Growing up: the fear factor

11 Aug

The sea in Devon, honestlyWe’ve just been on holiday, camping in a kids’ paradise – by kids, I mean grown-up and standard variety alike. The River Dart Country Park is essentially a water-based adventure playground, with a campsite and dry-daredevil activities attached. When I was a child it formed the jewel in the crown of our family holidays – we would  pay a visit there annually, as we wended our way down to Cornwall, the A303 being a fearful beast to be tackled in stages on our annual pilgrimages (that, and the fact my grandparents had a wonderful holiday home in Dartmouth: but I do love to make a road a villain).

Last week we had a superb time, a break from the norm with standard life activities taking twice as long as usual, leading to enforced relaxation; and dodgy mobile reception leading to even greater levels of enforced relaxation. We hung out, played a lot of UNO (for the uninitiated, follow the link, read, learn and become addicted too, oh yes) and had memorable, real, precious family time.

At the same time, my fear chip was activated to the maximum, screaming blue murder alert level. I appreciate it may not sound, from the preceding description, as if this is a likely environment to strike terror into my parenting heart. But with camping comes A New Danger, the fact that the safety of the surroundings means it’s almost cruelty to deny children the opportunity to spread their wings in such a controlled environment. This is the fact. In my head, however, it was a lot different. Danger lurked around every corner. The wardens’ golf buggy and tractor, trundling at about 4mph around the clearly designated site roads, were a just-averted life-endangering collision with a child on a scooter. The between-tent playpark, in plain sight outside the amenity block, frequented by all the site’s younger visitors, consisting of a sandpit, tunnel and two swings, was a broken bone or several in the waiting. And the showers, with their occasional slippery floor, concussion – or worse – crowding in from every side.

And the sea – God, the sea. We all went swimming in the sea, twice. The sea at Slapton Leigh and Blackpool Sands (I know, but it really is in Devon) is observed by RNLI lifeguards, and believe me, we swam in their direct eye-line; it is crystal clear; when I took the children in, it was, while not millpond-still, scarcely a broiling cauldron of swirling currents and eddies, nor even particularly flush with waves. When I was in deeper than the kids – by which I mean, up to my chest area, that kind of ‘deeper’ – I felt quite calm about it. But oddly, when I joined them in the shallows and viewed the sea from their perspective, the gently sloping sea floor shelf, the natural action of the (small) waves – all were akin to swimming directly into Scylla and Charybdis, or spending time floating on an inflatable through the Bermuda Triangle. And I can’t write about the lesser weevers.

It has come to my attention that my imagination doesn’t like the fact that my children are straining at my restraining apron strings, as is good and proper at their ages. After all, a parent’s fundamental role is to make the next generation fit for purpose for independent, morally-acceptable living. My logic sensors tell me I have to let them go and learn, mistakes are important, without living them and taking their lessons on board how else can you learn? Those strings cannot be spun from steel, it simply isn’t good for children to over-protect them. If you do, how can they learn to cope with the things life has lurking in the dark, sporting scales and several sets of spiky teeth, if they don’t learn to cope with the everyday as early as it is safe for them to do so.

These carefully-controlled minor adventures, where they have to make decisions for themselves within clearly marked boundaries, a safety net a few inches below, are the best possible way to move towards ever greater levels of independence in a non-threatening and easily-accepted way. But my emotional red flags, located a tiny way below the surface, are waving furiously at every new independence option they’re given. I don’t have to like it, and I struggle every time they get in a pool, on a bike, in a car or cross a road, or indeed, when they are not actually in my sight; I think I always will.

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