A while back I told a friend I was thinking about getting an impala tattoo. He was surprised saying he did not realize I was a car guy, especially a Chevy guy (since my cars are not Chevy). I laughed and explained that an impala is an African antelope. An impala has amazing physical abilities; these include being able to jump ten feet high, over 30 feet long, and they can run up to 56 mph! In my opinion that is pretty awesome. What makes them spectacular though is that if you place them inside a three foot fence from the time of birth, they will never jump over it. Why? Because they do not know they can! This my friends, is maybe the single most amazing parenting value Robin and I hold. All that potential wasted because of a three foot fence! Our children are capable of WAY more than we give them credit or opportunity for, but the American Dream we find our culture thriving off of places three foot fences our children from the moment they enter life. From hiding our babies from the world, to crazy strict schedules, to constantly holding and comforting our children, to the "be careful" 's and "get down before you hurt yourself" 's, to our CRAZY over reactions when our children fall down or bruise their knees. We are consumed with protecting our children, which gives them an incredible fear of the world and trying anything a bit risky. Helicopter parents are on the rise.
I have forever been marked by my friends on Kauai. My Kauai ohana are some crazy adventurous people. There is not a lot of things they are unwilling to try or do. They will eat about anything you ask them to eat, do about any dare them to do, and get as dirty as you want to get. They absolutely love risk and adventure.
Tia baby I could not figure out what made them so crazy until one day at Kipu Falls. We were there with the Nagao-Agustin's enjoying good times. A little girl named Tia (2-yrs-old) was playing in one of the pools of water when all the sudden she fell in and started sinking to the bottom of the pool. It was like in the movies. Here eyes were open looking up with her hands raised towards the surface as she was sinking. Her dad and I were talking about something when it happened. In mid-sentence he looks over reaches down, pulls her out and sets right back where she was WITHOUT breaking conversation. It was like no big deal to him OR HER. Tia did not cry, Timmy did not freak out and no one else told him to pay attention or move her away from the water. No one made a big deal about it! Including myself.
I am quite positive he does not even remember the incident but it was here that I committed to use the words "be careful" or "you could have hurt yourself" as little as possible.
Irresponsible? Some might suggest Timmy was being irresponsible, but he was not. He new where she was and what she was doing. When she fell in, he was there. She did not drown and was not hurt. And she is not afraid of the water. What Timmy did was show his daughter that he was there for her. Things happen and the sooner we get back on our feet the sooner we can begin enjoying life again. He did not mean to show her this, it just happened. Fast forward this years later and you now have a girl willing to try and do just about anything. She is willing to take on risk and adventure.
Too many children develop life long fears because of situations like these. Whether it is dog incidents, water incidents, heights or something else. Our response to situations like these tells them more than what actually happens. They look to us to see if what just happened is an "oops" or if it is something that should not be attempted or encountered again.
I'm a ladder maker, not a fence builder I don't want to build fences around my children that were never meant to be there. I have to trust that the Father is watching over them.
BUT please hear me. I am not saying Robin and I are trying to raise stunt devils. Robin and I take the safety of our children serious, but we face safety issues in a different manner.
When our kids start showing an interest in the stairs we do not freak out and yell at them to stay away less they get hurt. Instead, we teach them how to use the stairs. Yes, we use baby gates but we also teach them how to slide down the stairs. When they want to use the fireman's pole on the playground, we do not warn them to stay away. We help them learn how to go down it. We try to never tell our kids they cannot do something. We try to help them figure how they can do it. Sometimes this means learning initial steps before actually attempting the grand feat. In doing this we make a ladder that helps them accomplish their goals.
The cool thing about this approach to safety is that our kids are typically a bit more physically advanced than others kids and a bit more confident in trying and doing new things. BUT the best thing about it is that they know their boundaries better than most kids. They have developed a great sense of their abilities. You would think they would get hurt more than most, but they actually get hurt less.
Overcoming falls And when they fall off their bike, trip or get punched by another kid, we do not rush to the rescue. We sit back and watch them overcome the situation. When our kids get hurt we help try to turn their expression of the pain in a different direction. Safari would say "wah-ka-wah-ka" when she would fall and hurt herself. We do not have a clue what it means, other than that it takes her mind off the pain. It took her a while to realize she is "supposed" to cry when she starts bleeding. The first time she realized she was bleeding, she asked what it was. She was three years old before she really knew what a band-aid was. But now that she has seen child and parent alike freak out at the sight of blood she will cry and ask for a band aid. Most often we laugh, tell her she does not need one and give her one anyway.
Please do not hear me comparing my kids to other kids. This is something I do not participate in. I do not care if my child is more athletic, smarter, tougher, daring or beautiful than another kid. My identity is not wrapped up in measuring my child against another. What I am concerned with is developing within them a sense of confidence and willingness to try and do anything God asks them to do. The best way I can do this is to challenge them to try new things, to overcome challenging obstacles, do risky things from time to time, and not freak out when they get hurt.
Our children, like impalas, are capable of great things.
PLEASE feel free to push back on me here. I want to ensure I am getting across the right message. I am IN NO WAY advocating irresponsible parenting. Erwin McMann, in his book The Barbarian Way, tells the story of his son wanting to jump off the roof of their house. His son asked his permission to jump and to his wife's surprise, Erwin said yes! His first reason was that he would rather him jump while he was near in case something happened. A boy has to jump at some point, better if their is some supervision. His second reason is that he didn't want to build a fence. I love his quote that I will end with here,
I’ve seen far too many kids raised in Christian homes who are indifferent towards Jesus and often carry a great disdain for the church. Sometimes it’s the result of blatant hypocrisy, but other times it’s the result of nothing less than sheer monotony and boredom. We raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure.
The picture for this blog is of Tia's sister Tianne. Tianne knifed (yes, took a knife and killed this boar for dinner) all by herself. Tia and Tianne are just two examples of fun and crazy girls on Kauai.