I was sitting at the baseball field the other day, working on my new novel, while my son's team practiced before the game. Behind me, a conversation caught my attention. One of Jon's teammates walked off the field to tell his dad he'd just been hit by the ball. As he rubbed the front of his thigh, his father asked, "Are you okay? Are you sure? Does it hurt? Are you sure you're okay? You okay, buddy? Are you going to be okay? You sure?" I couldn't help smiling at the way things have changed over the course of my almost 44 years on earth. Men have experienced exponential growth in sensitivity. Sometimes I wonder if it's too much.
A memory came to mind. I was about five years old. My dad had taken me to the park and plopped me on a swing. But not the baby swings--the ones for older kids. In those days, the seats weren't made from flexible rubber; they were thick planks of metal. So there I sat, swinging away, without the requisite crash helmet, elbow and knee pads, heart protector, harness, and other equipment we tend to use on our kids these days. Also, let me add that the material on the ground was not rubber or some other shock-absorbing substance--it was concrete. As I pumped my skinny legs and soared higher and higher, a breeze whipped up and my long hair flew across my face. What did I do? I let go of the swing to push back my hair and ended up flying off the back and hitting the cement wall behind the swing set. (I like to think that after I hit the wall, I slowly slid down it like a cartoon character.) My dad, who was talking to another parent, made his way over to me. Let me be generous and say he walked briskly, but it was certainly not the frantic sprint we see nowadays when a parent is trying to get to an injured child. I was by this time bawling my eyes out. What did my dad do? After he saw I wasn't seriously injured, he laughed and told me I was fine.
Flash forward three years. I'd received a bicycle for my birthday. After a few weeks of training wheels, Dad decided it was time for me to really learn how to ride. We made our way to the Department of Transportation's lot around the corner, which was covered in gravel. Dad started me off riding, holding the back of my seat, and things were looking good. But then he let go, and suddenly I was wobbling back and forth, back and forth, forgetting I could back pedal to brake, forgetting I could just put my feet down. Instead, I jerked the handlebars and ended up toppling over. Dad made his way over--briskly, as I mentioned before. I sat there--come on, you know--bawling my eyes out, with gravel stuck in my bloody knees. What did Dad do? He picked most of it out and then...laughed and told me I was fine. Then, he plopped me back on the bike, totally ignoring my screaming protests, and we did it again and again until I got it right.
A few months later, it was time to learn how to swim. After sinking and coming up sputtering to face my laughing father, I'd had enough. I knew how this was going to end and I wasn't having it. To this day, I can swing real high and ride a bike, but I can't swim, something I regret.
So what were the pros and cons of my dad's methods. On the plus side, I ended up being a really tough kid who grew into a tough woman. There's not much I think I can't do. On the other side, I grew up feeling my pain was not always properly acknowledged. It wasn't until I became a parent and realized how heartbreakingly adorable a curled, trembling lip is that I understood that Dad hadn't been laughing at me. Maybe he thought that laughing would shorten the amount of time I spent crying.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is that father who seemed to dwell a bit too long, despite his kid's claims that he was okay. Will that kid learn toughness, will he become a hypochondriac because of the overreaction of his father? Who knows?
I think somewhere between laughing at the gravel in your kids' knees and coddling them to excess lies a happy medium. With that said, I'm not sure I always get it right with my own son. I can't wait to read his blogs about me. :-D
[My husband thinks this blog sounds a bit harsh, but my dad will...LAUGH when he reads it. We tend to speak our minds in my family. He's heard me complain time and time again about his parenting methods (and how totally different he is as a grandfather), but he also remembers that I once announced at a large, family gathering when I was very young that if we were on a desert island and I suddenly came down with appendicitis, I would trust him to remove my appendix. I don't remember him laughing then--beaming was more like it. Happy Father's Day, Pupsley. I'd still let you take out my appendix. :-D]