When I was 9 years old, I was visiting my grandma, who lived on a dirt road in the middle of no where. For 4 miles each way, left and right, when you pulled out of her driveway, it was dirt road. The only neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Turnipseed ( really! ) and the area was named Opossum Trot, near Slap Out, Alabama! Yes, it’s a real town, population 6,000.
I loved climbing trees and it scared my Granny half to death. The higher I would climb, the more often the screen door would fly open and I would hear her say: Steph-nee, do you know how far we live from the nearest hospital? Of course I didn’t know, nor did I care. I was an expert tree climber and no one could tell me otherwise.
Till I stepped on a dead limb at the top of the tree. It broke off and I hung from an above limb for about 30 seconds until my little fingers could hold my 60 lb. body no longer. I dropped 20 feet out of the tree and hit everything along the way. And you know the first thing I did? No, it wasn’t checking my scrapes to see if I was ok. It was looking around to see if my Granny saw me fall.
I would rather say my battle wounds came from falling out of a tree than my granny spanking my be-hind! I had scrapes and a bloody knee. My fingers hurt and my foot felt sprained. That day, I realized I wasn’t an expert tree climber, but I was definitely an expert tree faller and I felt pretty good about that.
A skinned knee is like a “bade of courage.” Kids are just waiting for someone to notice, to ask them what happened. If my kids hurt their foot, even a little, they want to use crutches for days, just so they can tell others about the fun tree they climbed or the tire swing they jumped from. Let their boo boos, ripped up jeans, dirt on the knees and oppsie daisies be a sign of courage and adventure. They took a chance and have a story to tell.
Summer is around the corner! It’s time to start planning! What will the kids be doing for the 60 plus days of summer? It’s time to make a plan, whether a family road trip, joining a sports team, visiting grandparents or heading to summer camp, it’s time to turn the TV off, give the video games a rest and head outdoors.
Often times, we caudal our children. I know I did. We anticipate the 2 year old falling, with a “First Aid Kid” at arms length. Since they were born, we’ve had fears: child safety issues, injury or teasing. We over-schedule their athletic events, music lessons . . . and the list goes on. They need a black book to keep up with it all.
Of course, we want the best for our kids, and part of those ingredients are providing a safe and happy environment. Life lessons come in many ways, but often times in an effort to keep the knees from getting skinned or their emotional psyche from getting hurt, we sit in front of them, like the Olympic Sport Curling (whisking the broom from left to right like crazy people, making sure little Henry gets to where he needs to go without getting hurt). We can’t roll them in bubble wrap, though I’ve seen parents “virtually” do this very thing.
Like a bird that’s trying to hatch, if we do everything for Mary or Johnny, they won’t be strong enough to stand up to bullies at school, handle college peer pressure, enjoy the great outdoors of summer camp, or handle life’s unexpected situations, because mom and dad aren’t there to fix it. We can’t always be their safety net, their first aid kit. At some point, we have to let them become strong, confident individuals – on their own. You’ve given then the foundation they need, so let them fly.
It’s time to unplug the electronics and send them to casual play, where they do what they want, when they want. There are no fixed activities, time clocks and hurry ups . . . just trees, bikes, pine straw and great imaginations. Let kids be kids, without worry or fears. No black books, no gadgets, no calendar of events, just wake up in the morning and enjoy being outside. For in this free time, their imagination will grow and their exploration skills will kick in.
When kids learn about nature, they’ll want to take care of it. When they play with others, compassion will rise; team spirit will be built and character will grow. So unplug your kid’s life this summer and jump into the great outdoors with gumption, gusto and enjoy the value of what a skinned up knee will bring.