Monday, April 11, 2011

How do YOU know?

I have taken a break from the blog, but now I'm back because something that happened today lit a fire under my rear.  Honestly, I just need to vent!

Since my last post, I think I've really taken a slightly more laid back approach to my children's education.  Instead of daily lists and weeks overbooked with outings, we have an "attitude" toward life that encompasses continual learning.  We are preparing for a grocery-budget-denting garden (yes, right here in my suburban back yard), and so have been doing things like planting seeds indoors, hoeing the garden, building a compost bin, and so on as such. 

In light of this "pioneer" attitude (and the fact that Cady and I have started watching Little House on the Prairie), I caved in and took the kids "fishing" at the creek in our neighborhood.  It would have been a miracle had we caught a fish, as I'm fairly sure there were none to be found.  But Cady had fun digging up two dozen worms to use for bait.  Anyhow, as Cady sat on the bank waiting for nibbles and untangling her line from branches, rocks, trash and essentially anything that stuck out in the least bit, her brother began exploring.

An excellent climber, he scaled the bank higher and worked his way across a fallen tree that bridged the running water.  As he sat in the middle of it, he began pointing out smaller tributaries (I didn't imagine they could get smaller that the creek- which was really more like runnoff drainage), a tiny waterfall, dead tree roots, and more.  What a wonderful "educational" experience!

But while I had my back turned to help Cady untangle the lure from a bush on the opposite bank, she said to me, "Mom, there's a lady up there by the fence."

I wrinkled my eyebrows and turned around.  Sure enough, a woman must have come out of the house adjacent to the *public* waterway to watch our goings-on.  I started to wave and say a friendly "hello," when she cut me short. 

"He's going to get hurt you know," she hollered. (How could she KNOW that?!  Amazing.)  "Those trees aren't real stable and neither is that bank!  He's going to fall!" 

"He's a great climber, but thanks," I responded with some semblance of shiny disposition remaining.  She looked down her thumbed-up nose, and shook her disapproving head at me.  I asked Cady, in her rubber boots, to go across and dislodge the wedged fish hook from the bush.  Once she got it, I looked back and the woman was gone.  Asher had scrambled off of his perch and taken the dog to scooter circles on the the perfectly safe, fenced in tennis court in the nicely mowed park.  Lesson learned.

Who did she think she was, shaking her head at me?  I am those children's MOTHER, and am perfectly capable of assessing the danger or lack thereof in a given situation.  Furthermore, who was she to put doubt in Asher's head about his ability to assess his OWN situation?  Did she think he was going to compromise his own life, his own safety?  Kids know a lot more than we think about keeping themselves out of harm's way.  Even a dog, a cat, a fox, a wild boar, will turn back from an unsafe river crossing.  Are we so overbearing that we don't think children are as capable of protecting themselves from harm as a mutt or a swine?

I sure hope not. 

Now, I'm not saying that children will always make the right choices.  But how are their decision-making skills ever going to develop if we are constantly making decisions FOR them? 

You are going to hurt yourself. 
You won't like that sushi. 
You're too shy to be in a play.
If you jump on the couch you're going to fall off, crack your head on the coffee table, and be paralyzed for the rest of your life, and then how do you think I would feel?

I'm not saying we shouldn't have conversations about safety, and I'm all for the helmet rule when riding bicycles. (My daughter once- to my chagrin- observed rather loudly that a family of helmetless "morons" were riding past.)  Or even have conversations about likes, dislikes, choices, etc.  But we shouldn't pigeonhole our kids, or other peoples' kids for that matter.

Now, in the situation over the creek... perhaps a better play-out of that scene would have been as follows:  Woman sees Asher on the log.  She smiles and says "hello" to us all, maybe comments on the weather.  Then she makes an observation, "Hey, see over there on the other bank?"  We all look.  "That branch is splitting away and it doesn't look like it has good footing."  Ahhhhh, then Asher could assess the situation and make a decision about his relationship with that particular bridge.  What a wonderful learning opportunity! He could have checked out the erosion, maybe seen some rotting or weathering, dug deeper into his experience so that next time he would have the knowledge he needed before he shimmied half way across a raging rapids on a rickety bridge.

Instead, she completely squelched my son's curiosity and spoiled his adventure!  (BTW, that "good footing" thing was entirely fictional... she really had no basis for saying he was going to hurt himself.)

But we do this in so many ways.  Have you ever said to your child, "If you eat that cookie you won't be hungry for dinner."  But they are.  "Don't ride your bike in the road, you'll get run over by a car."  They don't, that time.  "If you boss your brother around, he won't want to play with you."  But he does play.  These kinds of warnings end up being lies... at least for that one time that your warning didn't actually come into fruition.  It makes us look like fools, and it makes the kids want to test their theory even more! Kids love to prove their parents wrong.  ("See, I ate all my spaghetti even AFTER the cookie!")  Then when they're teenagers, and we say, "Don't do drugs, they'll get you in trouble and hurt your body," are they going to believe us?

I mean, you can tell them a million times that they could get hit by a car and killed.  That will never be as effective as showing them an animal or perhaps a shoe (or something like that) which has been killed or crushed by a half-ton automobile.  Why?  Because they more they go out in the road and stay uncrushed, the more they are proving your theory wrong.  But you can't argue with real, hard data.

I'm not pretending to have a cornerstone on how to raise kids.  I'm just making these little bursts of discoveries myself, and sharing my bitty breakthroughs with you.  We are not psychics.  (No offense to actual psychics.)  We do not KNOW what's going to happen as a result of our children's actions.  Let's instead be scientists, let's be partners on the educational journey of life.  We can make observations, gather data, and let our budding thinkers draw their own sound conclusions. 

It might help them do just that when it matters most.