November 10, 2008

Living on the Edge

We were in Sudtirol this weekend, which is the Germanic part of Italy next to Austria. It’s gorgeous there, a perfect example of what is possible when fabulous mountainous land meets industriousness and cultural pride. We had two wonderful days at a family B ‘n B we really like joined by some Italian friends with three kids of their own and did all kinds of hiking and wine drinking and that sort of thing.

On the last day we stopped for lunch at a tiny prosperous hamlet called ‘Graun’ and drove up to what seemed like the top of the world to eat. It was so gorgeous I wondered if God feels like this when he looks down. Of course there were perfect apple trees and grape vines that you could eat off the branch, and an old church, and a tree house. So we wandered around a bit before lunch with an easy, rambling pace.

I fell back a bit with L, who is smaller and was tired from all her hiking the day before. The others were following a narrow path that led a bit down, and when I got to it I saw that it ended on a cliff. Yes, a real cliff. Two adults were there with six children, one of them mine, and I almost ruined the serenity of the day by screaming when I saw K picking her way carefully toward the others less than 5 feet from the edge of eternity.

Of course nothing happened. Ralf caught up to us and got K away from the edge and we all went back to eat. But later I had some vivid reflections about this. The first thing that occurred to me was that this would never happen in the US, at least not with the people we call friends. Those kids would have been shepherded back from the edge so quickly you would heard the air popping. American adults are preoccupied with what might happen to children on their watch, whereas the European attitude is more like, “Why should anything happen?”

Who’s right? Possibly the Europeans, since the child mortality rate isn’t higher here than in the US. And yet. . . if K had tripped and gone over that edge that would have been it, no second chance, no more K, an unbearable thought that will continue to keep me awake nights until the next near miss.

What occurred to me later once I had calmed down a bit is that you can’t personally prevent everything bad that might happen to your children. Sometimes you’re not right there and your child has to cope, whether on a cliff face or crossing the street on the way home from a friend’s house. And it is at these times that the lessons you have imparted to your children will be tested. K passed this particular test – she was calm and careful on the edge of that cliff and came away from it quietly. So I guess I have come around a little bit to the European way of thinking, although if we ever find ourselves in such a situation again I will of course stick to K like glue and screw those crazy European notions.

A guy I studied with in graduate school was a single father raising two kids on his own. He once shared with me that he had a gun and was teaching his youngest daughter, who was seven, to use it responsibly. I, childless, was horrified and asked him if he wanted her to grow up and join the NRA? No, he said, I want her to be competent. That stuck with me and I feel like I finally understood what he was talking about.

So the moral of this story is that I will be gun shopping next time I’m in the States.

Not. ;-)


  1. Wow! Guns equal competence? Lots of other ways to achieve that, without the firepower. Hope you'll change your shopping plans. But you're right about the difference: in the US, too, there would have been a big barrier to prevent kids from getting too close to the edge. Gruess Gott, to you...

  2. I have had similar experiences with my in-laws whose kids are much older then mine. I wonder if they have just forgotten to be as hovering as I tend to be, or if they ever were. I agree that it is probably best to give our kids some space but alas I have a hard time doing it.


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