“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.”
I often find it difficult to tell whether the look on someone’s face is disappointment or anger, frustration or just plain contempt. And I don’t think it’s because I’m a particularly bad judge of character (though some of you may suggest that there is at least some evidence to the contrary). Rather, I think it’s because within our society we have been so conditioned to not upset or judge or criticise that we have to suppress our natural and instinctive reactions to situations where we feel very strongly.
So I’m not sure whether it was disgust or disbelief that graced this dad’s face as he approached me and asked, ‘what is your policy on running around with axes?’. I also wasn’t sure whether it was a ‘somewhat satisfied’ smile or a grimace of ‘complete and utter despair’ when I shrugged my shoulders and said ‘I don’t really have an axe policy.’ (That’s a joke, insurers, I swear it’s in the risk assessment!) Also, they weren’t really running, I think they were walking quickly – and they had the head pointing down like you do with scissors.
But really, I know this is going to seem like I’m being blasé – and maybe I am – but I really believe that any policy I have on axes is an exercise in keeping certain members of certain public bodies in the job of checking to make sure my risk assessment covers Every Eventuality rather than a document that might in any way illuminate or safen-up the kids’ play. (Is that a word? Whatever. It should be.)
Because if I am going to allow for true freedom, I cannot supervise children every minute of the day. In truth, I don’t want to supervise them every minute of the day because they do loads of stuff that makes me nervous even though I know they’re (probably) perfectly safe. (Again, if you’re my insurance company, I’m joking. Still.)
What I can do is talk to them about risk assessment. I can help them to evaluate their options, encourage them to reflect on their choices and assume that they are capable of using these skills when they are not being micro-managed by meddling adults who are constantly saying totally unuseful stuff like ‘be careful’. (Again, I know that’s not a word. It’s fine.)
I can’t supervise anyone every minute of the day, even if I am being paid to do that, so I need to make sure that the children are empowered to make decisions for themselves about what is a good idea and what would be a Very Bad Idea. The stakes are low out in the forest- sure there’s axes and fires and drills and enormous holes and trees with brittle branches that break unexpectedly – but this is the staging ground for the real world and this is where they’re learning to learn.
We want our kids to grow up to make good choices. We want our kids to have the courage to say that it’s not a good idea to get in a car when someone’s been drinking or to have the strength of character to not take that ‘whatever’ even though everyone else is doing it and it looks like fun. Learning to assess risk and evaluate the potential outcomes of any decision is one of life’s most important skills. And every time they have to decide if they should chop up a log or off some kid’s fingers, they are learning about the power they have to make decisions that are not just good for themselves, but also for everyone in their community.
So if it’s necessary to look on in horror/wonder as a ten year old and a five year old learn to manipulate an axe together to help them grow to be competent and confident adults, then we’re going to have to do that. And even though sometimes I see these parents’ faces betraying a wonderous mix of disgust/delight/dread, I know that this is the right thing for these kids to be doing.
You’d be surprised at how responsibly the mice will act when the cats are all away.