Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Protection, Part 1

When I was little, about seven years old, my dad bought a similarly little motorbike for me to play on. It was red and noisy and exciting. Truth be told, I was a little scared of it. It felt pretty fast to me, and I wasn’t confident enough to get the most out of it.

We went on a family camp with the cubs one year and took the bike with us. My dad looking after maybe twenty excitable boys and their desire to ride the dinky machine. I went first, and out came the show off in me. I went far beyond the area my dad had marked out for riding, and onto the slicked down grass of the route that cars had taken into the campsite.

My fledgling ego dictated that the throttle remained pinned open, despite the increasingly bumpy terrain and my distinct lack of ability.

Moments later I was bucked from the bike, cartwheeling over the bars and onto the ground in a tangled heap. I had run out of talent in dramatic fashion, and had no chance of holding back the tears. My dad (and the other boys) ran over to me and assessed the damage: a bleeding lip where my tooth had pierced it, and a bruise on my ego, but nothing more. I still have the scar on the outside of my lip. I’m not sure whether my ego recovered.

Like this, only more crashy.

At the time, once the tears stopped, I didn’t think anything more of it. I didn’t ride the bike again for quite a while.

I’m grateful for the masses of fun stuff I used to get to do as a boy. Our back garden was a small, disused quarry which me, my sister and brother treated as our own personal adventure playground. Climbing trees, skidding down muddy slopes, running through the masses of nettles and brambles. Fantastic stuff.

Scary stuff.

When I look at my little two month old son, I can’t imagine ever thinking: “I know, I’ll sit him on top of an engine with two wheels attached and let him loose on a field”. What if he too displays more ambition than ability, but instead of an inadvertent lip piercing ends up with broken bones, knackered nerves, or worse?

I imagine an impromptu mini-motocross event is the sort of thing which cub scout organisers will not allow in these days of risk assessments and liability insurance, and our garden will only take thirty seconds for even the least daring of children to explore.

But I don’t want Cam to grow up cocooned in cotton wool. I don’t want him to fear the unknown and to suddenly realise, later in life, that he’s paralysed by fear when faced with anything more exciting than an Xbox game.

The urge to protect is as strong for me now as it must have been when my dad strapped that helmet onto my head, sat me on the motorbike and watched me disappear in a blue tinted cloud of two stroke fumes.

So how do you, as a parent, balance the risk of pain, injury, even death, against the desire for a well rounded, well adjusted child who has experienced a range of the awesome things that the world has on offer? Preferably without having some kind of nervous breakdown.

What activities do your kids do that make your heart stand still? Are there things you just won’t allow them to do, for their safety and your sanity? Let me know in le box du comment.

Thanks for reading :-)


  1. I think the day that the Munch starts doing anything that doesn't involve him being on the floor on his hands and knees will be the time I will need to sit on my hands.

    I find I watch him with the eyes I have developed in the back of my head and take frequent sharp intakes of breath as he approaches anything that could remotely injure him.

    Yet I cannot wait for him to turn into the active, boisterous, fun-loving little boy that is already starting to emerge. I will be a nervous wreck but will try my hardest to not hover. Remind me I said this!

  2. I still wince when the boy jumps off of anything. He landed on a toy car when he was two and fractured a metatarsal. It took the children's A&E a week and three or four visits to diagnose it, and then they tried to cross examine me over "an unusual injury for a toddler". Arseholes.

  3. Layla is the most adventurous child I know. She crawled at 5 month then walked and climbed up and around furniture the next, how i have not had a heartattck is beyond me. She still climbs but her new thing is riding her bike as fast as humanly possible. Instead of trying to stop her we've decided to try or best to show her exactly how to climb up and down safely and use her brakes properly. It's the only way I feel comfortable knowing she is doing these things.

  4. When Gherkin was much smaller, I would constantly hear myself saying 'be careful, you might hurt yourself', 'don't do that, you might fall'. I still do it to some degree. Since Pickle came along, I have had to change completely. There is no stopping this child. He is Danger Boy Extraordinaire. Where there's a wall, he will fall off it. And he barely even cries. It is actually more painful trying to stop him from engaging in any remotely perilous activity. (Painful to my ears anyway). It has taught me to toughen up. I do wish there were a happy medium however. Great post :)

  5. Eldest has a terrifying habit of going hands free on her scooter once she feels she has enough speed. Her reasoning is that she has a helmet and so her brains can't fall out when she hits the pavement. I have to do some babywearing / babyswinging while semi jogging to keep up & prevent pavement damage. She's five and every time I hear the word scooter I die a little bit inside...

  6. Its tough, but we measure real threat of injury against experience gained and then say 'no' or 'go for it'.
    Sometimes its hard to know which answer is right but our instincts have steered us well so far.
    Great post again matey.

  7. It is a skill that you develop; when to worry and when to stand back and let them do it. Once The Boy has started crawling and climbing, he would clamber up onto the sofa and sit on the windowsill directly behind it, waving at all the people walking by. Then he's dive-bomb onto the sofa cushions below. After I got over him nearly breaking his neck, I taught him to come down sidewards, then turn around and come down backwards onto the floor. Never an injury and I had let him do rough and tumble but taught him how to do it safely.

    I think you can't escape the fact that they're going to do these things, I think it's our duty to show them how to do it properly.

    Good luck!

  8. W is going through a phase of jumping up and down on the sofa, despite having two pretty nasty head first tumbles off it. My heart is constantly in my mouth. I tried to stop him which has now resukted in him mimicing me saying "NO" and laughing his head off....not good. Mr B just ignores him and strangely that seems to work. I have no advice as I have no clue either. Good luck dude x