“We are here for a trial class. She’s seven,” said the cheerful new mum at my kid’s gymnastics class. Her daughter then said she was going to attempt a cartwheel but landed in a heap midway because mum squealed, “NO! Let the teacher show you how first!”
I sighed inside. It’s cartwheeling. I suspect children were cartwheeling before we invented the wheel.
We have become a generation of parents who live in fear. We are afraid of our kids falling ill, getting bruised, kidnapped, swallowed up by escalators, being bullied or even being criticised. And so we are raising a generation of coddled, smothered, fearful and confused kids.
Children need to fall down and play with mud. There is magic in wading in a stream and getting nipped by curious fish. Surviving a scraped knee can be a prelude to surviving a career setback. I don’t doubt that child abductions occur but having to live in a glass cage all the time just in case it happens, is truly too high a price to pay.
Instead of completely sheltering our kids from danger (and life), we could teach them about calculated risk.
I would have said to the little girl at gymnastics, “Great place to try it! At least the floors here are padded. Plus you’ve been watching the other kids and you’re all warmed up from your own class. Go for it!”
I allow my kids to walk alone if they take the dogs with them. They go to the corner shop in pairs and one of the dogs has to go with them. They also carry a phone. They really want to cycle around the estate but I’m still in two minds about that because drivers can be oblivious to younger, less road-savvy cyclists.
My children are eight, 10 and 12 and they’ve always walked the dogs with me. The smallest loop is 1.5km, the biggest 8km. The terrain varies from smooth tarmac to steep hill paths. The youngest has always struggled and found it difficult while the eldest wishes he could do it alone. I am caught in the middle, encouraging the small one and hoping the eldest has a dog with him.
The dogs in the meantime do their best to give me grey hairs by confronting alpha macaques, jumping over storm drains that they then forget how to cross back over and getting stuck on slopes that are too steep for them to come back down. I’ve also had to fish one of them from a 1.5m-deep monsoon drain when a squirrel-chasing episode ended unexpectedly.
The kids helped with that one. I jumped into the drain, looped the leashes under my dog’s belly and chest and got the kids to heave her out while I shoved from beneath.
The dog had a few scratches, I was a bit damp but the kids were completely exhilarated! What an adventure, they grinned.
In the meantime, I know of people who banish their pets because they have kids. These same parents worry if their child strays a few feet from their side in a queue and they are perpetually telling their children how dirty the table is, and how they need to wash their hands. They worry and bristle if their kids encounter a bully or if someone criticises them.
The eldest was at his first football lesson last weekend. My husband and I have never had any interest in ball games and our dogs think all balls are enemy number one and need to be promptly captured and torn to shreds. So, our kids have never had much chance to kick a ball. Needless to say, he was pretty lousy at it.
And sure as the sun rises in the east, there was a kid who poked fun at his poor form (and also his hair, his name and his shoes), tried to get the others to not pass the ball and made his first class a real bummer.
After the class, my son voiced his complaints. “Well you are pretty lame at football,” I began, “But he was a total brat. However, I want you to think about why he is behaving the way he is. You have never been and would never be so unkind. Imagine what his life is like if he treats people like that.”
My son nodded glumly and we went to breakfast. The kid was there too and we observed him looking very alone and hunched. After awhile, his mother and brother joined him. The two boys ate while mum stared at her phone and took a couple of selfies. Long after the boys had finished eating, a man joined them and the adults were lost in conversation while the children remained ignored.
At our table, my husband ensured we all ate before him. He brought us sauces and cutlery, helped the kids to cut up the pancakes and showed the boys photos he had taken of them playing. We discussed the need for shin guards, proper football boots and how nice it was that my sister’s in-laws had come to watch them play.
After breakfast, the eldest said quietly, “I think I’ll try to befriend him next week. He must be bored and so lonely.”