When I was kid, there were times when I realized I was not in charge of my situation. These moments would appear out of nowhere, like snakes hiding in the grass. This may be less true for children today, what with helicopter parenting and being tethered to the house.
When I was young, we were shoved out the door in the morning, either for school or for playing. If it was the latter, it was understood that you didn’t have to come home until supper. A late return was encouraged by parents with too many kids. In those days, that was everybody.
Here is a list of things that worried me. Stray dogs, (which were everywhere,) unknown bullies, (because the ones you knew, you could avoid) running into a bear in the bush, and mud puddles. The last one was a fear born of experience, because I knew myself so well. To me, they were simply irresistible.
After a good downpour I’d be wearing my rubber boots and actively searching for trouble. There was a certain coyness to my approach, and I would feign surprise at the puddles appearing at the bottom of our back road. If I was with my sisters or brother, things had a way of turning out. But when I was alone, calamity usually struck. I would stomp around in the middle of the mud puddle, which was large enough to swallow a deer, until that epic moment when I would become completely glued into place, and unable to move either of my feet.
At this point, I’d look around casually, like everything was okay. I don’t remember being approached by grownups, or even a car driving up the back alley. Picture a nine year old female, four feet tall and sixty pounds. It was simply impossible for me to pull my boots out of the muck. Eventually I’d jump out, leave them behind, and end up walking home in my socks, usually after doing a face plant. I’d return to the puddle with one irate parent or another so they could rescue my boots. In spite of that, I never refrained from my next, hopeful, mud puddle approach.
This story is not going to encourage helicopter parents to be less vigilant, but it should. The lessons learned during those lonely, stuck moments, or cautious approaches to a bush trail, or the exhilarating but scary walk to Phantom Lake, all helped me to see myself as a survivor. I might not do well, but I would do. Many times, I could rely on my siblings, or kids from the neighborhood, for help.They might pick on me at home, but out in the wild or on the long trek to Phantom, we had each other’s backs.There was a code, and most kids followed it.
We were allowed to light fires, sword fight with sticks, balance on a board over a rolling barrel, while my mother hollered, ‘If you pinch your toes, don’t come crying to me!’ and raft across the pond behind what is now the Victoria Inn. The fear of drowning was overcome by the sense of victory, and the sheer fun of it all. Like women forgetting childbirth, I would leave behind the feelings of helplessness, and see myself as independent and victorious. Until the next birth…er, adventure.
And now I must apologize to my own children for the level of hovering, for the times I didn’t trust in their common sense. (Full disclosure, this message may not apply to teenagers.) I’m sorry, kids. I hope you had fun, anyway. At least we lived by the bush. And if you did have the occasional crazy adventure, please share. I promise to be thrilled for you.