Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Gallon of Gas and a Pack of Matches

What would you do with a gallon of gas and a pack of matches? Or, more to the point, what did you do with them? Because you did, once when you were a kid, you did play with fire.

I love my job for a large variety of reasons, but one of greatest reasons are the others that populate my working existence. Some are young with little experience of the world, some are middle-aged parents like me, some are older and have seen it all, all have opinions. One of the subjects of this week's banter was the state of parenting and the inevitable results of too much protection for our children.

Are we raising a generation of humans who will be incapable of independent thought, cool-headed decisions in a crisis, or calculating the risks of doing something new?

I had never really thought about it until Dave brought it up at lunch. The difference between the relative freedom we experienced in our childhoods and the strictly-prescribed existence we have planned out for our kids. Our wrapped-in-cotton-batting progeny don't leave the house without full disclosure about where they are going, what they will be doing, who they will be doing it with and the very moment of their return (no more than 2 hours later.) They are laden down with extra water, hand-sanitizer, a cell phone with mom's number on speed dial, a 40-item list of important phone numbers, a protein bar, a GPS, helmets, pads, gloves and an extra pair of clean underwear. While out in the wide world they will not speak to strangers, always wear a seat belt, stay in the bike lane, look both ways while crossing the street, as well as strenuously avoiding trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and gangsta rap. They will not smoke, drink, swear, spit, run, go online without parental supervision, discuss their parents' soft porn collection with their friends or point out that Grandma could use a shave. And they absolutely, positively will not play with fire.

All of which begs the question: Who taught you not to play with fire?

When Conor was learning to walk, he crawled under a low table and tried to stand up. He hit his head and sat back down with a bump. Then he did it again. And again. And then one more time again. Finally, he crawled out from under the table and stood up. I watched this process in tears, just knowing that I was the worst of all possible mothers. I knew that he would be permanently harmed by my lack of concern and protection. How could I be so uncaring? I never let him (or the girls for that matter) do that or anything like that again. But now I wonder if my first instinct of standing aside and letting them go through the learning process wasn't the right one. Maybe if I had stood aside more often my children would be less fearful of making mistakes and making decisions. Maybe they would be more independent and confident. Maybe they would know the real reason gasoline and matches don't mix, because all they know now are the rules in the academic sense. We (their parents) know the rules because we struck the match.


Anonymous said...

Great post :) I read a book somewhere about a tribe somewhere--oy! pardon the vagueness--where parents did not coddle their kids at all. Not in the tiniest bit. Plus the kids were taught to row boats from the age of two or something. Anyway, the kids were incredibly capable, in the way one must be living off the land (and the sea). But not much by way of affection is shown by them, in part due to this type of upbringing and demonstration of care. Interesting book. And interesting post :)

Donna Kuzel said...

"Chuck" - Another "Mother" Seton graduate. You sat in front of me in class and we hung out with OLDER MEN when we were 16 & 17. OH the GOOD times - drinkin', smokin', causing trouble, etc. Love, Donna

Jay Hudson said...

WE didn't have any gas,but my Eddie Haskell-like cousin and I burned down their family's out house.He had the matches so he got the whipping.
Jay Hudson
Jay's Writer's World