December 13, 2012 § 3 Comments
Yesterday, whilst Rye was curled on the couch depositing the contents of his stomach into a metal bowl every 30 minutes or so, Fin and I trundled outdoors to see what sort of hell could be raised with a trio of the most hell-raising contraptions at our immediate disposal: Tractor. Saw mill. Chainsaw. Crikey, if only we’d brought some firearms along… just imagine the sort of fun we coulda had. In any event, it was a beautiful afternoon; not quite warm, but close enough, and sunny as all get out, and Fin was in a helpful mood. Which is to say, he was keen to take the helm of whatever piece of potentially-deadly equipment I would allow him to take the helm of.
One of our prevailing parenting philosophies (PPP) is that, to the greatest extent possible, our children should be included in the day-to-day operations of home, farm, and forest. Because these operations frequently involve the use of large, sharp, fast, loud, hot, explosive, and generally unwieldy implements, this means that our boys have had a level of exposure to these sort of tools that has become largely absent from the landscape of childhood in twenty-first century America. Both boys can drive the tractor and the truck, and both can operate the majority of the power tools we utilize on an almost daily basis. Knives, axes, and guns also fall under their purview.
Now, before anyone gets their undies in a bunch, allow me to qualify: With the exception of non-powered cutting implements (knives, axes, handsaws), all of the above are to be used only with close adult supervision. It’s not as if we’re sending the little duffers down into the woods with a pair of shotguns and a chainsaw under strict orders not to return without meat and wood.
Still and all, there is unquestionably an element of risk associated with all this. It would be nice to think there is not, but it’s simply impossible to eliminate risk from the operation of these tools, whether you’re 10 years old, or 40. Yesterday, I allowed Fin to drive the tractor back from where we’d used it to unload round bales, while I followed behind in the truck. He drove carefully, almost ploddingly, and it was an entirely uneventful trip, and when he climbed down at the sawmill landing, I could see what that short solo drive had done for his confidence. It was written all over his round face, and in the way he carried himself.
In general, I believe that we do not allow our children to take enough (supervised) risk at a young enough age. The events that pass for rites of passage in contemporary America have largely been neutered of physical risk, having tipped over into realm of technology: The acquisition of a child’s first cell phone comes to mind, along with access to other gadgets and digitized experiences. I believe that children need appropriate risk, and I strongly suspect that this lack of physical risk (I say “physical” because of course there are all manner of non-physical risks associated with the use of technology) leads to inappropriate risk taking later in life. No, I can’t prove this. But then, I can’t prove most of what I believe.
Fin and I spent only a couple hours outside; by the time the afternoon was coming to close, we had only a small pile of rough-cut lumber to show for our labors. It wasn’t much. But then, I’m pretty sure it was only a fraction of what we’d gained.