I just sat by and watched my sweet and ferociously independent 6-year-old, Max, cut himself with a knife. Twice.
I did offer help. I was firmly rebuffed. Max has a certain way of saying "I can DO it MYSELF!" with hands outstretched, as if to make sure you don't get too close. He has been carving a toy sword out of a piece of wood, and I am just so glad that Max is my last child, and I will not have to go through this learning-to-be-careful-with-a-knife, ever again. I stay close, show him how to cut away from himself, and how to apply pressure to a small cut to stop the bleeding, and explain that if the bleeding doesn't stop he must call a grownup. Or all his blood will leak out. Max thought about that for a moment, and exclaimed, "if all my blood comes OUT, I will DIE!"
When Max cut himself the second time, he cried. But not from the pain! He was furious that he had made the same mistake twice, and THAT made him cry. He then went to the first aid kit and refused my help again. Plastered his finger and went back to work with Sam's knife. Max does not have a knife of his own, yet.
He would only allow me to wipe his eyes and nose, grudgingly. I took a deep breath, and made a cup of tea to sit with while I watched over my growing boy. My big, big boy. I remembered Chas learning to use a knife. He sliced himself up for weeks. Sam has always been cautious, and I think he never cut himself at all! Max seems to be getting the hang of it quickly, which is a blessing for us both.
Meanwhile, his brothers have put their boots on and gone to Gran Couva to pick up immortelle logs in the back of the van with Bunty and Pappi. They will be weilding cutlasses like pros. Keeping an eye open for scorpions. Not sticking their fingers into any little hidey places.
Would they be better off inside watching it all on TV? They would be safer, for sure. I allow my boys to take risks, but question myself constantly. When they cast a fishing line and a hook snags on their finger, I feel it.
Does this happen to most moms? The need to protect the kids from harm and the need to allow them to experience are at odds. I realise that teaching safety makes me feel that I have armed the kids against many dangers. I feel that some safety is sacrificed, for an exciting experience. And what a rich, full life they lead! How happy and full of interesting information they are! They can catch, clean and cook a fish. How many boys, really, can do that nowadays? How many "hyperactive" boys have been taken out of the classroom and sent into the rainforest with a motley band of hunters and foresters, to spend a week learning about what they love?
Are these boys lucky, or are they at risk? Have I just been fortunate that none of them has been seriously injured as yet? Am I silly to worry? All of the boys in the village can use a cutlass, why should I even think of keeping MY boys away from that? What makes me feel they are different, softer? What about "bussing bamboo?" Last year, by Divali day, all three boys had singed eyebrows and weird-looking hair from burns. Next week, when we hear bamboo explosions booming in the village, will I tell the boys "no, you can't go, it's dangerous"?
No. I will lecture them about fire safety, and send them on their way. And then worry until they come back.
Must remember to buy burn ointment!