As Louis CK says, “Just Don’t Die!”

Years ago, I saw Louis CK perform in LA. I discovered him randomly on a comedy channel and thought he was funny, so I was quite excited to see him live. At that point, I wasn’t a mom and had no particular thoughts or desire for a baby, but I still enjoyed the monologues about his children. He said all kinds of wacky things and as a former substitute teacher and camp counselor, I could relate, although I didn’t fully understand. I specifically remember his punch line, ” All I have to do is make you not die” when he talked about his experience with his first baby and I was amused.

But now that I actually have my own child, I REALLY get it. There are a myriad of things I’ve realized I shouldn’t let my newborn, then infant, and now toddler play with at all, or only in a modified way. For instance, today I gave my 18 month old a glow stick because I was attempting to change his diaper and he’s such a total wiggle monster that I need to work hard to distract him. If I don’t distract him, he rolls around on the changing table like he’s possessed, risking life and limb if he falls, plus poop would be everywhere. No thank you! But as he put the glow stick in his mouth I thought, “wait, that’s pretty dumb of me”! What if he actually punctures it with his sharp little teeth (I’ve been a victim) and that oozy neon goop gets in his mouth?! That’s probably a bad idea. So I swiftly employed the “distract, hide and replace” maneuver, in which I’ve become a total expert.

It’s happened with a lot of other objects too, which I initially thought would be a good idea to play with, but I quickly vetoed, such as a salt grinder, a spray bottle, plastic packaging, various remote controls, etc, they all seemed so innocent. And if you watch the nightly mainstream news, (which I assiduously avoid these days, too much scare mongering and more…), danger lurks around every corner. Certain gripes are legitimate, like, do not forget your baby in a hot car ( I still can’t fathom that), always use a properly installed car seat, don’t let them play with firecrackers…these are all logical warnings.

But the fear instilled in us seems particularly American and might be in part responsible, in addition to guilt-laden helicopter parenting, to creating unconfident, immature children who are lacking resilience, independence and grit. I think Europeans and other world regions beat us at this, they win. One of my former students is Icelandic and told me that in the winter (is it ever not cold in Iceland?!), it’s normal to bundle up your baby and leave him or her outside in the stroller for a nap while the parents sit inside a warm, cozy cafe and indulge in hot drinks. Their belief is that it builds the baby’s immunity, among other things. Could you imagine this happening in the USA?! You’d probably be hauled down to the local precinct on charges of child neglect and abuse.

My fiance is German and has regaled me with tales of playing at an abenteurspeilplatz as a child. It translates to adventure playground. Children from 7-14 years old are dropped off by their parents to play for a few hours. Upon entering children can go to the tool shed and get
their tools, which are real adult tools, not plastic kiddie versions, to build things. They are also supplied wood, nails, screws, etc. There is loose supervision, just enough to ensure nobody dies or has a major accident. An impromptu demonstration might be about how to chop wood, and build a fire or how build a hut. There is also a pony and a goat on the premises, so that the children can learn how to muck out a stall, feed and groom the animals. 

There is complete freedom to wander the grounds and do almost anything. There are virtually no rules except to clean up after yourself and not harm anyone or anything. There are no permission slips, legal waivers or fees to pay. My fiance has incredible memories of days wiled away in this idyllic adventure land and says the best things he did were play with fire and swing on a massive 30 foot tire swing. He also feels that it instilled a true sense of personhood and autonomy because he was expected to be capable and that he wasn’t treated as just a little kid. He loved his independence and the chance to make mistakes and figure things out by himself.

I think we need abenteurspeilplatz here and realize that I intuitively have given my son some complicated things to play with so that he could learn, and so maybe my toy choices aren’t that bad, and that with some supervision he can graduate to even more “risky” things. Of course I
want him to be safe, but I love the glint of accomplishment in his eyes and his deliriously gleeful giggle when he figures out how to do something that he supposedly shouldn’t be doing because it’s a real, adult object. It also allows me to be a witness to his thought process, his deep concentration and his sense of self-accomplishment,

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