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I’m Willing to Risk My Daughter Breaking Bones for One Thing

Photograph by Leah Campbell

I was 3 years old the first time I broke a bone. It was the same age my daughter is now. When I try to think about her in a little cast or the struggle of trying to keep that cast dry (when every puddle she sees is a reason for splashing about), I’m not entirely sure how my parents did it.

Of course, I broke my first bone falling off a toilet. And that was just the first in a long line of ridiculous injuries to come. So I’m not sure how my parents handled me, period.

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That’s a true story, by the way. I was 3 years old, sitting naked on the toilet just before bath time. My dad, ever the joker, had his back to me as he was getting the bathwater just right. At the last minute, he jumped around and shouted, “Boo!” Only, his obvious ploy to scare me backfired—I jumped right off the toilet and landed wrist-first.

I’m often left wondering where the line is, between acceptable risk and time for Mom to intervene.

I’m hoping my daughter’s first broken bone won’t be nearly as embarrassing a story to tell (for me or her). But I’m also mostly convinced it’s coming. It seems more like a “when” than an “if.”

Like me, my daughter isn’t the most coordinated kid on the playground. It’s kind of funny, actually, given that she’s adopted. Technically, this clumsiness isn’t something she could have inherited from me. And yet, there it is, in every move she takes. She has a higher propensity to fall than any of her peers.

I have theories about that. I’m partially convinced that kids may learn movement from what they observe, and perhaps my daughter has inherited my struggles with spatial recognition simply by watching me forever bump into my surroundings.

But whether that’s plausible or not, this one truth remains: My little girl is a klutz, one who routinely scores on the lower end of any gross motor skills assessment.

I refuse to let that stop her, though. For most of my life, I’ve held myself back from certain physical activities—the fear of falling, of not being able to maintain my balance, forever keeping me from trying new things. This is based partially on my own visceral understanding of pain. I know all too well what broken bones and stitches feel like, and I tend to err on the side of avoiding more injuries at all costs.

But the other part is embarrassment.

It is embarrassing to me that I am so constantly prone to feats of failed coordination. And so, if there is ever a chance my physical ineptitude may be witnessed by someone else, I’m far more likely to bow out than to give anyone around me that laugh. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s true. My propensity for injury keeps me from trying a lot of things I might otherwise come to love.

I don’t want that for my daughter. And so I’ve held my breath as she’s gained a new love for climbing lately, a love that has her racing toward any structure that might give her an opportunity to achieve greater heights. This kid, who still can’t complete a summersault in gymnastics class, will climb to the top of just about any structure you put in front of her.

And I let her, forever waiting for a foot to slip or a grip to be loosened. Knowing that when that happens, there will likely be a hospital visit in our future.

It’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”

We were recently on a walk with our neighbors and their little girl. When my daughter found something to climb on, I could immediately sense their discomfort as theirs tried to follow suit. And I could see them watching me as my little girl got higher and higher, waiting for me to intervene.

But I didn’t. And I won’t. Because seeing my daughter’s confidence when she climbs? Her fearlessness as she looks down? It’s something I want to see more of in her.

I want her to take these risks. I want her to push her own limits and see what she is capable of. I want her to develop that independence and willingness to test her own abilities.

Even if that means I’m mostly just waiting for the fall.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking forward to the inevitable hospital visit that awaits us. I absolutely care about keeping my girl safe. And I’m often left wondering where the line is, between acceptable risk and time for Mom to intervene.

But I think for me that line has come down to a question of, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” If she’s scaling a tree that hangs above our creek, we might just both get wet. And if she’s managed to get four or five feet up above a cement ground, the potential for a broken bone exists.

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But as long as what she’s doing doesn’t hold the risk of life or death, I let her do it. Because I don’t want fear to ever hold her back the way it does me. And because broken bones happen. But my daughter’s perception of herself? Of what she’s capable of?

That counts for more than anything in my mind.

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