ethan is sporting several leg bruises, a shin scrape, and a brand spankin' new blister on the pad of his middle finger where he figured it would be a good idea to touch the coffee pot burner.
I suppose this attitude was passed down to me, because I distinctly remember my childhood fun consisting of standing in the middle of the front seat for rides in the car, playing with dried cow manure, and stepping barefoot in wet cow manure followed by hobbling to the nearest water hose to clean it off. I remember climbing trees and jumping from a height of about 10 feet, flying in the face of my mother's warnings of broken necks. I recall monkeying across barn rafters in order to fall into a big pile of hay below, and walking tightrope-style along narrow board fences with thorny barnyard weeds looming beneath my feet waiting eagerly for a misstep. I swam in snake- and leech-infested creeks with snapping turtles sprinkled in just for fun. Because cattle also used those creeks, I'm sure the water was teeming with E. coli.
These days, the media has done away with much of that fun. We're warned of predators, both of a sexual nature and those with brown skin. We're told of the multitudinous dangers of bacteria, and steered away from spinach, of all things. They don't place teeter-totters on playgrounds anymore due to liability. We're taught to fear the sun as though we are all freckle-frightened Victorian women. Mothers race to protect their kids from other kids rather than allowing them to work out problems on their own. They slather antibacterial gel all over their child's hands. They don't allow their kids to take tumbles, and if little Junior happens to stumble, Mummy is right there to pick him up and coo over him.
Where is the life in that?
Last night while Laurel was attending her guitar lesson I took Ethan to the park. I allowed him to climb to the tallest twisty slide by himself while other mothers gave me the hairy eyeball. Greg and I allowed him to do it the night before, so we knew he could handle it. Another mother warned her daughter (likely age 4) away from that slide, then said — with complete disdain — "That little guy is going up there, isn't he?" I turned around and gave her a smile. She glared at me as though I were a Child Protective Services poster child. "We were apprehensive at first," I told her. "But he loves it. He did it several times last night with no problems. I'm not concerned."
"Well," she responded uncertainly, "I guess if he's not scared. . ."
Well, guess what? He's not scared. I haven't taught him to be scared of playgrounds. Ethan's a kid, and I'm allowing him to figure out as many of his boundaries for himself as possible. I've seen him back away from the edge of the porch because he fell once and skinned his nose. That's how kids learn.
He loves the twisty slide, and god knows the playground equipment these days is so safe a kid would have to seriously put out effort to get hurt on it. I felt good last night about ignoring those parents giving me the stink-eye.
I'm sick of overprotective parents who don't allow their child to stumble and recover in life and then wonder why, eighteen years down the road, they're having to clean up their adult child's messes.
I just wish other parents would allow their kids to live. Really live. Only by living will children learn.