A friend of mine and I were on an adventure hike at Tryon Creek State Park on Martin Luther King Junior Day. It was my 12-year-old twin boys and my friend’s 12-year-old boy, and my 6-year-old boy, plus two of our friends from Sudan — a 12-year-old boy and a 13 -year girl.
The four 12-year-old boys were meandering off the trail to discover trees that had fallen over the creek, and they wanted to walk over these logs to get to the other side of the creek.
They came up with this idea on their own. Though at first I thought they should not go off the trail, I soon realized that there were no signs up that said they could not go off the trail, so we let them. Too many times at school and in life, kids are required to stay in bounds and live between the borders of walls and books and desks, and told to color in the lines, but real life is sometimes off the trail and outside of the lines and beyond the boundaries.
So, the boys took off down toward the log which had fallen over the creek, and I followed them to make sure they were okay.
Then, another woman who was also out for a hike at Tryon that day, stopped to see what the boys were doing, and asked my friend, “Is it safe?”
My friend said unashamedly to this other woman, of course it is safe, and they are just boys on an adventure.
The question, Is it safe? got me thinking about family life and safety and kids living in our suburban culture, where they are so sheltered and not allowed to explore and where they are driven everywhere they go and are not allowed to walk or bike anywhere. Ironically enough because families move to the suburbs to be safe.
I also thought about faith and how we pray for protection and to be free from conflict, which is a great prayer and all. But is there not more to life than just praying for safety and hence, an easy life.
Of course, being safe and conflict free might be good things to want in general. But it seems that we forget that when life has conflicts and risks and outside the box experiences, that is when we seem to grow the most. When our lives are lived outside the box in the realm of adventure and risk, when we take chances and get out of the safety zone, we have so many opportunities to teach our children about real life and learning how to manage and problem solve and be creative. And when we try new things and live outside the box in one area of our lives, we will risk and truly live in other areas of our lives.
Adults need this. Kids need this. Kids in suburbia USA need chances to climb across trees that have fallen across creeks, to try to figure out how best to do this, to help one another in the task, to problem solve together the ideal solution.
As my friend and I watched our 12-year-olds, we saw their eagerness to find log after log to cross the creek, and we saw team work as they tried to figure out the best way to make it and we saw their laughter and the challenge that it was. And we witnessed the excitement they expressed when they made it across the creek, each time waiting for one another to cross.
The challenge, the adventure, the risk, the creativity, the team work, the maneuvering to find the best route were all skills that can be transferred to real life.
The boys got dirty and the trails were muddy and getting off the trails was even muddier, but the boys did not complain. They kept looking for more logs to cross.
The next day, I got a call from my mom friend, and she said her son had such an amazing time with us, and that is all he could talk about, the adventure with my boys.
Was it safe? Sure. And, most importantly, it was an adventure.
Cornelia Becker Seigneur is the mother of five children between the ages of 7 and 20, and the author of WriterMom Tales: Corralling the Commotion while Savoring the Chaos, Spilled Cheerios, and Prayers of Real-Life Motherhood, a collection of her essays on real family life that have been published in The Oregonian and other local publications since 1999. In addition to writing, Cornelia is an adjunct instructor at Multnomah University as well as a photographer and editor. Her website and blog can be found at www.corneliaseigneur.com