“Why don’t they just go full throttle and hope for the best?” my 10-year-old wondered aloud from the back seat on a family drive a couple weeks ago.
He wanted me to tell him how engineers run their trains, but the question sparked two thoughts that left me too distracted to answer:
1. I’m raising Calvin from the old comic strip.
2. He has a motto.
And you know, a kid could do worse in the motto department than “Full throttle and hope for the best.” For a kid with a good head on his shoulders, I think this one qualifies.
He’s forever coming home with new bruises and scrapes from pushing his body a little further than he should. My wife and I can’t buy new jeans fast enough to replace the ones he rips, but that’s a small price to pay for knowing that he’s learning his limits by brushing right up against them.
He’s making the most of what I’ve always told my kids is the whole point of this period of their lives. Every animal that has a childhood, I tell them, gets that time to learn how to be an adult. (I don’t know if it’s really true, but I’m going to keep saying things that make them think their father knows what he’s doing until they figure it out.)
“What’s childhood for?” I’ve asked countless times as I hugged a son who was crying from injury or punishment.
“For making mistakes,” they sob.
And as long as I see them learning from those mistakes, they know I’ll shield them some from the full brunt of consequence.
Looking around their world, I think I have to actually encourage them to make mistakes and get a little banged up so they’ll know how fully they can live. Too many well-meaning (or lawsuit-adverse) people in their lives are giving them the opposite message. They’re not even allowed to play tag at school for fear that someone will get knocked down.
I don’t think the tag ban accomplishes anything with my oldest boy and his buddies other than add the thrill of maybe getting caught by a teacher to the excitement of running from the kid who’s “it.”
But even then, there’s a life lesson: Weigh the rewards against your risks.
That’s an important one, so if my kids think tag is worth getting marched to the principal’s office, I’ll leave that up to them without heaping on the extra punishment at home that usually follows getting busted elsewhere.
But as they grow, I’ll be a little slower to shield them from the knock-downs of life. If I keep my shield up forever, they’ll never get strong enough to raise one of their children one day. At 10 years old, though, there’s still time left.
So sure, kid, go full throttle and hope for the best. I’ll be here to bump you back on track when you start to derail, at least for a little bit longer.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.