Still cleaning our study for remodeling, I found another of my earlier parenting articles that seems worthy of being shared. Written over a decade ago, the magazine that accepted this piece unfortunately ceased publication a few months before it was scheduled to appear. Never sure if that was the universe making a statement on my writing, or just bad luck for all involved! As with the others I’ve dug up, I’ve chosen not to edit or change the wording from original form, and I make no excuses for any errors that I (or an editor) should have corrected.
Thanks for reading- hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed finding it again!
The view over the ridge is unbelievable! We’re about 4 minutes into another 20-minute downhill, starting nearly a mile above sea level, and absolutely screaming along a wide section of double-track. This part of the trail is hard, dusty, very fast and strewn with rocks the size of small coconuts. Shortly, this will give way to extremely technical single-track as we enter the woods, also very fast due to the severe incline of the mountain.
The wind is whipping through my helmet and forcing the flying dust and debris into my mouth and nose as I breathe. I’m at such a heightened level of awareness as I control my line, my speed and try to keep an eye on my 12-year-old son, Sean, as he rips away ahead of me in his own cloud of dust. Inwardly, I’m just astonished by his skill. He flows down the mountain as though his bike were a part of him, and I marvel at his fearlessness, Suddenly, he’s veering wildly: he’s managed to square into one of the large rocks, which has bounced him off his line at a speed I would estimate to be close to 30 mph. I’m now a helpless observer, watching disaster unfold and wondering how I tell his mom I’ve allowed him to be so badly injured. He careens rapidly from one side of the trail to the other, one foot down dirt-track style, as he fights to negotiate the turns and remain upright on the bike. Finally, after what seems like an eternity but is probably not more than half a minute or so, Sean gets things back under control. What a pro! Now I can stop holding my breath!
Unfortunately, we’re both badly shaken, and the rest of the ride is much more tentative and subdued. I reassure Sean that his recovery was nothing short of awe-inspiring, but he, being much wiser in his youth than I EVER was, tells me that was enough to end his riding for the day. An intelligent man knows his limitations, I tell him, and I’m proud (and secretly relieved) that he has the guts to admit it. As a parent, I “dodged a bullet” on that ride, and I certainly hope I can continue to do so. Sometimes it makes me wonder if my family and friends may be onto something when they ask, “Is that a good idea to let him do that?” It does give me pause..
I have always loved the more “fringe element” sports, those that are now more commonly known as Extreme Sports. Skateboarding, Mountain Biking, motorcycles, flying- basically anything that makes my Mom cringe. These are the activities that I participate in to keep me mentally and (mostly, barring injuries) physically fit. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on whom you ask) my age, family responsibilities and the lasting effects of several injuries have conspired to slow me a bit and make me more cautious. None of these things have stopped me though, and now my children are beginning to follow in my footsteps- and that is a mixed blessing, indeed!
People often ask me, “now that you’re a parent, aren’t you worried about your kids getting hurt doing the same things you do?” Of course the answer to that must be “yes”, but there is much more to it than that. Recent Government studies have shown that our kids (as well as our parents and ourselves) are larger and more out of shape than ever before. This makes it so much more important to keep our kids active and healthy, and finding ways to keep them that way. This is a group of kids that crave the action and excitement provided by ever more realistic video games, and for many of these kids, the traditional team sports just don’t have the draw they once did. For some, the real-life accessibility of many of the “Extreme Sports” is just what the doctor ordered Keep our kids fit. Besides, who are we fooling as we try to convince ourselves that there were few serious injuries in the traditional realms of baseball, basketball and football? We can’t prevent are kids from getting hurt. It’s that simple. I certainly don’t force them to enjoy the same things I do, but I believe there is a piece of the same daredevil in each of my kids that leads them similar endorphin producing pursuits as myself I’ve always been this way, and I believe they are, as well. My Dad is a pretty traditional guy when it comes to sports, following football, baseball and basketball. He played softball and basketball, and never has quite understood my sports- but he and my Mom let my three closest friends and me build a large half-pipe in their back yard in the mid-70’s (WAY before Gravity Games and the like!), knowing full well the potential risks. Were they worried about us? I’m sure they were, and when my friend Tony broke his arm on our ramp, I’m sure they were just as worried about a potential lawsuit. I believe our parents knew we were wired that way, and our skateboarding was a physically positive activity that kept us out of trouble. It was also reassuring to know skating at home kept us close in case someone did get hurt. Lucky for all of us, the injuries were infrequent, and that level of intense activity and fitness has stayed with each of us well into adulthood. Now it’s our job as parents to pass that need to be healthy and active on to our children.
