Where You at and What you Smelling?
“He’s just a good old boy never meaning no harm, beats all you never saw been in trouble with the law since the day he was born.” –Waylon Jennings
This world smell delicious. Have you ever taken a moment to smell this, that, and everything? Those who walk around with their head held high might score more points at shows, but they have no idea what they’re missing.
I have toys with tags, but I much prefer a thick, splintered stick or a pinecone. Whatever life is in there, or used to be, is intoxicating.
I enjoy petting and all that, but who has time for it? Gotta go! Gotta Go! There’s too much to explore to sit still for two minutes.
I saw a squirrel the other day. I don’t know what they are, but they look like something I should chase. All I can do is watch them, because we have fences between us.
Have you ever heard of bugs? They’re fascinating. We can play with them for about two minutes with no consequences. They don’t appear to enjoy playing as much as I do, and they eventually stop playing for no reason at all.
Between naps and sleep, I have about eight hours of activity, and I do more in those eight hours than most do in a week, and then I’m done. When I’m done, I’m done. No screaming children, and no activity near me can wake me. I sleep as hard as I play.
The Overprotective Parent
An adult daughter complains that her father was too protective in her youth. Her father, a former sheriff said, “I just saw so much. I saw so many things that didn’t want anything to happen to you girls.”
I’ve listened to sons and daughters complain about overprotective parents for most of my life, and I’ve added a few hundred of my own, but now that I’m a parent I recognize the attempts to make childhood last as long as possible. The stresses, responsibilities, and routines of life as an adult make it hard to remember how fun childhood was. We also don’t remember how easily it can end.
Has anyone ever introduced you to something that made your toys and your imaginative games irrelevant by comparison? We might exaggerate what a glorious time childhood was, but how many of us now do silly things to try to recapture whatever that magic was? How many of us remember when our innocence was lost? How many of us seek some intangible, impossible-to-recreate way to capture a time when nothing mattered? I saw and did some things that artificially matured me in some ways. I remember what a glorious time of life childhood is, and I want to do everything in my power to help my child avoid those influences. I didn’t see near what the former sheriff did, but I have witnessed my fair share, and I empathized with his attempts to protect his daughters.
It’s so easy for an adult to accuse their parents of being so over-protective that they could be silly at times. Yet, the former sheriff saw how quickly situations can go awry. He saw violent actions committed against innocent people so often that he didn’t want the same to befall his daughters. He saw assailants act in justifiable ways, reacting to that which was before them, but how many random acts of violence did he see in all of his years in law enforcement? How many times did one violent person harm another just because that innocent victim just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
He chose law enforcement as his career. He chose to complicate his life by dealing with the worst moments of the worst elements of society on a daily basis. He chose to sacrifice his happiness and comfort to protect innocent victims from those elements of humanity. He also saw good people turn violent, and he learned how difficult it is to avoid violent crime. At some point, he realized that he couldn’t save the world, and he couldn’t even protect his small, home town, but with proactive measures he thought he might be able to prevent anything from happening to his daughters.
How many times did he think if the parents of these victims exacted some silly, over-protective measures to try to prevent their child from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, none of this would’ve happened? How many victims did he visit hospitals and morgues thinking this could’ve have been prevented? How many times were the measures he used to protect his daughters silly and over the top, and how many times were one of his daughters the victim of a violent crime?
Zero is the answer to that question, and I think he’d endure all of the heckling, the teasing, and the leading questions/pot shots all over again if he thought he could achieve that answer.
A Child’s Survival
“Don’t underestimate your children,” they tell parents. “Their capacity to learn and maintain knowledge will shock you.” We see this when we watch them solve puzzles beyond their years, we see them read books that we considered a couple years away. Their ability to solve complicated math problems shocks us, and their ability to communicate complex ideas to other adults leaves us remembering when they had to learn how to crawl. When we see them do this, we ask ourselves how many times in one day do I underestimate him? It’s an important question every parent should ask themselves when they accidentally limit them. Another, perhaps more important question, is how many times do we over-estimate them?
When our child displays the fact that he is extremely intelligent for his age, some of the times we neglect to pay attention to what he doesn’t know.
