Friday, November 17, 2017

"It's Safe"

When I first saw the boy sitting on a plastic truck at the top of the concrete slope, I felt the urge to put a stop to it. My knee-jerk risk assessment went something like this:
  1. Plastic trucks not designed to be sat upon, especially by these large 5-year-old bodies
  2. Concrete slope
  3. Short runway with a raised planting bed made of wood at the bottom
  4. Even if these competent kids could manage it, their success might lure less competent friends to try it
  5. Tender flesh and precious heads

I made it to the scene before anyone had put themselves at the mercy of gravity, "That doesn't look safe to me."

He looked from me to the slope. "It's safe."

"There's hard concrete and hard wood and a steep slope."

He gave the scene another once-over, then spoke from the perspective of a five-year-old boy sitting on a plastic digger at the top of a concrete slope, thinking about his own life and limb, "I won't get hurt." 

This is a boy who tends to look before he leaps, usually not the first in line for a risky venture, but rather more typically third or fourth, peering around those in front of him to observe what's going on, learning from their mistakes. In that moment, I tried to imagine what he saw, returning me briefly to my days as a boy who had made similar risk assessments. In the backs of both of our minds, I think, was the much longer, steeper concrete slope in our outdoor classroom, the one we both felt would be too big a risk. Daredevils might try it, but not us.

"Okay, I'll be here to pick you up if you fall."

With that he let himself go down the short ride, stopping so abruptly against the planting bed that the rear wheels were lifted of the ground. There was triumph behind his smile.

When he started dragging his truck back up the slope, I stopped worrying about him, turning my attention to the safety of the planting bed and the second boy who, having witnessed the success, was now steering a truck of his own into place.

I said, "Hang on! I don't want you guys to wreck the garden." The boys waited one behind the other as I dropped a car tire on the ground. "You can run into this."

As the boys took turns in this game of speed, slope, and impact, I began to worry again as other kids stopped by to check things out. I wondered if this was the time for physically less capable children to want their turns, emboldened beyond their reason by the success of these first two. But one after another they watched, then moved on to other things, the monkey-see-monkey-do chain reaction I'd feared not in evidence.

I could have let my fears over-ride the superior risk assessment capabilities of the boys. Instead, I offered my counsel, then trusted their judgement, while being near to pick them up if they fell.

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