A few weeks ago Max had a couple of friends over and Clay took the three boys out to shoot bb guns. They went to an area south of here, huge open land owned by the company Clay works for. They came home hours later, filthy, starving, and happy as so many free-range clams. I asked Clay what they'd been doing the whole time (because three hours of bb guns seemed unlikely).
"Oh, you know," he replied, "we walked around and found this little gully and threw sticks at each other and sword fought with weeds. Stuff."
Now, this didn't do too much to clarify my picture of exactly what had been so enthralling, but it was clear that they'd all had a great time. I suggested to Clay (not for the first time) that he may have married me for the playmates.
"Nah, I could tell I'm getting old," he said, "because years ago I would have been on my belly in the dirt, combat-crawling through the underbrush, setting up an ambush. I'm too tired for that sort of thing."
It got me thinking, about our kids' lives and how much more rigid their boundaries are. I often say that Clay grew up feral in the wilds of Wyoming. Other than the loving home, that's not far from the truth. When he was younger than Tre, he would take his .22 (!) and walk out of town, into the woods to shoot things. The main rule was: don't shoot toward town. When I was just a little older than Raphael, I would come home from school and go out in the back yard to my fire pit. I was somewhat obsessed with fire, so Dad dug me a pit in the back yard. The goal was to encourage me to build my fires there, instead of on the living room floor. I spent many hours hunkered down in that hole in the ground, burning anything I could find. This is how I know that the spongy stuff in the middle of dry corn stalks does not burn well.
In today's world, looking back on what Clay and I were allowed to do as kids makes me shake my head. SERIOUSLY? I can't imagine giving my kids that kind of freedom. That's simply nuts.
Our kids live their lives on a small square of land, with an adult in earshot at all times. They wear helmets and pads and seatbelts and many layers of warnings always. And while I know that all the safety is good, that I'm grateful that Tre didn't go through the window in that car accident that could have easily killed at least two people, that having one of my boys die because they were riding their bike without a helmet and simply fell would be enragingly stupid and wrong, still I wonder what they've lost in exchange.
I remember being about eight or nine and climbing a tree. The branch I was standing on broke and I slid along the length of the trunk toward the ground below. My arms flailed, grasping for branches as they sailed past, and the rough bark yanked my shirt up, pulling it hard into my armpits, then flayed the skin on my side. I smacked hard into the dirt and crumpled into a ball and just lay there for a few minutes, fighting for air. When my breath returned, I stood up on shaky legs and looked up at the broken branch, about 15 feet above me. With one hand I explored the raw, weeping skin on my side while I looked at that tree and contemplated how much worse that fall could have been.
I remember that moment in crystal-clear images, because it was reality. I think there are lessons one can only learn from crossing that line from "safe" into "not."
Our kids aren't allowed anywhere near that line.
So maybe that's why I've been letting them start fires.
to be continued...