Saturday, June 29, 2013

Not giant, but a leap nonetheless

Psalm 118:13-14 (NIV)

I was pushed back and about to fall,
   but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defense;
   he has become my salvation.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Charlie has no fear. He’s recently grown to dislike thunder a great deal. He keeps a safe distance from dogs he does not know. He is very curious about ambulances, fire trucks and police cars, but the sirens always give him a jolt. But when he feels he’s in control of a situation, especially physically, he is reckless.

I’m relatively sure he developed this habit by trying to keep up with his older brothers. Jack remains relatively timid with his body — though he apparently has great faith in roller coaster engineers — but a two-year-old trying to keep up with even a careful nine-year-old is still in over his head. And Max, well, he’s been a wrecking ball since day one. He’s never met a wall he couldn’t crash into, a couch he couldn’t bounce off or a jungle gym he couldn’t dominate.

We were at the neighborhood park today for the annual bike parade and ice cream social, an event so stereotypically quaint I sometimes can’t believe it actually happens in 2013. Jack was off on the swings, Max was sitting quietly eating a push-up. Charlie sat next to me on a park bench — for a moment. Then he stood up, proclaimed his plans to jump to the ground and then followed through.

I thought about stopping him for a second, but then I decided to see what would happen. He was up about as high as our couch, or maybe two stairs. It’s a leap he’s made plenty of times, probably too many for a guy his size. And the landing was crushed stone, a little less forgiving than our living room carpet. But he was determined, and he would have been more mad to have been told no than he would have been upset to botch the dismount.

So off he went. He landed on his hands and feet, then dusted off his palms and headed to the playground. He went down one slide, then came right back to his perch on the bench. He told me about the slide, then announced he’d be jumping again. He promptly loaded up, then sprung. He landed on all fours again, though with a little more certainty. He repeated the routine a few more times, each landing growing more and more stable. After maybe the third or fourth jump he didn’t need his hands at all. He was still cautious, but confident in his ability — and with good reason.

Now perchance I could have spent the afternoon teaching my son a more valuable skill. Perhaps I would feel differently about his learning by experience had that experience involved a complete faceplant. Maybe there’s no grand lesson here about how you have to give a kid space — carefully monitored space at this age — in order for them to fully develop. Or it’s possible this was the best and most perfect use of a Saturday afternoon imaginable. Who am I to judge?

On our way home, with Max riding his scooter just a bit too far ahead for my liking and me urging Charlie to “ride” his bike as quickly as possible (he uses his feet and not the pedals) Jack raced by on his bike, shouted out the name of a friend’s house he was going to visit, made a sweeping left turn and sped down a hill at full speed. As proud as I’d been 30 minutes earlier of a jumping Charlie expanding his horizons, I was equally regretful I’d ever taught Jack to ride his bike in the first place.

Because what I was really teaching him was how to grow up, how to feel comfortable further away from home. I know I didn’t take off his training wheels yesterday, but it sure felt like it at that moment. I can’t protect them forever. Actually, I don’t want to — I fully expect each kid to grow up and move out some day to a place of their own. But we can each ask God to guard us always, regardless of which roof is over our head at night. The Lord indeed is our strength, defense and salvation. That won’t keep us from a few skinned knees or scraped elbows, but that’s never been the point. When it matters most, I know where my hope lives.

A prayer for June 29:

Lord, thank you for the simple pleasure of a Saturday with my family. I am grateful for the safe return from a week away and the happy reports of time spent with family. I hope in the days ahead we can re-establish our family routine with peace and patience. Please help me remember how much there is to be taught and learned in the summer months when school is not in session. Show me chances to make a difference for my children and to help them grow, both in life and in your love. Amen.

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