My kid is a little bit fearless. And I don’t mean “fearless” as in “does not experience fear”. I mean she doesn’t let fear stop her from doing things.
I find this totally captivating about her. Also: nerve wracking as fuck, oh my god.
Parenthood is a trip. You may have gathered by now that I don’t get off on the pervasive whining of parents. Like, basically, you have all the power, you great big adults, with your rights and your bank accounts and all your agency. Kids have exactly as much power as we give them.
I want my kid to have a sense of her agency. If I had one hope for her future, it would be that she owns her choices, embraces the paths she takes, and learns from them even when they don’t work out the way she expects.
The only way to get there is to have a lot of experience doing different things. And man, this kid wants to do all the things.
We park in a lot that’s about half a mile away from her preschool, and takes us anywhere from eight minutes to twenty, depending on how many adventures she has along the way. Her school sits atop a hill, which is shaved down the side and cut through by a road. We walk along the road to get back to our car, and lately she’s been taking “the high road”, which is…very fucking high. And it’s a path. Not a road.
Did I mention it’s very fucking high?
It’s not “fall off the dresser and hurt yourself” high. It’s not even “fall off the back deck and hurt yourself” high. It’s more…”fall off the roof of a two story building and die” high at its highest point, and then merely “fall off the deck” high for the rest.
So why, why, WHY DEAR GOD do I let my four year old walk this path?
Man, because it thrills her. Because it makes her feel like the queen of the world. Because it fills her with power and excitement and that heady sense of independence that’s hard to come by when you’re four and you can’t make the food you like best, or buy the toys you want.
There is this absolutely amazing line in Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, in which a woman watches her son running around doing things likely to injure him: “If she could not keep him safe, perhaps the next best thing was to teach him competence at living dangerously.”
That line is everything about parenting to me. I can’t keep her safe. Safety is an illusion. This kid is a climber, a jumper, a go-througher rather than a go-arounder. I don’t want to be an obstacle in her journey, so I do everything I can to be a spotter, a supporter, and perhaps most importantly, a witness. She does incredible things, and I want to see all of them. Not to tell her she’s doing a good job, or that I’m proud of her, or anything else that makes it about me. It’s not. Her journey is her own, and that knowledge is the best gift I can give her.
But like Jesus, it’s so fucking high up, you guys, I can’t even.
I think of her walking that path when I’m writing. Sometimes the road splits in a book. You can take the way that will tell a good story, the kind of story that people will enjoy reading. It’ll make them feel safe, and secure. The peaks will be at the right places. So will the valleys.
Or you can tell a different kind of story. A story that puts you (and the reader, if you do it right) on that high road, with that steep drop. A story that will make them fear falling and remind them they’re alive. It won’t feel safe. For either of you. But I watch my kid and admire her courage. Sometimes I take that safe road. Some stories want to travel it. But sometimes, man, I climb the path up to the high road and let loose. I have a project like that coming up and it’s gonna be scary as hell.
I can’t wait.