Most mornings, rain or shine, I walk Vivian the kilometre to her school, trudging with half shut eyes through ice and slush. Most of this isn’t just walking-it’s tugging, cajoling, threatening and bribing for speed. We walk so slowly that sometimes I swear we’re going backwards in time. You’d never know that she loves school.
Winter in a schoolyard is a magnificent thing. Snowbanks to climb, to slide down, to jump in and off. Snow, simple, intricate snow becomes so many places or things. After the last snowstorm, I smiled, thinking of all the joyous voices I’d hear, running and playing on those hills.
We walk onto the schoolyard, and all the kindergartners are restrained to one, sterile area, trapped even, pacing in many cases, the length of the “play area” they’re allowed. I walk past a group who have started sliding on their bottoms down a tiny, foot high snowbank. Immediately a “teacher” rushes over, and micromanages them to the point that it’s just not fun anymore, and they scatter.
I stand with my mouth open, confused and sad.
While I don’t trust people necessarily, I firmly believe in independent children. I believe in bruises incurred falling down on the driveway, small cuts after wandering around in the woods, skinned knees after tipping over your bike. The possibility of danger, the thirst of fear. I believe children should have these simple things, and I don’t mean it in that old foggie, uphill both ways kinda way.
What do we lose when we take a person’s sense of adventure? When we remove the potential for harm, for consequence? What core part of our being is affected when we minimize the world down to things you can touch, and things you can’t? We’ve evolved chasing fricken mammoths after all.
I think back to the playground “equipment” we had when I was Vivian’s age. This rickety, rusty metal spinning merry go round type thing, some metal bars that ripped the skin from your hands, a yard. In the front of the school was this huge wooden climber, complete with a long, wide metal slide. It was likely 12-15 feet high. I remember vividly the time a classmate jumped off the top, completely missed the snowbank, and shattered his elbow. No one ever did something that dumb again.
Some kid got his tongue stuck to the fence one cold morning, the little brother of a friend. The blood mark stayed forever it seemed, and in my head, I can see, exactly where this happened. I rode a bike into a moving car once, skidded under a parked one another, tearing up one side of my body impressively.
Sure, these are stupid acts, the acts of children. But they’re more than that.
They are lessons. Mistakes let us determine the right path, on our own, or damn close. Watching Jeremy screaming and crying as hot water and blood poured down his front, we all learned in a much more lasting way, why you never EVER stick your tongue to anything metal, no matter what anyone says. Healing from road rash, I learned to pay attention to whether the bike has pedal brakes or hand brakes BEFORE trying to make the corner that fast. I also learned to better anticipate events, plan a little better (snort. that lasted) PAY ATTENTION!!! as my mother was always yelling.
The point is that I began to come to my own conclusions, learn my own lessons, and actually take them with me. As opposed to every time an adult told me something. I was one of those kids, who just HAD to do whatever she was told was bad.
Yes, I’ve stuck my fingers in a light socket. Literally. It’s not that bad to be honest.
I never wanted to listen, and take some one’s word for it. I needed to prove it. And then learn the lesson that in some things, my father wasn’t lying.
The problem with the cocoon, and managing every single second of a child’s life, telling them how and where to play, what’s safe, what they can eat, what they can wear, is that you might turn around in 15 years and have an adult living in your basement who is COMPLETELY incapable of anything resembling acting like a mature human. Because you’ve done all the acting for them. They might not have the courage to fly the coop because they’ve never truly spread their wings.
We complain that kids are far too wrapped up in themselves and their things-what else do they have if we’ve taken exhilaration from them? They have what, new cell phones and fucking left? If you take the thrill from life, what’s left to it? If you destroy the chance to hurtle down a snowy hill on a rickety piece of wood doing close to 10kms an hour, if you keep your children from feeling the snow in their face, the sun on their neck as they laugh as much from fear as from joy, are they even still human? What are they? Who are we raising then?
We truly have so little to fear now, that we create boogeyman. I know people who see the world outside as riddled with scary men in the bushes, who can’t imagine leaving their children where they might get a bruise or stumble a little. We cover everything with helmets and protective gear, leaving me thinking wistfully of long bike rides on Sunday afternoons, the silky August wind in my hair, bathed in the sun as the world felt so open and fantastic.
What will freedom be for our children?
I pick Viv up, the sun warming the snow, melt water trickling down the roads. She sprints immediately for the giant snow hills, those which are verboten during the day and taunt her. Her friends join her. I stand with their mother and watch as they slide, with absolutely no regard for their safety, down the hill, bouncing and jolting, avoiding pointy parts the next time.
“They’re still bendy at this age” I laugh with their mother, and she nods, and we just watch, the joyous cries of youth filling the air between us, around us.
That laughter sounds long into the night in my ears.