Friday, August 19, 2011

Risk Versus Benefit

The Smiler is now 15 months old, walking quite well and has been working on his climbing a lot lately, too.  He crawls up and down the stairs at our house, both inside and out, quite capably and I don't worry about him around stairs as a general rule.  He has a bit of a tendency to walk riiiiight to the edge of a step before stopping but because I know him, I know he won't just walk off the edge.  I'm of the belief that you can't worry about them constantly, anyway.  They're going to fall sometimes, you know what I mean?  Of course I keep a close eye in new situations or places he's not familiar with, etc. but I generally let him be "free range" as much as possible and that's worked well for us.  He understands to be careful and that he's responsible for his own bodily safety so he doesn't just barrel along expecting someone else to stop or save him if there's danger, HE watches for himself and I think that's a good thing.  Of course he doesn't understand that an electric mixer or power cord is dangerous because that's not a naturally occurring element that he can evolve to be careful of (like a deer can't evolve to be fearful of a car - well, at least not very fast, at any rate). He does understand edges and falling, though, and watches out for his own safety.

So we were at my parents' house last night where they have a stone patio with two steps down, also made of stone.  The Smiler was having a wonderful time climbing up and down the steps as well as dancing and walking in circles up on the patio because Oma had music on.  My dad was getting really uptight about him being up there, though.  He would jump up any time The Smiler would get within even a few feet of the steps and at one point even hollered, "No no no no NO NO NO!!!!!" at him as he danced near the steps.

This kind of crazy reaction reminded me all too much of when I was a child.  My dad would push me to try new things (that I wasn't interested in doing like driving the boat or snowmobile or sports or helping in the garage, for example) and when I'd finally agree hesitantly, he wouldn't give me enough information or instruction to be successful and then he'd react really dramatically when I wouldn't do it right.  I was very sensitive and his reactions always made me feel embarrassed, frightened and/or admonished which would make me freeze up and not want to try it any more.  As an adult, I still have trouble trying new things for fear I won't get it right and someone will make fun of me or I'll break something or I'll do something embarrassing.  (In my dad's defence, he's got a loud voice and he was never taught to think of others' feelings by his own parents).

The Smiler has been climbing up this slide since before he could walk!

I had already said a few things like, "It's okay, I trust him by the stairs." and, "Don't worry, he knows what an edge is and how to climb up and down, Dad." but he just couldn't seem to relax about it.  After that last freak out I was a little annoyed, to say the least.  The Smiler has been so shy and hesitant in the past about new people, new situations and new things and been so unwilling to try stuff or even get out of my lap at times that I'm really glad he's coming out of his shell and getting braver.  I want him to run and play without fear.  I want him to climb things and explore his world.  I want him to occasionally trip and fall (without being seriously hurt, of course) so he can learn about his world, have fun and be resilient.  I certainly don't want him to be yelled at by his grandfather (who, as an aside, wasn't worried enough to get out of his chair and run over to save him and just wanted to holler from his seat) for dancing, running in circles or climbing up and down stairs.  Those are life skills, after all.  Valuable life skills, at that.  Especially the former.  You can't stop your children from doing every single thing that poses a risk; you may as well just tie them to a chain under the stairs in your basement to keep them safe, then.  EVERYTHING poses some kind of risk.

A little while later, I glanced over to see The Smiler climbing up the steps.  As I watched, he got up on the top step but his feet were juuuuuust on the edge of the step and I could see he might lose his balance if he tried stand all the way up from having his hands down.  As I walked over saying, "Your toes are too close to the edge, honey." the toes of his one foot slipped out from under him and he tripped back down to the first step, tipping over to one side a bit.  It wasn't a bad fall at all and he wasn't even crying, though he did make a little whine at the initial realisation that his plan wasn't working out.  I helped him up and said, "Uh-oh!  See, we need to have our feet completely on the step before we stand up."  As I helped show him, my dad turned around and snarked, "I told you that was going to happen."

I was SO MAD.  Firstly, he hadn't said a word about The Smiler possibly falling while climbing UP the damn steps, he had only worried about him running off the edge like a complete idiot so he actually hadn't told me that was going to happen.  Secondly, The Smiler was perfectly fine and learned one of many valuable lessons about climbing in a safe, supervised environment.  Thirdly, I'M THE FUCKING PARENT AND I'LL DO IT MY FUCKING WAY, thank-you-very-much.  Fourthly, there were a bunch of guests over visiting so it was socially inappropriate for him to chide his adult daughter like that.  I turned and said, "You want to be the parent?  'Cause I can go make a drink and socalise and just interfere occasionally, too."  He just walked away.

I'm rambling a little here but I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.  The whole situation got me thinking a bit...  You see, ever since I was first pregnant and we didn't even know if The Smiler would be a boy or a girl, my dad has been buying all sorts of "toys" for him.  Like a bicycle, a mini motorcycle and a mini quad, for example.  My dad loooooves him some motorised shit.  My dad is also the first one to scoff at and dismiss my desire to feed The Smiler healthy, whole, organic (as much as possible), natural foods or to avoid toxin laden plastic toys or to not give him juice or pop or to keep him in a rear facing car seat or when I ask him to please step a few feet away while he's smoking cigarettes (outdoors) around my child. 

So here's good old Pop Pop, ready to put my kid on what is, effectively, a motorised death machine the instant he's tall enough to reach the clutch thinking that letting him go up and down two steps is too risky.  At the same time, he thinks worrying about my son's consumption of toxins and carcinogens, his day to day exposure to poison substances like lead, BPA and pthalates, his ingestion of processed sugar, his lung health and his vehicle safety is absurd.  

Don't get me wrong, I'll definitely let him ride the bike, motorcycle and quad - when he's old enough, has proper personal protective equipment and wants to try it.  I think all children should be exposed to as many opportunities as possible to try new things and I'll encourage my kids not to be scared to try things and see if they like them.  I just think it's funny that someone can simultaneously be ready to put my toddler on a motorised device whilst being afraid of him falling down two steps whilst thinking my concerns for his long term chemical and toxin exposure are silly.  Realistically, the latter is the most dangerous because it affects his lifelong health and is far more likely to affect his eventual cause of death.  The other things are all safe when done in safe ways and accidents are just that - accidental.

I say look out for your children's long term health, keep them safe while they try new things and let them explore and climb to their hearts' content!