When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror.

26 Feb

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.Β  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.

18 Responses to “When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror.”

  1. Lorna Harris February 26, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Great post. I have two boys who are constantly covered in mud, bruises and filth.

    Setting your child free in the world is terrifying but so necessary.

  2. Sol February 27, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    Hi Thor πŸ™‚ thanks again for a beautiful post. I totally agree with you. When I was little I was taught no fear, any fear I have I learned myself, by f-ing up.

  3. Jennifer February 27, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    Yep. Agree on that score. When we were in Alberta and the girls were in a dayhome. The “mom” was shocked when I told her that Emily *needed* to get hurt. That if she climbed on the coach, let her fall down. Warn her of course, but she is very much the type of kid to learn on her own. Morgan was the kid that you could tell her what the consequences were, and she’d get it. Emily, she needs to experience it.

    We’ve already said that this will be the kid that breaks a few bones and almost gets herself killed doing stupid shit.

    I think in a society where you squash the sense of adventure, it makes it poorer. In a society like that, do you think the Wright brothers would have taken that first flight?

  4. Eden February 27, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    There’s a whole movement about this: “the free-range child” I think it’s called. I’m like, “We have to tell people the should let kids play?”

    Around here, there really isn’t much of this nonsense. There is when you go to the mall playground in Altoona but up here we have a wonderful playground. Its motto is: “Hurts, don’t it? Betcha won’t be doin’ ‘at again, jagoff.”

  5. Hannah February 27, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    Nothing much to add beyond my shouted voice of agreement. Never allowing your children the freedom to experience danger – and learn to avoid it – not only makes them far more likely to hurt themselves badly, it crushes their developing self-esteem.

    I think the same principle applies to getting your children to do housework. (Really. Stop laughing.) Isaac helps me shovel snow, do laundry, wash dishes, cook, and look after the baby. I see the same sense of accomplishment and pride in him as I did the first time he climbed a tree or coasted down my parents’ dangerously-steep driveway.

    This constant coddling of our children is breeding a generation of nervous, tentative, hyperactive children. You can’t tell me there isn’t a causal link between the drastic increase in ADHD and the and hyper-protectiveness of our kids. *ducks thrown shoe*. I know that some people do legitimately HAVE this disorder, but I still think a large percentage of kids on Ritalin just need to be outdoors crashing around in the mud more often.

  6. bromac February 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    This is exactly why I moved my daughter into Montessori. She does not fit into a box and she is extremely independent. Montessori allows the children to decide what activities they will work on and for how long. It enables them to be active members of a community: they get their own eggs from the henhouse, make their wn snacks, wash their own dishes, and deal with their own compost.

    My daughter has also had many,many bruises and blood. We have always been very physical with her and she isn’t afraid of anything.

    I know those other parents though. Well. As a teacher, I hear from the “helicopter parents” on a weekly basis. It is mind-numbing.

  7. Jenny February 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    Bromac, I would love to have had a Montessori school near enough to send my kids. Especially the youngest. He would live outdoors if he could and I hate that he struggles a bit being cooped up at a desk all day.

    And Thordora, Great post. Cotton wool kids. I see it here too. Kids who aren’t allowed to walk to school (in case they run over by some car – no doubt taking their kids to school for exactly the same reason). Like you I’ve always wanted my kids to enjoy childhood and feel independant. But I still get looked at by other mums because I let my youngest walk to his friends or go swimming or take the bus himself. But his older brother and sister had the freedom to do these things and I’m sure thats whats helped them become happy confident teenagers.

    My 16yo daughter did a mini tour of Scotland by herself this year. Four days staying with various friends, planning her bus routes etc. I love that she has the confidence to do these things and I’m so glad to hear other parents who think this way.

    My daughter had chances when she was young to play and interact, make mistakes and learn, and thats what gave her confidence, and that in itself I think MAKES her safer now she’s on the brink of adulthood.

    But sadly I know she’s in the minority amongst her friends.

  8. thordora February 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    Oh jenny I’m so happy to see you I could plotz. πŸ™‚

    I was hitchiking my way around Ontario at 16, without a care in the world. It was fantastic. I had lived more as a teen than some people I know at 30. It opened my eyes, that freedom, and helped me recognize danger.

  9. Shauna February 27, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    In my neighbourhood it’s the “ew, don’t touch that [rock] it’s dirty, no! no!”, and “no, no, honey, we don’t touch [dogs] – they have germs”, and “don’t step in that puddle, your pants will get dirty!”. Now I am not a mom, but I am an aunty – and I have to say I am a very bad influence!

    When my 2 year old godson and I go for a walk, he brings home ants and beetles and grass, and dandelions with little bugs on them. “Look mamma – baby bugs!” is all he has to say before his mamma scoops away the dandelion into the trash, with a “yuck honey, we don’t play with bugs”, carrying him off to sanitize his hands. But while out with me, he can dance in the puddles, he can relocate the bugs, and sometimes he even (ugh!) sucks on rocks, but he’s happy and natural, learning about the world, and I’m happy to be beside him while he does it.

    • thordora February 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

      Oh some parents hate me for that. I’m all for getting down into the dirt. We’ll even sit and examine the mice that the cat have brought home, sitting in the driveway in various states of decomp.

      Dirt is just dirt. If anything, it helps us get stronger to a degree. Although Viv is on her first visit to a farm right now, and I had to remind her to wash her hands before eating after that. πŸ™‚

      You have to wonder how we ever got out of the trees the way some people are. πŸ˜›

  10. cooledskin February 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    I totally agree. My daycare provider calls me every time Evelyn so much as stubs her toe.

    “Can I give her a bandaid?”

    Kids get hurt. That’s how they know not to do it again. Obvious things like running with scissors or putting fingers in electrical sockets (I know you survive, but don’t try that in Britain!) should probably be prevented, but sliding down the hill on your bum? Whatevs.

    Great post!

  11. Marcy February 28, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    So with you!

  12. garth February 28, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    We got a couple of pheasants from a friend.
    I pulled the legs off and let the lad play with the tendons to show him how they worked on a human.

    He gets the P*ss ripped out of him at school because other kids see him walking about all the time.

    I was travelling up and down to Edinburgh from the age of 15.

    My Dad made me hichhike home after a family wedding when the car broke down (about 350 miles away in another country)

    I’ve met loads of interesting people through being adventurous and it’s something I’m glad my kids haven’t missed out on.

    Referring to Jenny’s lack of cotton wool on the kids, I totally agree and I’m so glad I married her..

    • thordora February 28, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

      She is pretty awesome. πŸ™‚

      If I missed the school bus, my father would stare at me blankly until I left to hitch ride. Had to do that the first day of school one year. IN a short skirt. It was a windy day. Got a ride quick though.

      And Garth is one of my favorite guy names ever. Sigh. No boys here though…

  13. patois February 28, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    I do yard duty a couple of days a week at my kids’ elementary school. I hate having to enforce the most over-protective rules ever. Don’t run on the blacktop! Don’t kick a ball when you’re on the blacktop!

    A good thing this is a volunteer gig because I’d be so fired. I always turn a blind eye to such…childish behavior.

    • thordora February 28, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

      I”m quite sure my snotty comments on the schoolyard near the teachers don’t help anything. πŸ˜›

  14. thordora February 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    What kills me is that then today, while being a PARENT and disciplining my kids in public, I get the evil eye.

    SO-the lesson is-don’t let them try anything for themselves that might hurt but might also be cool, BUT, let them break shit in public and pat them on the head.

    FUcking people I swear.

  15. la March 1, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    I grew up a cotton wool kid. I’m nearly 30 and I feel feckin useless, I tell ya.

    If I ever have kids, I’m changing the locks once they turn eighteen.

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