When I was 5 I wanted to climb a palm tree. Not one of those skinny ones, but one with big spikey sides. I wanted to see how far I could get up it. My mom said no. I begged, she said no. It was my impression at the time that she feared I would get hurt or that I wouldn’t be able to do it.
That mindset of not really putting my body in harms way stuck with me. I would freeze if I had to jump off a 3 foot ledge, I really could never master physically challenging activities. Playgrounds with fireman poles, monkey bars or climbing ropes? Not for me. I liked the slide. Nice and easy.
It wasn’t until my 20s that I started to learn how to push my body into doing things that my mind thought were dangerous. I learned to rock climb and ski and in order to prepare myself for ski season I used to swing at a park near my house and eject my body from the swing at the highest point allowing it to fly through the air and land on the ground. I felt I needed to train my body and more so my mind to not be afraid. When I was on a mountain and about to bomb a hill, what would really cause me injury and what would really be bad for me was not the icy conditions or the inherent danger in skiing, but my timidity. That point the body freezes in fear. That is when I would fall. That is when I would have trouble.
So how do I balance these lessons I have learned myself with my inherent instinct to want to keep my kids safe?
Recently at my children’s elementary school the play ground was closed after school because of safety concerns. It was thought that the kids were not following the playground rules and someone might get hurt. This impacted my family in a huge way because it was pretty much what Ella lived for. To show me how good she was getting on the monkey bars. She was just figuring out how to master skipping a bar… maybe even two.
At a community meeting about the closure of the playground I listened to talks of safety, liability and the “what ifs”. I was most moved by a mother who felt guilty because she had let her daughter climb and run and jump. She didn’t know it was against the rules, she encouraged her. She didn’t want her to be afraid.
We are in a waiting period now to see if the playground can be opened again after school, but I think this is a good question. What keeps our children safe? What keeps them from getting hurt? The encouragement to not be afraid? To challenge their body or follow the “rules” and keep it quiet? What is safety?