When I was about ten, my dad built me a high bar in the back yard so I could practice gymnastics at home.
My mom hated it. She refused to watch as I flipped and swung and tumbled through the air, with no crash mat below me. I used that bar a lot. Never once did I injure myself or even come close (the blisters don’t really count).
What mom didn’t know was that before the bar, I did my aerial work in the woods across the road—flipping and swinging around tree branches that bounced and swayed under me, with branches below to whack into if I should fall. I once found two branches that were the perfect distance apart to serve as uneven parallel bars. I couldn’t resist, though the branches were a little to big around for me to get a great grip on them. And they were at least twice as far off the ground as a real set of bars.
I stuck to moves I was comfortable with, but one involved being completely airborne and catching the upper bar.
But that upper branch was just too big. My hands slipped. I only just managed to dig the nails of one hand into the bark and hold on while I scrabbled around with my feet to find the lower branch (at this point, my mother, who reads my blog, is cringing and thinking she should have just locked me in my room instead). I admit that I clung to that branch for five minutes before I could bring myself to let go enough to climb down.
I write this as one who is now the mother of an equally adventurous daughter, not to scare other parents into locking their children away from trees, but to point out that children will find adventures. They will find ways to challenge themselves. By enabling our children’s adventures, we have an opportunity to manage those adventures.
Maybe mom didn’t like the high bar, but it was a heck of a lot safer than the tree branches.
My daughter is currently building herself a set of strap-on stilts, with the help and advice of both her parents. These stilts will replace the ordinary stilts we helped her make years ago, when she felt her first pair of (rather short) stilts weren’t challenging enough anymore. I was terrified by the tall stilts when she first got up on them. She fell again and again, but soon had them on their tallest setting and was playing soccer in them.
Now she wants to be able to juggle while walking on stilts. Her first idea was to tie her regular stilts to her legs. Not a good idea. Her father suggested she make purpose-built strap-on stilts.
I’m worried about the strap-on stilts—the only way to get off them is to fall—but because we are helping her address her need for more physical challenge, we are managing the risk. Elbow, wrist, and knee pads and a helmet will reduce the damage when she falls. Parental guidance on construction will ensure the stilts are strong enough to take the forces she’ll put on them.
It will be tempting to close my eyes the first time she gets up on them. But I owe it to the girl on the high bar to watch.