I was surprised this weekend to realize that it had already been three weeks since my daughter’s ugly fall on the balance beam of our favorite park and playground. The stitches are out, blood washed from our shirts and the future scar barely visible, but what really surprised me was that it had been that long since we’d been back. Softball practices, a few days out of town and untimely rain conspiring to keep us away.
Today we went to the park. We went back and within minutes she had found some friends to chase, a game of tag at full speed with no hesitation at any obstacle that needed to be hurdled, climbed or slid down. It didn’t take long before she decided it was time for a few walks across the beam, gingerly at first, but slowly regaining some of her pre-fall confidence. She didn’t ask but I was there to hold her hand when it was extended.
Upon returning home she decided that it was time to practice her “two wheel bicycle” riding, her term for her bike since demanding that the stabilizers be removed.
It was a productive session, each time I let go her peddling taking her further down the gravel road that passes by our home. Ten, fifteen feet at a time before her balance failed or nerves forced her feet back onto solid ground. Frustration turning to pride as it seemed that a corner had finally been turned.
Unfortunately, we all know what cometh after pride.
Determined to show mommy how well she was doing, we moved to the backyard where my wife was occupied with spring yard work. A back yard that features a long, gradual decrease in elevation before culminating in a line of trees separating our property from the neighbors. A long, gradual decrease that she of course was able to transverse like she had been riding a bike for years, a distance I was unable to cover on foot before the inevitable ass over teakettle ending to her ride. It was a nasty spill but fortunately resulted in nothing that required medical attention this time. A few more scratches and bruises added to her collection.
A lot has been made of the “bubble wrapping” of today’s children. The idea that we are too protective, too risk adverse. I don’t think its a coincidence that the rise of “helicopter parenting” coincided with the explosion of the internet and the ease at which armchair quarterbacks can second guess every decision made. The judgement of the masses forcing us to justify every bump and bruise.
A popular lament is that when we were kids we did all sorts of dangerous things all the time and turned out just fine. It’s a valid point, even if there is a tendency to forget about all the kids who didn’t turn out quite as fine. I’d never advocate for the return of rusty metal slides, riding in the back of pick up trucks or playing lawn darts at our next birthday party, but kids need to be outside. They need to run, to climb, and occasionally to fall down. They need to know that a skinned knee or a bloody lip doesn’t have to slow them down.
I wonder now what percentage of our parental duties should be spent trying to keep them from falling, whether it’s sometimes better to simply be there to pick them back up. Maybe the most important thing we can do is to make sure they know we are there to hold their hand when they need it.