After this extremely intelligent eight-year-old boy took as many swim lessons as his twin sister, we assumed that he knew how to swim. When he displayed how much he didn’t know, it surprised us. When he displayed how poor his basic survival skills were, it shocked us. He is eight-years-old. We over-estimated him. That’s probably unfair, seeing as how he’s only eight, but it was frightening to see how vulnerable some kids can be.
He began on the sides of the pool, holding the wall for protection. When the other kids showed how much fun they could have in a pool, he couldn’t take it anymore. He took two steps into the water, and he was submerged in water slightly above his head. He didn’t thrash, he didn’t jump above the surface of the water, and he didn’t take the two steps back to the wall. He simply held his hand up above the water.
After measuring her kid’s actions for about thirty seconds, his mother decided to jump in. She was fully clothed, and she had her phone in her pocket.
“He’s kidding,” another kid said.
“No, he’s not,” his mother said. She removed her shoes, and she jumped in the pool to save her kid’s life.
That other kid thought the boy was kidding, because he couldn’t believe that a child would take two steps away from the edge and simply hold his hand up. “Why didn’t he take the two steps back to where he could breathe?” His swim lesson instructors didn’t teach him that, no one did, but they taught him to hold his hand up if he was in trouble in the water.
“I’m glad he learned something from that class,” his mother joked in the peaceful aftermath. The girl, his twin sister, born minutes apart, took the same number of lessons, and she learned how to swim. Her abilities weren’t limited to saving her life. She could swim.
Within minutes, say fifteen, ten of which the boy spent coughing, crying, and recovering from the first incident, he was back in the water. He made the same mistake. He held his hand up, and his mother saved him again.
This isn’t a story about a life lost, thank God, but about the lessons we learn as parents, the lessons our children learn, and what we must pass onto our children. A parent cannot prepare their child for every episode, but we need to inform them that we won’t always be around to save them. Incidents and their consequences vary, and it’s impossible to sit them down and discuss what their reactions should be. A parent can only instruct them, using past incidents as a guide, to try to help them use common sense when it comes to basic components of survival.
“Don’t underestimate your children,” they say so often that the phrase has spawned a cottage industry. I’ve seen it. Other peoples’ kids have proven me so wrong so often that I’ve learned that underestimating a kid’s ability to learn is equivalent to limiting their possibilities. Yet, some incidents and episodes inform me that it’s just as important, and sometimes more important, that we remember to avoid over-estimating them.
An Adult’s Survival
Marty is a good fella. He and I trade insults. We look for the other’s weaknesses, and no sign of weakness is off limits. It’s not personal. It’s harmless. It’s what we do. When he saw my son and I playing a harmless game of catch, in a pool, he decided to disrupt our game in any way he could. Soon thereafter, a nephew joined in, covering my son. We made them look foolish. Marty pretended to be good natured about it, but I could see his competitive little grimace when we little fellas were a little too quick for him. Marty spent the majority of this game in the shallow end, but his competitive juices got the best of him. He came after me in the deep end. The deep end was shaped like an old 70’s ashtray. It allowed for unimpeded entrance into the deep end, but once in the deep end, it had gradual walls built around the depth to gradually take the swimmer to a two-foot depth at the outer rim. These gradual walls were quite slippery.
I slipped when I first entered the pool. I underestimated how slippery the walls were. I tried to fight it at first, but it was too slick. There’s a difference between slipping and sliding. If you slip on the ice, chances are you’re going to get hurt. If, after attempting to avoid a fall, you find out there’s no way to win, go with it, slide into it. If you encounter a block of ice you cannot avoid, your best bet is to slide over it. The difference between slipping and sliding might be so small that most won’t see the subtle differences, but it’s a mindset I’ve developed walking and driving on the icy streets of the Midwest. I also developed the mindset because pain hurts, and I’ve found that fighting a slip often results in injuries. When we accept the idea that we’re going to fall, there is a greater level of relaxation involved, and as physics experts will tell us, greater pain results from the fear that causes us to tighten up. After slipping a few times in my fight against the slippery walls in the pool, I decided to just go with it, concede to whatever was going to happen, and let it take me under.
