By Guest Blogger Christopher Laney
My wife and I have three boys, all with different personalities yet similar in so many ways. When the oldest was eleven or so, I’d often walk into the family room to find him nearly upside down watching television. There were many variations on the position, but he was always twisted in some fashion. He usually had part of his back resting on the floor and his feet on the cushion where most people plant their backsides.
“What are you doing?” I’d say. “How many times have I told you to sit like a normal person? Get up!”
He’d reluctantly stand and attempt to sit on the couch like a gentleman. But within fifteen minutes he’d find his way to the floor again, feet on the cushions.
Flash forward. Now I’m experiencing the same behavior with the middle and youngest boys. I look into the family room and they are twisted into the oddest positions on the floor. They look more like pretzels than humans. Am I raising fools?
It gets worse.
Whenever my thirteen-year-old does happen to use the furniture, he never sits or rises in an easy manner. If he decides to grace the couch that separates the family room from our kitchen, instead of walking around the armrest like a civilized person, he jumps over the back like it’s a high jump bar, up and over to land flat-out horizontal on the cushions. It should go without saying that I’m tired of the man-to-young-man “discussions” over the move. Let me assure you… I’m tired.
When he leaves the couch he explodes off it, a lightening bolt shooting through the house. If you could view in slow motion, you’d see this: boy prone on couch; glint in eyes as his teenage brain transmits the urgent need to teleport into a different room; couch appears to shoot him skyward like a cannonball; his form arcs several yards through the air until it unfolds to land on the leather ottoman; springboard from the ottoman through the air, head almost scraping the high ceilings; lands on feet with a thud that shakes our entire house and the neighbor’s; another leap and he’s in the foyer twenty feet away; careens off the banister in a 360-degree move reminiscent of a slippery wide-receiver; poof of smoke as he vanishes up the stairs three at a time.
And me? I’m standing there in an attempt to spew vile parenting words. But he’s already gone, dust settling. I stare at the size ten footprints slowly decompressing from the middle of an ottoman we paid way too much for. I’m also left remembering the oldest boy doing the same thing while fearing the day when the youngest starts.
At least I take comfort in the fact my kids will be safe if our family room is ever charged by an ambush of tigers. The boys will be three doors down before my wife and I can blink.
On more occasions than I care to admit, I’ve wondered what type of individuals we are raising. And sometimes, it scares me.
But recently, my perspective has shifted. I’m beginning to believe I’ve had it all wrong, that something else is going on here. The dawning realization occurred at the gym.
I was lying with my upper back flat while the rest of me twisted to the left, right knee almost touching down to the floor mat. The move soothed my lower back, especially the right side that was tight from sitting at a desk too much lately. Over twenty people surrounded me. We were all mirroring the moves my wife made from atop a platform in a group exercise room. The instructor told us to twist a little more if we could.
I glanced around the room and an errant thought skimmed past. It disappeared before I grasped its full meaning. Not until I walked past the gym’s yoga studio a day later did it hit me. I backed up to look at the participants twisted on yoga mats and the thought came back, this time pulling into sharp focus. This large group of adults pay a significant monthly sum to have someone show and tell them to do what my kids are doing naturally.
And what have I been showing and telling? I’ve been showing anger at my kids’ energetic playfulness. I’ve been telling them to stop. Stop running. Stop jumping. For the love of all things mighty, stop twisting and stretching into crazy positions on the floor. Stop using the couch back as a high jump. Stop racing up the stairs. I have been preparing them for a sedentary adulthood. I’ve been trying to wring out everything in them that instinctively keeps them in shape, limber, and healthy.
Nature knows what she’s doing. She gives our kids natural urges to run, climb, stretch, and twist. And foolish adults like me brow beat it out of them while criticizing their childish behavior. I’m starting to believe that society, and its discouragement of this particular “childish” behavior, is the foolish entity.
Some may say part of the solution is to tell kids to go outside to burn off this energy. I definitely encourage my kids to spend time outdoors. We all need that connection to nature, young and old alike. But to tell them to go outside because they are doing what comes naturally, feels too much like banishment. It feels like exile for egregious behavior. I’m coming to the conclusion I need to stop sweating the wear and tear on the furniture and house. I doubt I’ll have either in the next five years, but I do plan to have my kids around for the rest of my life. Maybe I’m not raising fools. Maybe letting them climb, run, and twist, like nature intended, will ensure they stay healthy and around for my final years and well beyond.