He would straddle the balance bike and run until speed level top then lifting both legs as straight out behind him as diaper and pudge would allow in an Evil Kenievel esque fashion gliding down the long drive way. When he bored of this he would gather rocks and sticks arranging them just so, and fire toward them on his peddaless bike. Anyone could see he was trying to make a ramp.
His older cousin would notice, and being more adept at building, fashion a more stable ramp. Not quite stable enough for me.
Riley was three by a couple days when I bought him a ramp to the shock and dismay of the cashier.
I'm not some fearless or careless mom when it comes to my child's health and safety. On the day I became a mom the world grew much more frightening than it had ever been before. There was suddenly much more to loose and I felt responsible to not loose, ever. We live in a world with natural laws and elements outside my control and ability to protect Riley. Those elements and laws were sharp jagged edges that I would work to avoid for him.
There is a kindergarten school in Japan where kids seem to have much more free reign. Risk taking is permitted and encouraged. This video is being shared and viewed over and over. It's like a breath of fresh air to watch children experience such freedom.
The comments are interesting, particularly the ones explaining why they think that this school model wouldn't work here in the U.S. Many pointing toward parental and societal fear and propensity toward litigation. Others, pointing out the comparative safety of Japanese society in general to the U.S.
The comment section of an online video is hardly data to hang one's hat on but it is interesting to consider the reasoning that people use when they see some....
We longingly sigh when we see the beauty of the school in Japan. Meanwhile, another video has also been circulating of a school in Oklahoma that has built bulletproof shelters into the classrooms. We sigh when we see it as well. Sigh for innocence lost but also with relief that such safety is possible. We may also want it in our child's school.
Which would you chose for your child? Schools with children running free with hardly a wall to be found or bulletproof shelters.
Ideally, you would likely want the free school. Realistically, give the shelter to my child too please.
School safety is a top priority for parents and therefore a top priority for schools. We require that schools offer physical and emotional safety for our children.
Do the parents who send their children to that kindergarten in Japan require physical safety at their school too? If so, how do they arrive at it so differently? If not, why not?
We demand tight security measures at school but day dream of freedom for all.
So how do I reconcile my concern for Riley and the purchase of the ramp? Riley at 3, had been toying with his ability to balance and where that fit in with the law of gravity. I saw a level of skill that I could begin to give more reign to.
But I didn't arrive at that trust lightly.
This ramp was purchased one year after Riley woke one morning having completely lost his ability to balance. One day I had a boy who had a noticeably high level of coordination and body sense; the next he could no longer walk. He couldn't even sit up unattended.
That would begin about a week in the hospital trying to figure out what happened to Riley. So many tests. All inconclusive. Each one a sigh of relief. Particularly the ruling out of a brain tumor. Each one raising more questions. If not this, then what?
Finally a chest x-ray would reveal an ever so slight case of pneumonia. A course of antibiotics somehow brought his balance back. He had been improving on his own anyway, his body adjusting and compensating for the change in equilibrium.
So at three when my son seems to have all the balance in the world restored to him, I trust him. His ability to progress, his ability to recover, I trust both. He gets his ramp. He has the skill for it and can overcome set backs if he should tumble. I release the ramp to him.
At five he would fail all the hearing tests and be sent to a specialist. He has permanent sensorineural hearing loss in one ear. Though none can say for sure why; we all agree it likely stems from what is referred to as Riley's unexplained medical event.
Riley's event. One of the scariest times of my life. Every human part of me says to reel him in more tightly. Prevent anything like that from ever happening again. You know as well as I, that I didn't cause nor could I have prevented what happened to him. You know as well as I, no matter how tightly I reel, I can't gain control.
You may not know as well as I, being that I spent many childhood mornings fishing, that a tightly reeled line is likely to snap. Best to keep some tension on the line balanced with some freedom to the fish.
As with much of my thoughts of the school system, I don't think we should ask of them what we aren't ready to ask of ourselves. If we want our children to feel free and safe at school, they should feel that outside of school.
Our schools reflect our societal norms. If we are afraid and feeling unsafe, our schools will reflect that. When we feel safe our schools will too. Safety will not mean that accidents and incidents won't happen but it will mean that they will be overcome.
We can't require our schools to be what we are not. We can not shame our schools for being tight reigned when that is what we want for ourselves.
Too much tension and the line snaps too much freedom and the fish snarls the line. Nothing to extreme in the excitement of a bite. Calm and focused keep just the right amount of tension on the line.
Avoid binary thinking. It's not either set the kids free at school or shelter them under reenforced steel. We live in the nuanced tension of in-between and are hopefully reeling toward societal safety that will eventually translate into school safety for our children.