Friday, October 24, 2008


A couple of weeks ago we were at the local Fall Festival. It's a yearly trip for us, mostly because Grandma likes looking at the crafts (my take: more crap we don't need or have room for) and the kids like the inflatable things that they get to play on. Some company brings in the big slide, obstacle course, giant worm, mountain rock wall, and other things.
So this year #4 son decided that he was big enough to climb the rock wall. They found the smallest harness they had and got him strapped in. They showed him how the rope will not let him fall. He did a practice climb up about three feet and back down. He was ready.
And up he went. He was fine at first, but the higher he got the less sure of himself he was. We ended up calling out instructions: "Put your knee on the red one! Grab the Green one! Pull up!"
Eventually he made it to the top. By that time we had attracted a crowd, and everyone cheered.
Then he wouldn't come down. Wouldn't trust the rope. I was hoping he would slip, so the rope would slowly lower him down. But he hung on, getting increasingly scared. increasingly upset.
Finally one of the workers donned a harness and went up the rock wall and helped him down, mostly just showing him that the rope would hold. He came slowly down, hanging on the rope, not sure if he should be proud or slightly ashamed. We made sure that he knew that we were very proud of him for completing the monumental quest. And we apologized to everyone for him taking so long, but no one cared.
Weeks later we were at one of the 'cushy' play areas that are starting to show up in some malls. This one was sponsored by a hospital, so there were medical - themed items strewn throughout. One was a big black doctor's bag. The cool thing appeared to be to climb to the top of the bag and hang out. Most of the bigger kids were doing it. Number Four son had to give it a try.
He made multiple attempts, running up and grabbing on to the top and trying to get his way up, but it wasn't working. He kept slipping, falling back to hanging from his hands, and letting go. Finally he sat down and looked at the insurmountable obstacle. And then he'd tried again.
And again.
Finally he took of his socks, put them in his teeth, and gave it one more shot. The bare feet made the difference. He worked his way to the top and proudly put his socks back on. (I'm a stickler for them keeping socks on in places like those.) He looked at me and I gave him a wave and a smile, letting him know that I had seen him. And was proud of him. And I was glad he kept his socks on.
I note these things not because I am proud of my son (which of course I am), but because I saw the far reaching effects of what he was doing, of what he was learning. He was teaching himself the value of perseverance, the value and reward of hard work. He relied on himself, with a little encouragement, to accomplish his goals. He relied on his brain and his muscles. He learned that thinking before acting generally gets you to your goal faster.
And he'll remember it, because he didn't read it from a book or on a blackboard on hear it from a teacher. He lived it.
Now we could have said "No rock wall today", because he really was too little to make the climb. He spent a long time getting up there, and more time being scared up there. We could have sent someone after him much sooner than we did. And I could have told him not to climb on the doctor bag, because that's really not what it was meant for (there is a tunnel running through it). And I thought about both those things. But I chose to let him be a kid.
My best childhood memories are of being outside in unscheduled, unsupervised play. Being out in the woods for hours and hours. Just being in the neighborhood with friends all day and most of the night. Being a kid.
We tell ourselves we can't do that today, that there are too many risks, that the costs are too high. Then we wonder about childhood obesity and autism and time spent online and gaming. What is the cost of NOT letting you kids be kids?
Many kids today are so micro-managed, so sheltered, so scheduled. Let them go, let them play, let them learn. Let them get dirty. Sometimes they'll fail, and cry, and be devastated. Sometimes they won't. And every time, they'll learn.

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