“Man, the walls in this pool are slippery,” I told everyone when I resurfaced. “Be careful.” No one would let me get away with that. They all had a good laugh at my expense. Marty enjoyed it more than anyone.
In the midst of our game of catch with the football, Marty started charging me in the deep end, I backed up enough to allow my son to get open against his cousin. Marty chased me through the deep water to the gradual wall. He started slipping as I once did when he got there. Even though Marty spent most of his adult years in the Midwest, he apparently never developed the slipping v sliding mindset. Even though I warned him that the walls were slippery, he fought it, as we all will in the beginning, it’s an instinct. At some point, however, most of us recognize the pointlessness of it. We also know the humiliation that awaits those who continue to wage a pointless battle. We know there are times when the battle is more hilarious and humiliating than the concession. Marty, apparently, never learned these lessons as he would not give up the fight. He was pounding at the water, making guttural, panic noises as he attempted to regain his balance. To this point, I thought Marty was almost unflappable, but he looked really scared. He was gasping for air, even though he never went under. He looked to me for help, all but screaming. His eyes were as big as saucers. He continued trying to climb the slippery wall in some sort of blackout panic. “Marty stop,” I said, trying to tell him to just go under. “It’s only five feet deep.” He couldn’t. I reached out to grab him, and he nearly broke my arm grabbing it. I thought I brought him to safety with one of his feet finding the ridge, but he couldn’t get the second foot over, and the panic started all over again.
When it was all over, I thought of a slide I had in a grocery store. I, again, turned a slip into a slide and somehow managed to avoid the humiliation of falling on my Keester. The clerk was impressed, “I thought for sure you were going down. That was a pretty decent display of balance and coordination.”
“Thank you,” I said. “It could be that, but it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve fallen so many times in my life that I finally know how to avoid it.”
Marty and I enjoy trading insults, and we have for most of relationship. We look for any and every weakness. No sign of weakness is off limits. It’s what we do. It’s not personal. It’s harmless. It’s what we do. Perhaps the meanest insult I delivered, when Marty finally made his way out of the pool, was nothing. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
A Wave of the Past
How do we say goodbye? We all have ways of saying hello and goodbye. Children, women, and men all have unique ways of interacting with one another. Over time, we develop codes of interaction. Most of these codes are unspoken agreements we have with one another, and we rarely recognize them for what they are, until someone violates one of them. I don’t remember ever learning how a man is supposed to say goodbye to another man. It’s just something we pick it up along the way, through examples and repetition. A man named Craig apparently never learned this code. Craig is a full-grown man who waves goodbye to me when we part. He doesn’t stick a hand out in the somewhat disinterested manner that 99% of full-grown men will. He waves. Craig’s send-offs involve putting a hand up and wiggling it so much that his tricep moves. The first time he did it, I thought it was a joke. After our kids finished playing with one another, he said, “Bye Bye” to me, and he waved with child-like glee. I thought it was a joke. Our kids were playing together, and his presumed joke was that we wave to each other like little kids. I thought it was funny, so I returned the over-the-top send-off. The next time he did it, I did nothing, but I think my eyebrow furrowed. When he established the pattern that suggested this is how he says goodbye, I wanted to say, “That ain’t it. That’s not how we men part.” We say, “See you,” “later,” or “all right, we’ll see you later,” or we stick a hand in the air. We can raise a closed fingered hand, we can even splay those fingers when we raise that hand, or even wave with one pump, but a series of waves makes us look silly, like a kid or Gilligan. Craig has a bright, shiny smile on his face when he waves too. It’s unnerving. I know this means he likes being around me, and he wants to punctuate that notion with a hearty wave and a nice, pleasant smile, but that sets children at ease. It makes children happy to see a beaming smile and a wave, and that’s why we do it kids. “Bye Johnny!” we say, looking them in the eye. I want to tell Craig that grown men will not react well to this wave. They might think you’re a silly man, even simple-minded, but how do we tell another man that his send-offs are not manly enough?