When I arrived at the park with Gavin and Mikey and their friend, it was brimming with children who were giving wide berth to the beloved, metal merry-go-round that was decorated with a plethora of yellow ‘Caution’ tape and a sign. I watched carefully as the boys approached it.
“Why is there tape on it?”
“What does the sign say?” – ‘Closed – speed mechanism broken’
“Do you really think it’s broken?” “It doesn’t look broken”
“Let’s check it out.”
The boys turned the ride. They kicked it. One spun it, while one looked underneath. They shook it. One of them took a trial ride. Two of them slowly rode it. They decided that it was safe enough to try it. I remained very silent and very observant.
They quickly gained confidence in the integrity of the merry-go-round. Gavin ran over and informed me of their decision to give it a try. He asked if because of the sign, would it be ‘illegal’ or would there be any serious consequences to ‘trying it out’. I said that I thought if someone with vested interested saw them – they could come and ask/tell them to get off. They were willing to accept the risk of an angry adult.
As they spun and played, the boys and the ride were mobbed by kids. ‘It does work!’ was the shriek of several of the kids. ‘The sign lied’ I heard one kid say. I wondered. Even after the kids were playing, Gavin stood back to watch it – ‘it’s level and it’s riding perfectly fine’, he said. I was completely engrossed in watching the process. Mikey continued to defer to Gavin and his friend for confirmation it was safe – the trust was super-sweet.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
― Pablo Picasso
The mothers at the park reacted in a variety of ways (there were no dads involved – but it would have been interesting to see if there was a difference). One mom had to repeatedly, physically pull her kid from it explaining to him that the sign said “Closed” and that was the end of the story. She stated that it said it for a reason and he needed to abide by that. I think she had to get up and get him a half a dozen times. I don’t think she liked me.
There was another mom who told her kids that since other kids were already doing it, she guessed it would be fine. Some moms never noticed the tape or their kids playing on it. I remained fascinated and Gavin and I had a chance to discuss how interesting the whole situation was. I also had a chance to explain that I am not attempting to teach them anarchy – really. We talked about risks.
I was not offended by their attempt to figure out if the forbidden toy was safe. Mikey & Gavin are entering their teen years, and as I see it, their jobs for the next 10 years or so is mastering the management of risk and I liked what I saw.
Asking my advice (I especially liked that part)
The experiment, as Dennis pointed out, could have gone very differently. But it went this way. Raising kids who don’t always ‘follow’ might come with pros and cons. Learning to wisely take risks is better than never taking any in my book. Wait, I don’t have book.
Anyhow, someone has to buck the system, right?
(I am totally comfortable with disagreement and would love to hear from you if you would have handled this completely different.)