There is little in life as fulfilling to me as passing on a skill, and watching that skill put to amazing use by my student. When that student is my child, however, the emotions tend to get a bit jumbled, to say the least. When my son, Sean, was about seven, I took him for his first “real” off-road riding at the local MTBike park. This park is a beginner to basic intermediate circuit through the woods that’s a great place to ride in the morning when time is limited and a few challenging hot laps are required. The day Sean and I went was hot, dry and fast- a perfect day for the first experience of good single-track. He did amazingly well, and I was full of wonder at just how naturally this all came to him. I had expected a slow pace as I followed him through the woods, but he rocketed through! When we came to one of the few intermediate sections, a moderately long, steep bit of twisty downhill, I gave him the same pitch I give all newbies: Take your time, don’t be afraid to get off and walk, brake moderately and let a little speed carry you through, etc… I think Sean heard my words as little more than faint buzzing, and he was on the hill before I finished talking. I sat and stared in open-mouthed amazement as he ripped down the hill, loose on the bike and letting it slide and walk beneath him like a pro- until he came to a fallen tree across part of the trail. I choked! There wasn’t a thing I could do except watch him crash at speed, then run to him, pick up the pieces, and live with the guilt that I had let him get in WAY over his head…
Except he didn’t crash! He saw the tree, realized he had no option, and ran off the bike and down the hill- all the while laughing and yelling “Abandon Bike!” I was absolutely stunned. I had gone from the panic of a helpless Dad watching his son about to be badly injured, to the euphoric pride of a Dad punching his fist in the air shouting “Yeah, that’s how to do it!” The two of us spent the rest of the ride on such a pump, Sean’s due to “getting away with it” and not crashing, mine from the pride of knowing my son was going to be a much better rider than I, and in a very short time. Sean’s next laps were fast, and without incident- even clearing around the tree on the downhill. Now, several years later, I watch my son regularly clear the expert sections at Ray’s indoor MTBike Park- many times as I am struggling to clear the same sections!
Do I worry that my kids may get hurt? Of course! My daughter, Alyson, shares my love of flying. She hopes to one day be a Fighter pilot in the US Air Force. A bit frightening, but such an honorable goal requiring sharp skills, mental acuity and supreme physical fitness. For now, I cringe as I watch her twist, turn and tumble on the bars and beams of her gymnastics class, always on the verge of sprained muscles and broken bones. I constantly feel a need to harp on Sean to “be careful, don’t hurt her” as he teaches Alyson many of his Martial Arts skills, skills I hope neither will ever have need to use outside of sport. Karate, gymnastics, bikes, flying, swimming, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, scooters, and on and on… My kids and I do all these and more, and each could be potentially dangerous. We take every possible precaution, in the form of helmets, safety equipment and appropriate environments in an effort to minimize risks. Risk still exists, however, as it does in every moment of day-to-day life, and I could not imagine ever stopping them from pushing themselves in the pursuits they love. It is obvious they deeply enjoying whatever they are doing, and the level of fitness, balance, flexibility and confidence will be beneficial for life. How could a parent NOT weigh those incredible benefits against the slight possibility of injury, and find in favor of the activities?
Do I worry that my Children may get hurt? Every moment I think of them. More than that, however, I worry that preventing their activities might lead them to an adulthood of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, muscular or any health problems becoming more prevalent in our society. I think that may be more alarming, so I choose to embrace them, and share my activities with them whenever they ask!