Tuesday, October 26, 2021

In A Matter Of Seconds



The boy was sitting atop one of our Tonka trucks, poised at the top of the short, but steep concrete slope that bifurcates the playground. It wasn't clear whether he was summoning up courage to take the plunge, carefully assessing the risk, or simply taking in the view, but having been around young children for a long time and knowing this boy in particular, I figured that the odds were on the side of him taking the plunge one way or another.

Normally, this would not have been a particularly fraught moment for me. After all, the slope was short, the ground was soft, the boy competent, and I'd previously witnessed hundreds of other similarly inclined children emerge largely unscathed. The monkey wrench in my calculations was the recent addition of a planting box not far from the bottom on the slope. That was an immovable object. 

If I'd come across an adult in a similar circumstance, I'd likely pause to watch without comment. I would assume they knew what they were doing. That said, I was explicitly responsible for this boy's safety whereas an adult's safety, while still perhaps on a moral or ethical level at least partially on me, wouldn't really be my concern. 

This is one of the filters I regularly use when considering my actions in relation to those of the children in my care: would I treat an adult the same way? And if not, why not? It's a calculation I make several times a day, often on the fly like in the case of the boy on the Tonka truck. I'm generally disinclined to impose myself on anyone, especially when it comes to telling them what to do. Still, I had concerns about his prospective plummet ending too suddenly and even violently.

I didn't want to rob the boy of the answer to the question he was asking about himself and the physics of the world around him. It was information that would likely come in useful for calculating future risks however this particular plunge turned out. Having survived this short precipitous slope on a Tonka truck, and the odds were nearly 100 percent that he would survive, it would become data for future risk taking. So allowing him to proceed was on the side of learning and longterm safety. 

That planter box complicated things. I personally didn't yet have any data on it. As far as I knew, this boy was the first to attempt anything like this since it had been built. This is the fulcrum upon which our days teeter as important adults in the lives of young children. In similar circumstances, many adults would simply call out, "Be careful!" a phrase I've stricken from my person lexicon being that it is both a command and so vague as to be useless. He was clearly already being careful. His long, thoughtful pause at the top of the slope told me that, but maybe I, in my larger store of experience, had information he could use, so I said, "I'm going to watch you so I'll be here to take care of you if you get hurt."

I said it because it was the first actual truth that came to me about the situation. He replied calmly, "I'm not going to get hurt."

I answered, "Good. I'm just worried about the planter box. It's pretty close to the bottom and you're going to be going fast. If you run into it, you might go flying through the air." Maybe I was exaggerating, so I added, "It might be cool, but you also might land on something hard."

"That's not going to happen," he replied, eyes fixed on the planter box below. I realized that I'd now done what I needed to do. 

Then after another moment of consideration, he let himself go, stopping his momentum with his heels several inches short of the planter box. He looked at me in triumph, "See?"

It all happened in a matter of seconds, this exchange about risk and safety, this calculation of odds by two people at different stages in life.

******

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