Make Your Own Mistakes

People sometimes notice that my kids wear shorts in the winter.

People sometimes notice that my kids wear shorts in the winter. Notice is too kind a word. Really, they roll their eyes and make sure I see them adjusting their own child's coat.

The kids sometimes go out without wearing a coat when it's cold. Sometimes they wear long-sleeved shirts in the summer. Often when Charlie is pouring something and I see that it might spill, I wait to act and let it spill -- or not, since sometimes it actually doesn't spill at all. I let the kids put together puzzles that are too difficult for them -- and I don't help. I let them climb up onto the top of the playground in our backyard. They very well might fall and break something -- that's why I don't always look. Still, isn't it better to run and jump and climb and then fall, than to sit still and be safe?

There are some risks that should be taken. Some risks should be kept squarely in their place with no buffer around them.

I admit it. I value freedom over tidiness. In theory there should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place when not in use. In practice that would require me to follow the kids around most of the day nagging -- I mean, reminding them to put their things away. To make this possible I would have to restrict their activities a lot more than I do. Of course, we have boundaries at our house, mostly for the sake of safety, but I like to think our home is also a good place to figure it out as you go.

 Sometimes I am giving a command which the children must obey. Other times I am giving a suggestion which they may choose to disregard.

For example

I hate walking outside barefoot. I hate my kids walking outside barefoot. Growing up, I was taught standing around outside will give you worms -- that is, parasites. Not that it isn't true, but it is unlikely. Also, it is treatable, should you contract some unusual infection while running barefoot in your own backyard. I do remind my children to wear shoes when they're outside, but it isn't so urgent anymore. I remember yelling at my three older kids, Chris especially, about wearing shoes -- and about keeping LEGO sets separated and about climbing up the ladder and sliding down the slide and about only wearing snow boots when it snows and about holding crayons gently enough that they don't snap and a host of other overwhelmingly insignificant things.

I wish I had let them break the crayons. It's a silly thing to be angry about.

Knowing that I am two-sided, I must constantly work to keep the peace in my home. It is important for the kids to know that sometimes I am giving a command which they must obey. Other times I am giving a suggestion -- even a strong suggestion -- which they may choose to disregard. In both instances, I try to have my response ready ahead of time -- knowing that either can be a trigger for me. I find I have been doing this planning less of late, and it has allowed some frustration and chaos. Working on it. I'll try to tell you how that goes.

Right now I can tell you sometimes my kids go outside to play and find that they're uncomfortably cold. Sometimes they regret mixing all of their LEGO together and wish they could build the set again. Sometimes they spill milk all over the floor, and they run in the wrong kind of shoes and trip and fall. They share food when they're sick and spread it to everyone. They slide down the stairs on blankets and bang their heads on the wall. They mix up all of the paints and make brown-gray-black messes -- I mean, masterpieces. They tape things to the wall and put everything in their mouths. They suck dirty thumbs, go to the bathroom without washing their hands, and pick their noses.

In short, they are very happy children.

Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!

-- Ms. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus