Today I may or may not be responsible for dropping my four year old nephew. (I know, get the rope.)
Part of me feels super bad that the kid fell, and the other part is “hey, life lesson”. (I’m the worst human being on the planet.)
Let’s back up.
Earlier in the week I visited his house and when I went to leave he, and his sister, threw themselves off the stairs (only three, don’t panic) to force me to catch them and prevent my departure. My heart melted and their ploy worked. I stayed for another fifteen minutes while they took turns jumping off the stairs into my arms. (It was the sort of scene that makes you beam with joy. I was totally their favourite person in the world for all fifteen of those minutes.)
Fast forward to today. My nephew was at the top of another (very short) set of stairs and I was at the bottom. It’s important to note I was at the bottom and turned the other way. He then, with the trust of a child who has never been dropped, flung himself at me (silently like a ninja), expecting me to miraculously, without warning, turn and catch him.
What actually happened is he fell. Sure he only went down one stair (landing on his knees) before I heard the noise and prevented a bigger fall with my cat-like, speed-of-guilt reflexes, but there was still sadness.
On his part because:
“What the hell Auntie Laura, we had this game all worked out earlier in the week“)
And mine because, how can you not feel sad for failing to catch a child who loves you so much they’d throw themselves off a cliff (relatively speaking) to get to you. – Way to ruin a child’s faith in the power of aunties…and love.
I was all set to feel bad about it for a good few months. I spent an hour questioning my responsibility as an adult. I decided that I was clearly at fault for instilling in him the expectation that he would be caught when flinging himself off stairs, and presumedly other tall objects. Children wouldn’t just throw themselves into danger…right?
Then we sat down to dinner at a community centre and I spent the next hour watching a toddler of similar age fling himself off tables and chairs into the arms (sometimes) of his parents, while his parents frantically tried to catch him and convince him to be careful. He never gave them warning but he seemed blissfully ignorant of the painful falling consequences of his actions, so I said to the parents…
“He’s so trusting, I guess he’s never been dropped.”
Then came the response that saved me from several months of guilt.
“Oh…He’s been dropped.”
They tilted their heads and raised their shoulders to express the appropriate amount of chagrin but I could tell they’d accepted the falling part of their son’s life.
That was when the realization hit me. I don’t have to feel guilty, because kids throw themselves off things…it’s not a game they need to get taught, they just do it. Sometimes they fall and hopefully they eventually learn a life lesson about gravity…or warning people when they’re going to leap off things…or something.
PS. The guilt isn’t fully gone yet, which may impact the size of the gift I bring to his birthday party next week . How many Lego sets do you think it’ll cost to be favourite for another fifteen minutes?
Have you ever met someone who displayed a lack of knowledge on something really simple? Like “milks goes bad if you leave it out” or “borrowing money means you have to pay it back”. (I have. Sad.)
But what if the person’s lack of knowledge was built around being so sheltered in life that they never had to learn these basic rules. “Oh, little Timmy left the milk out, I’ll put it away.” Or, “Jill is such a good kid I’ll pay her credit card bill until she’s thirty and moves out.” Or, “Johnny jumped off the stairs, quick someone catch him.” (The last one might still be my guilt talking.)
Well imagine not just meeting that person, but marrying them before you fully realize the gaps in their “common knowledge” base. How would you deal with that? Would you continue to pad the metaphorical sharp corners, or educate them? What would that education look like? How do you begin to share knowledge, when they don’t know things that you take for granted.
“Bye honey, have a good day at work. And just in case…don’t sneak up on dogs when they’re asleep.”