Last Friday my daughter went to a friend’s house to sleep over. It was a day off from school and, because she spends only six and a half hours a day with her friend during a normal week (seven and a half since they are in swimming lessons together twice a week), it seems that they had much to discuss.
I went to work, because, in spite of common belief, teachers have to actually go to school and work on professional development days. No, we don’t sit around drinking coffee and laughing about how we hide all the pencil sharpeners during tests (at least not all day). We actually have a scheduled day of meetings and workshops.
From there I went to meet up with my parents and my son’s friend’s family at El Rio BBQ, where my husband plays guitar on Fridays and where I discovered that guacamole and fries (together) are the best way for an introvert to recover from a communication styles workshop.
My boy went into the river with his buddy, but I wasn’t concerned. He’s grown up in this part of the river, jumping rocks and catching tadpoles for several years now. He’s also my cautious child, careful to let me know where he is and asking me if I’m going anywhere. His risk-taking takes place on paper, where he writes absolutely the weirdest, most brilliant stories ever.
The Boy has always been somehow aware that he has only one physical body, and he doesn’t want to waste it in one reckless act of danger. He was never the kid who ran directly in the pool before knowing how to swim.
He doesn’t like anyone else taking chances either. He was the one who raised the alarm (at the age of two) when his sister climbed the stairs for the first time before she could even walk. He then stood behind her protectively as she did her victory dance at the top, hanging haphazardly onto the bars like an overnight guest in the drunk tank.
So I wasn’t all that concerned about him being in the river. He’s twelve, a great swimmer, and currently the water level is at its lowest and laziest. But after a while, I thought I’d check on him. I walked over to the stairs that led down to the river.
There was my son, not very high up mind you, but still crouching casually against the cliff side of the river, hanging on by his toes. There was a local Mexican kid throwing him the rope on one side, and on the other side his buddy, shaking his head with a grin.
The Boy looked up, saw his mother gaping at him, and got a big ol’ grin on his face that kind of concerned me. He grabbed the rope from his new pal and immediately kicked out from the cliff, swinging out over the river and dropping down with a slightly scared, yet totally thrilled victory yell.
I smiled and clapped, because if I didn’t I thought he might go higher next time. But apparently he was in it for the win, (ie to terrify the woman who gave him life), because he climbed one rock higher for his next turn with the rope. I called out that that was fine but no higher.
A voice behind me in Spanish asked me “Why not higher?” It was the father of the boy who was handing my child the rope. He wanted to know (and he seemed genuinely curious) what I thought might happen if he tried to go higher. I told him politely, and in my best Spanish, that I was concerned about my son’s face and how it was likely to lose in a fight with a rock at high speeds. The father was kind and said “You can trust him. He won’t go higher than he can.”
I want to be that cool. I do. But I saw how high his kids were going and I knew that I could never even aspire to that level of parental coolness.
And yet. I looked at my boy, twelve going on sixty-two some days, but today just twelve. He was yelling and smiling with his whole face, doing something he knew didn’t have The Full Stamp of Parental Approval and absolutely no guard rails. And he loved it.
He took one more step up and shot me that devilish grin. I pretended to disapprove but didn’t say a word. He swung out on the rope one more time. My heart stopped just a little. He splashed into the water with a whoop. The other kids’ father nodded at me approvingly.
I’m not a cool parent. But yesterday I got to pretend that I was. And my boy got to live dangerously, just a little.