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 | , , , , , , | 9 Comments

I just work here

caution“FAAAAATTY-CAT!!” Timmy aims a two-handed shove at the substantially larger Nigel, and manages to set him back a pace. They grin gleefully at each other.

“FAAAAATTY-CAT” Nigel charges at Timmy, back arched, and they slam into each other, belly to belly. They both shriek with delight upon impact, staggering like a pair of miniature drunks around the living room.

“FAAAAATTY-CAT!!!” Nigel waits, tense with thrilled anticipation, for Timmy to take another almighty shove at him. They careen into a couch.

“Mary, we’re playing ‘fatty-cat’!!!” Timmy hollers at me.

Evidently. I have no idea what “fatty-cat!” means. Neither do they. (“Wherever did that come from?”, asked a bemused parent later that day. Only the depths of their imaginations, I’m sure, and the fact that “fatty-cat” is a collection of sounds that bounce nicely off the tongue, perfectly suited to a game where you bounce off your friend. Things don’t have to “come” from anywhere. A three- and a four-year-old are perfectly capable of making stuff up!)

(And who but a three or four-year-old could make this one up?)

I scan the room, assessing risk. The only sharp edges accessible to the kids are those of the brick fireplace. I shove a (soft, upholstered) chair in front of it. The worst that’s going to happen now is that they’ll fall over. I let them have at it.

“FAAATTY-CAT!!!!!!”

Attracted by the uproar, the girls join in. Within 90 seconds, Anna is in tears.

“He pushed me, Mary! He pushed me and I fell dooooown!”

“Well, that’s the game, lovie. If you don’t want him to push you, don’t play the game. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But if you decide to play, you’re going to get shoved.”

Well, that settles that. Anna trots off to the kitchen.

“FAAAAATTY-CAT!!!!”

Twenty-three more seconds, and Emily approaches, wailing.

“I fell down and hurted myself!”

“I see that. You landed with a bump on your bum. But you know what? That’s what kind of game it is. If you want to play that game, you’re probably going to get bumped. If you don’t want to get bumped, you don’t have to play. But if you want to play, you can’t complain about a bump.”

“I want to play.”

“Okay, then, but no complaining about a little bump.”

“Okay.”

“FAAATTY-CAT!” Emily belly-bumps Timmy right onto his butt.
“FAAATTY-CAT!” Timmy hip-checks Nigel.
“FAAATTY-CAT!” Nigel shoves Emily who dominoes into Timmy. They cling to each other, teetering, and land in a heap.

And Emily laughs into Timmy’s gleeful face.

It’s a seriously weird game, but they’re having fun. And learning to assess a small risk while they’re at it. (In case you’re wondering, Babies Noah and Tyler stayed with me. Gravity alone is enough of a challenge to their powers to remain upright just yet.)

I figure the Big Kids can play fatty-cat for another 4.3 minutes until I just can’t stand it any longer. Not the risk. Not the falling down. Not the crashing to the floor. Goodness, it’s only a bump or two at issue. No, no, it’s the NOISE. My LORD, the NOISE!

914993_caution_excessive_sound_levels_

Because, worthy as it is to let them evaluate and experience risk, the risk to my sanity is even more real and immediate.

FAAAAATTY-CAT!!!!!!

Four point two minutes…

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Emily, health and safety, Nigel, Timmy | , , , , , , | 4 Comments