When I think back on my childhood I remember spending our days up at our cabin in the wilderness of British Columbia. My parents were building, and my sister and I were left to free range. I recall being given a box of matches to practice starting a fire and a tin boat to explore the inlet. I don’t know how old I was, but probably not old enough by today’s standards to play with matches or watercraft.
But I learned some amazing things doing this. I learned not to touch hot tin plates that you put on a fire to cook sea critters…they get hot, fast. I learned to watch out for fish hooks on the bottom of the boat and to buy unbarbed hooks whenever possible.
I learned to start a motor, start a fire, and pretended to smoke sticks, back when smoking was still cool.
We wrote our name in the sky with burning sticks, and came home dirty, and damaged after a long day of adventure.
It made me a smarter, stronger, and more aware person growing up like this, and suffering through these slight learnings as a child.
We parent our children the same way
And this is how we parent our kids too. We would let them climb trees and rocks as toddlers, other parents calling us a bad influence on their kids. We would shout to them as they were stuck in the branches of a pine “You got yourself up there, so figure out how to get down.” We never rescued our kids, until they ACTUALLY needed rescuing.
We have dealt with burns and breaks and bleeds, all of them fairly minor, and our kids have learned what their bodies can do, and what is risky and what is stupid.
This weekend they spent four days learning to start fires, and then how to feed them and keep them burning. They learned how strong they were, and how big a branch they could haul.
They got slivers, and covered in pitch, and sat by their fire and ate hot dogs tinged with ash.
I look at these moments as the foundation of their human-ness. The simple ability to “make fire”, or lift heavy things. The ability to be self-sufficient, and aware of their bodies. They also learned the hard work it takes to make their home what it is. The hours burning stumps, and clearing so they have gardens filled with food and meadows with flowers.
And that, understanding that from effort comes reward, THAT is what I want my kids to know. And I am willing to put my kids at risk so they can understand it.
This post originally appeared on 3 Chickens and a Boat. It has been reprinted with permission.