Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Better safe than sorry?

One of my more vivid memories of childhood was woozily walking around the monkey bars one morning, my head stuck with my nose pointing to the sky, perplexed by my inability to yell, or make any noise at all. Just seconds before I had been happily hanging upside down, tooting on my tin whistle.

I pulled the tin whistle out of my throat, and had enough sense to keep quiet about it. My folks had little tolerance for any consequences from acting stupid. By afternoon I was swinging upside down again, this time without my whistle, my voice now raspy.

At this moment, my left thumb has a small (but gaping) laceration from a saw that slipped from the limb I was cutting a few days ago. I was at the top of a ladder at the time.

I thought I liked heights despite my history--turns out my adventures may have contributed to my relative fearlessness.

"Paradoxically, we [Drs. Sanseter and Kennair] posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children  and increased levels of psychopathology."

"Girls' playground, Harriet Island," circa 1905

We broke a few bones, collected quite a few stitches, scraped off some skin, nearly drowned a few times, chipped (and lost) a few teeth, burned ourselves regularly, and spent part of an afternoon stone deaf after getting a fuseless M80 to demonstrate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics a foot or two away from our faces.

We got chewed, stung, or nipped by skeeters, crabs, bees and wasps, jellyfish, a bluefish or two. I even got a catfish stuck on my leg for hours, refusing to go for help as the critter shuddered away its last few hours, in a worse state than me.

We knew what tendons looked like from direct experience. ("Look, mom...!")

I'm not advocating that we maim our children, and our gang was a little nutty even by the standards of 4 or 5 decades ago. You could reconstruct a fair-sized toddler from all the cells we lost along the way.

We developed fearlessness, and we learned the difference between risk and recklessness. I even learned a bit about the anatomy of the larynx.

Fear can kill life long before a child's last breath. Fear has tempered some of the flash and bang once a staple in science class. Fear of failing has replaced the kinds of fear that shaped the pursuit of happy and fulfilling lives.

Photo from Shorpy, a treasure trove of photos from years ago.


John T. Spencer said...

I let my kids play in the rainstorm yesterday. They were the only ones in the neighborhood outside.

I played in the rain, too.

Brenna slipped on the wet concrete. She hit it hard. She cried hard. I held her hard in my arms. Then we walked back into the rain and played again.

I want her to feel safe being unsafe.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Psssst....according to the papers here you had a monster dust storm yesterday.

Just sayin'. =)

Sue VanHattum said...

My brother is dealing with a rough separation. His daughter's mom is obsessive about safety, and thinks he's not a fit parent. (She finds lots of reasons; safety is just one.)

I wrote an affidavit, and mentioned their widely different parenting styles. She scoffed about that, and acted like I was an unfit parent too.

The one incident my brother could give to me to explain why was when my son came sliding down the carpeted stairs at my parents house, head first, and hurt himself. I don't even remember it, he hurts himself so often. He's never been to the hospital for an injury, though.

And lately, I've wished I had been braver when I was young.