I’ve been reading Lenore Skenazy’s blog Free Range Kids for while and I’ve read her book. I tentatively embrace her philosophy as much as I can. Does that mean I’m a completely laid back parent that never fears any harm will come to my children?
Not at all. Not even remotely. No. Are you kidding me? I’m a closet worrier with a copious imagination. My natural inclination leans more to covering them in bubble wrap and hiding them from the world.
So of course I have kids who climb trees, do trampoline competitively, and—the big one—love guns and hunting. For the third year in a row my youngest (now 13) has been hunting with my dad. I play it cool, but inside my head you’d think I sent my child soldier out to a war torn country with an AK 47 (is that a thing? Because I really know nothing about guns) strapped on his shoulder.
Why do I do it? Because deep down I know that what is more dangerous than a boy who loves guns is a boy who loves guns but knows nothing about them. So I signed my son up for the Hunter Safety Course and then made him sit through the 4H gun safety course for good measure. And I send him out with my dad and brother who have over fifty years of hunting experience between them—and kind of like him enough to want to keep him safe. Oh, and my brother actually TEACHES the hunter safety course and is a police officer to boot. Instead of hiding him from guns I’m smothering him in them.
When I’m home stewing about him sitting about in a tree with a gun and I get a text, “I think I got one!” I then have to deal with the other startling concept of having a child who uses a gun—they kill things. A hundred plus years ago this was considered just a normal part of growing up for a boy but today, tell people your child likes to kill things and they avoid eye contact and rearrange play dates and start tittering about child sociopaths. Ok, that is a bit of hyperbole but we are told so often to be alarmed if our child likes to harm animals, if they like to play disturbing, violent video games (or are willing to write five paragraph themes for the right to play them here), if they ever threaten anyone ever (who has a child with a sibling that has not at one time or another threatened something heinous to them? You? Ok, um, never mind. That never happened here) that admitting that my child kills things seems a precarious parental position to be in.
But this is the child who burst into tears (Charlie can confirm!) when he thought harm had come to his beloved pet chicken. This is the child who lovingly helps his aging dog up the steps at night so he can sleep on a pillow beside him. Hardly signs of budding psychopathy. How then, can he shoot Bambi? He says it is different. If you object, and you have a child who has scarfed down a happy meal ever, then I challenge. Alex is required to help with the dirty business after the shooting and he knows he is providing for our family and that anything he kills will end up on our dinner table. Again, hundred plus years ago this would have been common place but today we are so removed from our food supply that wanting to take part in that initial step is tinged with suspicion. But kids today –even teens — hardly get a chance to truly provide for their families. When we sit down to dinner and I confirm that we are eating venison Alex gushes with pride. Yes it’s true that if we didn’t have a freezer full of venison there is a store five minutes up the road, but that doesn’t diminish his accomplishment of providing for our family.
How do trampolines fit into all this? No, I do not let my son play with guns on trampolines. That would just be silly. Trampolines are notorious for injuries. Backyard trampolines are the scourge of home owner’s insurance policies. They are often garbed in safety netting (totally a fan btw) to try to make them a bit safer but still emergency rooms rank them as one of the top offenders. So of course Alex was drawn to them. I had to develop the same philosophy I did with guns—What is more dangerous than a boy who loves to flip about on trampolines is a boy who does so without proper training. That feeling worked pretty well up until a few months ago when I was chatting with parents at the end of a practice and heard cheering and Alex’s name. Clearly I had just missed something important (bad mom—chatting instead of watching every moment!) Yes, I had just missed Alex landing his first double flippy thing (surely that is the official name) on the trampoline. This milestone ushered in a new era of imagined broken limbs on my part. He jumps incredibly high, and the moves are getting scarier to watch. It is getting harder to believe my mantra that he is safer doing this than flinging himself about on a back yard trampoline. But yet I let him continue. Sports are his THING ( I wrote about this here). They center him.
Through trampoline he daily has to work at something difficult and see the hard work pay off—or not and then he has to work through a good deal of frustration. He knows first hand how concentrating on the details and working on something over and over till it is perfect makes the difference. He is learning how to perform under pressure, how to win and lose graciously. In short, he is building responsibility, character and perseverance. Admittedly there are many moments I dearly wish he was gaining these experiences via competitive chess but that is just not who he is.
And hopefully he gets enough thrill out of this crazy stuff that when the opportunity comes to get behind a car he doesn’t need to feed his risk taking needs by doing something crazy there. Because that, my friends, is something I just can’t be free range about. Guns, yes. Trampolines, yes. Driver’s license?—eh, that’s a long ways off, right?