Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Right Number Of Bloody Owies

People think I'm joking when I say this to kids, but I'm not, and the kids know I'm not:

"If you have no bloody owies, then you are being too careful. If you have three or more bloody owies then you're not being careful enough. The right number of bloody owies is one or two. That means you're not being too careful or too careless."

At least once a week I find myself in a group of kids comparing bloody owies. Sometimes we count bruises, but there's a general consensus that they don't count nearly as much as scabs.

Charlotte disagrees with my bloody owie-to-carefulness ratios. She claims to always have more than three bloody owies and feels that my standards are too low. She once complained, "It's impossible to not have at least three bloody owies. I have three just on this arm!" She once insisted that "eleven" is actually the right number of bloody owies.

Because of all this, I'm often very aware of the status of the scabs, cuts, and other assorted abrasions that have mangled the flesh of my charges (most of which, incidentally, don't occur on my watch). And what impresses me the most is how quickly they vanish. I mean, I might go two or three weeks showing off the same damn bloody owies on my own skin, while kids like Charlotte, it seems, can show me a fresh one every day without actually increasing the total number of bloody owies on her body. It's almost as if young children are designed for bloody owies.

And indeed they are. Otherwise healthy children heal remarkably fast. They have no knee caps so falling on them is rarely worse than a flesh wound. Their bones are flexible and everything about them is low to the ground. Their teeth grow back. Their skulls aren't even fully fused, for crying out loud, which means they have a greatly reduced risk of concussions. In other words, young children are designed to fall down, hard, and often.

And likewise they are designed to learn from falling down. 

This is why I'm so despondent about the changes currently taking place at my local playground. Up until a week ago, two of the main features of the place were four large rocks that kids used as "stepping" stones, that would more properly be called "leaping" stones, and a large, slippery steel dome that really could only be ascended by taking a pell mell running start, then hoping you could stop yourself right at the top or else it was down the other side with you, often on the seat of your pants. The city is replacing it all with, yes, yet another boring climber under which they are currently installing a good three feet of wood chips. At least they kept the zip line.

How do you learn about bloody owies from that? Nope, all those injuries, all that learning, will have to wait until they're older, out in the world with knee caps to break, greater heights from which to fall, brittler bones, and fully formed skulls so that their jostled brains have no space in which to swell. 

No one wants children to get hurt, but at the same time every injury you prevent in childhood is just an injury pushed off into the future because as we say at Woodland Park, the only way to learn about asphalt is to fall on it.

You might think I'm joking about this, but I'm not.

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Vicki said...

I love this post and agree soooo much! As an Australian "bloody owies" makes me giggle though because here "bloody" is used less as an adjective and more as a mild swear word (eg ya bloody idiot!). I would have to find a new descriptive to have this conversation with my class :))

Nancy Schimmel said...

I'm sure I racked up my share of bloody owies well into elementary school when they hurt more. Avoiding them would have made for a dull, ground-level life, and I was all for climbing things. Note to self: Put more bloody owies into the children's book I'm writing.

Amy said...

I've been to Seattle once with my children, and I think we happened on the park you just described. I remember being so impressed by the lack of plastic rounded edges and truly athletic moves that the equipment required. And so I'm equally disappointed to learn that the city is dumbing down this playground, perpetuating the unfounded reasoning that children only deserve to master the one basic set of maneuvers that can be completed within the parameters of the ubiquitous plastic playground garbage.
Really, how dull.
I think it's a tragedy that we can visit from California and find the exact same stuff to play on.