Today’s mothertalk blog bonanza is inspired by The Dangerous Book for Boys, in which Conn and Hal Iggulden lament over the loss of more carefree childhoods, and outline ways to bring the fun and adventure back into boyhood. Now, I am not a boy, I don’t have a boy, and the brothers Iggulden are obviously not mothers, so you may be wondering why I’m writing about this book. I’m writing about it because it touches on something about which I often worry: how to let my daughter experience the world and take risks—have fun—when all around, I see disaster. How do I balance my own fear and ultra-tuned sense danger with Stella’s appetite for climbing and jumping from high places?
When my sisters and I were young, we loved to make potions. We would set up bricks, build a fire, and, in a coffee can, boil grass and water and sticks and berries. Sometimes, the fire engulfed the can. Sometimes we burned our hands.
Other dangers: we rode in the way back of the station wagon, no seat belts; we raced down the street on our bikes without helmets. (Did helmets even exist back then?)
But though we did things that I wouldn’t allow Stella to do now (No seat belt? I’d have an apoplexy if she weren’t strapped in a federally approved car seat!), these activities were always tempered with my mother’s warnings.
We often heard the general “be careful,” but Mom warned us about more specific dangers, as well: never play on a huge mound of sand because you might sink into it and suffocate; never climb into an abandoned refrigerator or you might get stuck inside and suffocate (suffocation was huge); never walk into an elevator until you’re sure that the elevator car is really there. (Mom had heard of a woman who hadn’t been paying attention; she fell to her death in the elevator shaft.)
These were the warnings at which we rolled our eyes. Seriously, how often does one come across an abandoned refrigerator? It’s not as if we were playing in a landfill.
We took her other cautions more seriously: never take candy from a stranger; never go anywhere with a stranger, even if he says he knows mom and dad; never approach a car, even if the person inside is asking for directions. And these warnings may have actually saved us. Once, my older sister was walking home and a man pulled up in a station wagon. He whispered something and my sister, with my mother’s admonition ringing in her ears, refused to move closer to the car. She stood on the sidewalk, yelling, “I can’t hear you. Talk louder.” Finally, the man asked, more loudly, where the nearest gas station was. My sister pointed, and he drove off. Hmmm, was he an evil-doer? Perhaps.
There are times when it is better to be safe than sorry, and there are real dangers that exist in the world. But how do I balance wanting to keep Stella safe with wanting her to be strong and brave and believe in herself?
There is a huge climber at the park near our house. The city removed the metal rocket climber that had been there for generations. (I played on it as a child.) In its place they put an equally tall rope pyramid climber. I’m actually not sure that the rope climber is any safer. Can’t one fall just as hard from ropes as from metal bars?
Of course Stella loves this thing, and she loves to climb up high and jump into the sand below. When she does this, other mothers at the park often look at me, their eyes wide. They seem to be saying: wow, you’re brave to let her do that, or, wow, she’s a dare-devil. Then I puff out my feathers, proud of my strong girl and proud of myself for not hovering. But all the while I’m biting my tongue to keep from yelling, “Be careful! That’s too high! Let’s go home!”
My mom probably bit her tongue a number of times, as well. Her warnings were there, of course, but she also gave us a lot of freedom to explore and experiment. She hit a fine balance, and really, other than being a little neurotic, we turned out fine. And I wonder: can I manage to do the same?
Check out the other Dangerous Boy Friday posts at MotherTalk.