Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Flashes Before Their Eyes

Sometimes I look out my front window on a summer day and watch all the children play and wonder:

How does anybody actually survive to adulthood?

I've seen the neighborhood kids do some really, really stupid things. Things that make you question whether or not they have any common sense at all and make their parents come running out of their houses hollering, "Stop doing that before you kill yourself!"

The daredevil girl across the street, who also happens to be Ainsley's favorite neighborhood playmate, has one simple philosophy in life: Never, ever apply brakes. Why slow down when it's so much more fun to ride your bike full-speed into garage doors or jump off of it while it's still moving and land on your feet an admirable 90% of the time?

Her parents have rewarded her adventurous spirit by buying her a motorized scooter. It's a hallmark of the banging class; why force your 6-year-old to be self-propelled and largely silent when you can give her something really fast, really lazy, and really noisy?

"Mommy, daddy, can you buy me a scooter like Clarissa's?" Ainsley asked last weekend, sadly pushing her "old" Razor scooter, which she wanted more than she wanted fresh air to breathe just a year ago.

"No," we both said in unison, not even looking up from watering the plants.

"Why not?"

"Two concussions," I said. "You don't need a third. Even with your helmet I don't trust those things at your age."

Because you're the most accident-prone child I know, I thought.

Just last week I got a call from Ainsley's school. Ainsley ran into another kid at recess and, because she apparently is part dog and runs around with her tongue sticking out of her mouth, she bit through her tongue.

"We did get the bleeding to stop, but she has a deep cut in her tongue where one tooth went all the way in. She's convinced she bit a piece of her tongue off and we can't get her to calm down. Can you come look at it and see whether or not you want her to go back to class?"

She did go back to class, and except for not being able to eat solid food the rest of the day, she got over it and healed up. But every parent worries that something awful is awaiting our children just around the next curve, and they might not be able to get over it.

Because even smart kids are dumb.

I should know; I was a mostly smart kid who did some really, really dumb stuff. Stuff that made my life flash before my eyes. Stuff that I've never told my mom about, because as big of a worrier as she was, if she had had any clue how close I came to death at various points in my childhood she never would have let me out of a padded room.

Like the time I was flying my kite in the backyard, a backyard that happened to have overhead utility lines nearby, and despite warnings about electricity and kite strings, I let the kite get too close to the overhead lines and get caught in one of them. I guess it was just a telephone or cable line since I am still here. I dropped the kite twine and hit the ground, my heart pounding in my own ears. When I was convinced that I was alive I just let the kite break off in the spring winds and fly away to go be with the birds.

"Did you lose your kite?" Mom asked.

"Uh huh," I said, and hid my shaking hands. And went straight back to my bedroom to recover and wonder how on earth I was still alive.

Or the time I sucked an Atomic Fireball into my throat where it lodged for the most terrifying 10 seconds of my life. Mind you, it went down my esophagus and not the trachea, but still. It completely closed off my throat and made me feel a panic I'd never felt before. Rather than get help, I crept into the bathroom to wait it out; even a slow death by jawbreaker was preferable to admitting to Mom that I had sucked on one of those things without first smashing it up with the handle of a table knife, which was mandatory when I was a kid because "those things will choke you to death!" Had it gone down the other pipe, I have no doubt that it would have, because that thing didn't budge until the coating started to come off.

I also ran my bike into the side of a moving car once after completely not looking both ways at an intersection like I had been told countless times to do. See? Dumb.

What's scares me the most about these memories is that I was, by and large, a cautious, thoughtful kid who mostly followed the rules and did as she was told and believed in applying the brakes when the situation called for it. Ainsley's friends, and Ainsley herself, take more risks and live life either in the fast lane (Ainsley's friend across the street) or at the very least the passing lane. If I cheated death three times that I can remember clearly from my childhood, and who knows how many more times that I've blocked out, what's in store for them?

Sunday saw Clarissa playing a cool new game with her new scooter of death: rev it up, speed toward people, and hope that they can get out of the way quick enough. And giggle evilly when they don't. Because in this kid's mind, when playing chicken with a motorized scooter, it's funny when you hit your older sister.

Ainsley wasn't allowed to play that game. After Jason had put a stop to it, he came in, shaking his head.

"That girl," he said. "I'm not sure that there's any common sense there."

Of course not. She's a kid. And kids are reckless and dumb (and in the banging class, mechanized.)

The best we can do to keep our kids from having their own brushes with death and having their own lives flash before their eyes is to watch them, talk to them, and never, ever buy them anything with a motor. We can helmet them, we can monitor them, we can teach them. But we can't be them, and we eventually have to untie those apron strings.

And thinking about that just makes my own life flash before my eyes all over again.

What was the dumbest thing you ever did as a kid? How many times did you cheat death? A nervous parent who lives across the street from hell on wheels wants to know.

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