I sat out in my backyard tonight watching my 8-year old daughter and 4-year old son playing in the summer evening air. It was nice. I had the music on, a cup of coffee in my hand and my feet up. I took a rare moment of relative peace and quiet and just watched them. In particular, I was drawn to my daughter. This was no accident. She was drawing me in.
I was repeatedly asked to watch her as she attempted "death-defying" tricks on our backyard swing. Now although defying death is a relative term to an eight-year old, in her defense, it was nothing I would try. But, I wondered, why was that?
True, most of my rationale for not swinging like a monkey from shoddy backyard playground equipment comes from the fact that I am a 38-year old woman whose upper body strength may not necessarily meet the needs of what it is pulling up. But it's more than that. I look at a swing and think about the physics of what is being performed and realize what can fail; what can go wrong.
I ride roller coasters with my kids. I get on, but still there is that moment when I think hey, this could go badly. I take off on airplanes with my kids, but there is that split second when I realize this could end terribly. I am not saying I dwell on these realizations and they clearly do not prevent me from going through with the aforementioned activities (well, aside from the swing thing but, let's face it, that kiddie set wouldn't hold me up). Still, there is always a moment of clarity when I have to weigh pros and cons. It is because I do not implicitly trust everything. My kids often do. Especially if I'm watching. After all, if Mom and Dad are sitting next to me on this ride, it must be OK, right?
I preach distrust on a regular basis to my kids. Don't get in a car with anyone you don't know, don't talk to strangers, don't, don't and don't. I hope they listen. I hope they do because I told them to and they have every reason to trust me. But then I realize they have no reason not to trust the people I am telling them to question. No one has ever really let them down. Thankfully, they have led a peaceful existence up to this point in life and wouldn't it be great if they always could? Well, would it?
I spend a great deal of time sending my kids mixed messages. On one hand I want them to watch out. For mean bullies, fast moving cars, wild animals and more. On the other hand, I want them to be giving, sharing and open to the world. How do I marry these two unique but related set of life lessons?
There will be times when I need to let my kids fall just to show them you can't trust everything. There will be times when I turn a blind eye and let them walk that tightrope. After all, if they believe in themselves and trust what matters, they should have the confidence to walk right across. But for the times they are a bit shaky, when they are not looking, I might be just out of sight securing that safety net. Because the fall will scare them enough. They don't actually need to be hurt.
Compromise, I guess, is what connects the life lessons in trust and distrust. Moderation. A little bit of both. I'll keep sending my mixed messages and hope one day my kids realize where that tiny, barely visible dot is in the middle. And then, they will tighten their belt, pull on the safety strap and scream with delight as the coaster launches.