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Pen & Ink: Failing to fail

Michael Davis

Michael Davis

When I was in second-grade, I started the school year with a cast on my right wrist, after having fallen to the ground from a picnic table in a failed attempt to grab onto a tree limb. The attempt was to catch a tree limb, and hang there, showing off how high I could reach.

I was using the picnic table as a platform to reach a much higher limb than I was able to reach from the ground.

I’d like to think of the episode as an early example of a young boy using his power of reasoning to attain greater heights. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

The next spring, as my second-grade school year closed out, I was back in a cast on my right wrist, after having fallen out of a swingset while attempting to soar out of the seat. You know, if you tuck your arms in on the backswing, when you begin moving forward, you can use the momentum to throw yourself a pretty good distance.

Well, turns out the tree limb was just out of reach, and I got my arms a little hung up in the chains on the swing set and didn’t make it out until I began swinging backwards again. In both instances, I crashed to the ground trying to break my fall with my hands. Result? Broken wrists and having to learn how to write left-handed through most all of second grade.

These days, you almost have to wonder if kids break bones much anymore. I’m not a parent, so maybe my perspective is a bit skewed, but I’m an observer of human behavior and a student of the human experience, and I’m not the only one to notice that today’s parents seem to be collectively willing to allow their children to never skin their knee. Or to ever suffer a failure. Or to ever make a mistake from which they might learn something.

They’re called helicopter parents, those who hover over their children making sure it never rains on their head and that everyone treats them fairly and that no one ever so much as looks at them cross-eyed.

You may have recently heard about an Easter egg hunt in Colorado that has been a tradition in one neighborhood for years, but was canceled this year because of the chaos it turned into last year, with parents rushing the field, helping their children collect eggs and generally being obnoxious and pushy and void of the spirit of the occasion.

It’s not unusual to hear reports of parents getting into shouting matches and fist fights over peewee sports, but this was an Easter egg hunt, which I would argue is only minimally competitive, if at all.

I wouldn’t say that I was left to my own devices, neglected, abandoned and generally allowed to run amok, breaking arms and legs and pulling hot pots on top of my head. Far from it.

But I was allowed to make some of my own mistakes and get into some of my own misadventures growing up, without someone always there to stop me before the lesson was learned.

If you’re not allowed to hunt your own Easter eggs, or to break your own arms, how do you ever learn not to try to jump out of swings? And if you don’t learn not to try to jump out of swings when you’re a kid, you may not learn to be careful around life’s swingsets when you’re an adult.

When you are 35, you hit the ground a lot harder than when you are 7.

Michael Davis is the managing editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus.