I'm not sure when the switch from "that looks like fun" to "that looks dangerous" happened. Being a parent has really changed my outlook on risk.
As kids, my brother and I challenged ourselves. At home, we'd slide down the staircase railing. Then we'd climb the stairs along the outside of the rail. When we got to the second floor, we'd hang and drop down to the first floor. The soft brown carpet absorbed our landing.
It was fun. We took calculated risks, but were able to judge if something felt too dangerous.
I tell my kids not to climb stairs like I did.
Back in the day, bro and I did silly things like jump off our bikes, and crash-land on our neighbours' lawns. We roamed the neighbourhood, played outside. A lot.
My kids don't often bike by themselves. I usually accompany them. If they jumped off their bikes, I'd probably have a conniption.
When I was in Grade 4 and my brother was in Grade 2, we rode our bikes to school together. No helmets. None of my classmates wore them back in the early 1980s.
My boys began riding to school when they were in Grades 5 and 3. They wear helmets (a good thing). They signal and shoulder check. There's a very busy intersection they have to cross. I taught them to walk their bikes through the crosswalk.
I still accompany them, though. I've told them they'll be ready to make the three-kilometre trip on their own, once I teach them how to fix the chain if it comes off. Conveniently, I haven't showed them yet. Maybe I'm not ready to let go.
Secretly, I enjoy riding with them, racing through the forested bike path, bombing down the hill. "This is the best part!" younger son says.
I feel like a kid.
Older son has one speed: fast. I ride in the middle, keeping an eye on younger son trailing, so he keeps pace somewhat. Older knows to stop at checkpoints and wait for us to catch up. Sometimes he rides "no hands" and pumps his arms like he's running. I smile and let go of my handlebars, too.
I have to let go more. Someday.
Someday came. One evening, I was sitting on the couch, watching my boys jump on the trampoline. They were kicking a soccer ball; laughing, jumping, yelling. The window framed my view, as if I watched a live-action TV show. You know, like that old TSN catchphrase: Real Life. Real Drama. Real TV.
I thought of playing with my brother as a child. Time machine. I just sat and watched. Smiled. The look on their faces: pure unadulterated joy.
I looked around. Is this a dream? It hit me like a ton of bricks. This is my life. I glanced at my wife; a sweet, warm smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies wafted through the air. These are our kids. This is my wife. This is our house.
In a way, I am living a dream. Many years ago, when my wife and I started dating seriously, we'd walk along the Ottawa River. I remember staring at the stars, wishing if I could only have one wish, it'd be to marry her and raise a family together. Life can be so simple, but you can make it complicated.
My wish came true.
But I forget that sometimes. It's easy to get bogged down in busyness and routine. In your own drama. In other people's drama. I had forgotten how to savour the moment.
I had an epiphany watching my kids that day. All my worry, my uncertainty, my depression, all my negative energy, resentment—simply stopped making sense. Vanished into the ether.
In my mid-forties, I've become risk-averse. I don't want my kids to be like this. I want them to learn independence, resilience. To take calculated risks. To not be afraid of failure. Even seek it out. To not be perfect.
For me, the best way to do this is to let go of some control.
There's this big honey locust tree in our front yard. Beckons you to climb. Older son loves to. He'll get pretty high, maybe over fifteen feet. If he fell, he could get really hurt. He could break his neck. He could die. My mind races, runs away on me. The thought of him falling gives me the shivers.
But he's really good. Steady. Careful.
So I give up some control. I let him climb. Even though it goes against my instinct to protect.
I've climbed this tree in the past. But not in a long time. The view from up top is really neat. A totally different perspective than from the ground. I know why he likes to climb. It's the same reason I used to. To be up high, have a sense of accomplishment. To wonder, reflect.
I watch him confidently climb. For now, he doesn't take unnecessary risks. (We'll see what happens when the teenage years come.) But I fully encourage him to take acceptable risks. Because the potential rewards of confidence, accomplishment and independence are worth it.
I am trying to reclaim this attitude for myself. I'll start by climbing our tree again.
That looks like fun.