It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Rules and Risk-taking

sandals“OW! Mary, my foot is hurting me!”

Some kids are just so damned cute when they cry! Emily’s already large brown eyes become enormous, glimmering with tears, the little pink lip protrudes endearingly, and perfect round tears roll in glittering lines down the perfect roundness of her peachy-cream cheeks. No red blotches, no scroodged-up face, no snot, no red-rimmed eyes. Just 100% adorable pathos. And she’s earned a bit of pathos. I’d wondered this morning if her sandals weren’t just a smidge too small… That’s one big blister she’s got on her heel.

I put a bandaid on it.

“Do you want to put your sandals back on, sweetie, or would you prefer to walk home barefoot?”

“Barefoot, please.”

Simon is appalled.

Simon (a previous daycare client, now six) is with us this week, filling the week gap between the end of school and the beginning of his summer camp. Simon, sweet, earnest Simon, comes from a risk-phobic family, where Rules of Safety are many and strictly enforced. (Too bad rules about Eating Your Vegetables and Getting Sufficient Sleep are not equally rigorously enforced. In fact, it would be a far better use of parental energy, says I, if they tossed about 70% of the Safety Rules and applied that diligence to the nutrition and sleep fronts. Snark, snark, snark.)

Simon, as I said, is appalled.

“She can’t go BAREFOOT!!!” We are threatening to trangress a Rule of Safety!!! “When we’re outside, we wear shoes.” In fact, Simon’s mother provides shoes for use in the house. Toddlers do not wear shoes in Mary’s house. Thunder-footed six-year-olds most definitely do not wear shoes. They wear slippers, or they wear bare feet. Shoes are LOUD, and we all know how Mary feels about LOUD. Simon has been barefoot this week, but only in the house.

“Why, Simon? What might happen if she goes barefoot?” My tone is mild. I’m curious as to his thoughts on the matter, and I’m pushing an agenda here. Let’s evaluate the risk, shall we?

“A car might run over her toes!”

He looks mildly offended at my shout of laughter. I try not to snort as I explain.

“Simon, honey. If a car were to run over her toes, I don’t think those little sandals would be any help at all.”

“But she can’t go BAREFOOT!!!”

“Why not? Let’s think about this. What might happen if she goes barefoot?”

“She might step on a rock!”

“Yes, she might. She might stub her toe, too.”

“Or a spider might bite her!”

“I think that’s less likely, but okay, maybe. Now. What will happen if she wears her sandals?”

“A spider won’t bite her!!!” He thinks he’s got me there.

“A spider could still bite her on the leg. But Simon, think about Emily’s blister. What will happen if she wears her sandals?”

“Her blister will hurt her?”

“YES! My blister will hurt and get bigger and hurt me MORE!” Emily, who is getting nervous about the direction this conversation is taking, wants him to be Perfectly Clear on this point.

“So what do you think, Simon? If she goes barefoot, she MIGHT step on a rock, or stub her toe, or even, maybe, get bitten by a spider. But if she wears her sandals, she WILL get a big, sore blister, even worse than she has already.”

Emily whimpers. I whisper words of reassurance in her ear.

“Now, Simon. If you had to choose between MAYBE stepping on a rock, and FOR SURE getting a giant blister, which would you choose?”

Simon’s answer is slow and reluctant. “I wouldn’t want a bliiiiiister.”

“No, I bet you wouldn’t. Neither does Emily. That’s why she’s not going to wear her sandals any more.”

Emily sighs with relief.

“But Emily? You gots to be VERY CAREFUL where you put your feet! You can’t step on any rocks or sticks or spiders!”

Emily, a sensible girl, gives him The Look. “Simon, I am not a big silly. I am not going to step on rocks in my bare feet.”

And she didn’t.

Has Simon learned anything about evaluating risks, or has he learned only that Mary is a wild and reckless woman? I’m not sure, but we’ll be optimistic, we shall, and call it One Strike for Freedom for Simon.

June 29, 2009 - Posted by | Emily, health and safety | , , , , , ,


  1. Go Simon!

    Comment by Mwa | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. In all things– balance!

    It’s interesting to me how every family has different safety standards. I know a family who is extremely safety conscious and well… it drives me slightly bananas. But at the same time, I’m having trouble assessing risk for my own 4 year old, who currently wants to climb to the top of every tree (and he is generally a little over-cautious, so I don’t want to push him in that direction, either). The current tree-climbing rule is “You only go as high as you can go and come down by yourself and you only do it barefoot (haha!)– no flipflops or boots with untied laces.”

    They usually make it through childhood, right?

    Comment by rosie_kate | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. I have friends who are extraordinarily cautious about public germs (restrooms, restaurants) but think nothing of taking their children on float trips on twisty scary little drownable rivers…

    I’ve got to say, though, that Emily’s participation in this conversation is what makes it priceless.

    Comment by Bridgett | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. Love it!

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. Actually, in Simon’s defense, I got bit by a spider this weekend on my foot. Mind you I was wearing my sandals at the time so like the car running over Emily’s foot, a sandal isn’t going to make much difference.

    I love how you used the could be vs the what we know for sure will happen. A great tool in curbing over-cautiousness.

    And good on Emily for announcing that she’s “not a big silly”, go girl.

    Comment by Zayna | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  6. I have to keep reminding myself that we each choose when to be neurotic. My 15 niece is in a CARSEAT with shoulder harness but they eat at McD’s regularly. My 5 yo is in a booster with a seatbelt and eats from the organic farmer’s market. I’ve quit listening to the safety warnings they tell me, since I’m sure any nutrition warnings would be scorned if they were offered.

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | June 30, 2009 | Reply

  7. That was a good lesson to teach him – not just that risk should be avoided, but rather that it should be weighed against the cost of not taking a risk. And helping him weigh a maybe against a sure thing was good too.

    Good job, child care genius woman!

    Comment by chosha | July 7, 2009 | Reply

  8. […] happy to be sending the four-year-olds off to school. Because they’re four. They are Rules People. Will I miss the contentious, pointless, reflexive competition and the tattling? Not for a second! […]

    Pingback by Another passage « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | August 1, 2013 | Reply

  9. […] four-year-olds and their Rules. They love to know what they are. They love to see that they’re complied with… […]

    Pingback by The Rules say… « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | February 25, 2014 | Reply

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