My Real Job involves a certain sort of Farm-Childcare wherein, rather than incarceration, children get to run free and wild in the great outdoors, exploring and testing their limits in a way I feel is far more normal and natural than the Teacher’s Union approves of.
Personally I despised the stultifying limitations of school, a half century ago, and things have seemingly only gotten worse since I was a boy. “Risk” may now be a four-letter-word, but I loved to play around with risk as a boy, whereas children now are protected to a degree where their movement is all but bubble-wrapped. At my Childcare children are allowed to scrape their knees taking risks, and daring “dares”, because I figure that learning about risk is an important part of life, and the ones who dare initiate great things as adults are the ones who are not afraid of risk.
Of course, that is a grand philosophy to have, but I am forced to eat my words as soon as the ponds start to skim over in the fall. I have had bad experiences with thin ice in my life, and in fact would be dead if I were not watched over by merciful angels who take pity on fools. (I’d tell you the tales, but it would take too many paragraphs.) My experience has coalesced into an old man’s wisdom, which boils down to my behaving like a clucking mother hen, when it comes to small children and thin ice. I allow no risk-taking whatsoever. The water is off-limits until I can walk on it, jump on it, and can run a three-hundred pound snow-blower over it. I am adamant and belligerent and ferocious to a degree the Teachers Union likely frowns at, when it comes to commanding small children, “Thou Shalt Not Even Walk Near The Pond.”
Of course some little boys and girls merely see my ferocity as a new and interesting limit they can test. When I say “stop” such children merrily laugh and run faster. (You’d be amazed how fast I can still run, when I have to, even at age sixty-three.)
This is especially true of the spoiled children who have touchingly patient and kind parents who never say, “Because I said so,” and who especially never say “Because if you do that I’ll smack your butt.” Rather than a true limit drawn in the sand, such a child usually gets a question, such as, “Would you like to reconsider walking out onto thin ice?” When the child then responds, “No, I like walking out on thin ice”, the parent responds, “Do you want to fall through the ice?” When the child responds “Yes!” the parent responds “But have you considered the possibility that the water might be over your head, and, as you do not yet know how to swim, that…” When the child then responds, “Arrgh! Blub…blub…blub” I’m not sure what kindly parents do. They likely never are exposed to such real life crisis’s, because they live indoors, but, because they read in some magazine it was good to send their child to a Childcare that allows the outdoors, they drop the child off on my doorstep and say, “You handle my little darling.”
By law I am not allowed to smack such little darlings on the butt, no matter how much they might benefit from the experience, however I am allowed to “physically restrain” them, especially if they will die falling through thin ice if I don’t.
You’d be amazed how much children who have no experience of parental guidelines resent physical restraint. They thrash, kick me, bite me, claw my face, break my glasses, and then have the audacity to screech at the top of their lungs, “You are hurting me!” (though in fact I am amazingly gentle, considering how expensive eyeglasses are). But I don’t allow them out on the thin ice, and they don’t drown. In some cases this teaches them zero. They merely scowl at me, and are all the more determined to go out and test the limits of that thin ice, as soon as my back is turned.
One such boy, (I am not allowed to use his real name, so let me simply call him “Adolf”), waited until I was off duty to test the ice. I was repairing a fence two pastures away, and noticed my staff was dealing with a collision between two sleds that had resulted in four wailing children, and with far sighted eyes I could see that Adolph was well aware my staff were distracted, and, tugging a slightly shorter disciple by the sleeve, was making a beeline for the pond, where the ice was an inch thick at its thickest. I may not be a mind-reader, but I knew what Adolph planned, and I immediately began running much faster than a man my age is supposedly able to run, and hurtled a fence that men of my dignity aren’t suppose to leap over.
I am known for the power of my voice, which can travel like a trumpet over half a mile and paralyze many children in their tracks, but I knew that bellow didn’t work on Adolph. He was one of the boys who only runs faster when you say, “Stop.” I also could see I that if I yelled at my staff that, by the time they realized what Adolph was up to, he’d have reached the pond. My one chance to help the risk-taking boy was to swoop silently, and to arrive at the pond shortly after he did, before he got in over his head.
It was a smart move. Adolph was so involved with telling his disciple not to be such a coward that he slowed down. He was moving out over the ice sideways, sliding his feet in a sidestepping manner, and busily stating, “See? It is safe! Don’t be such a chicken!” (He obviously wasn’t doing the math, and wasn’t calculating that ice that can hold the 50 pounds of one small boy might not hold the 90 pounds of two.) I could see the ice bending down with every step he took. He was out where the water would be up to his waist when he fell through, but three more side-steps would take him out over his head, for the bottom falls off steeply at that side of the pond.
Then he heard my running feet, and looked up, and saw me coming. I didn’t have to say anything. Perhaps it was the expression on my face. He scurried for shore and then proceeded to adopt his amazing “innocent expression”. I couldn’t say anything. I was too winded. I merely stepped out onto the ice myself, and showed them how it broke; (I weigh 175 pounds, and on that day was wearing water-resistant farmer boots-up that came up to my knees). Adolph seemed to notice the ice was less safe than he thought, but actually seemed more concerned by the shrill voices of my staff, who had noticed what was going on, and were ordering him back to the group to get the schoolmarm treatment. I left him to his fate. Usually I try to protect boys from schoolmarms, but Adolph deserved it.
This sort of exercise may keep me young, for they say that, if a good fright doesn’t kill you, it has the effect of a tonic. However I don’t want to stay young. I want to kick back in a soft chair by a fire and do what old men do, which is to be garrulous and make short stories take a long time to tell. Unfortunately I took my retirement when I was young. Because I sat around in soft chairs so much back then, I have no pension and no savings, and I’ll likely die with my boots on, chasing small boys in my old age.
Still, the sooner the ice gets thick the better. I hate the mild winters when the ice never gets really thick, when you read all too many tales in the papers of boys falling through the ice. I prefer the winters when the ice is thicker, and you read of Flatlanders from Massachusetts falling through the ice when they drive their motor homes out onto lakes. However my favorite winters are those where the ice gets four feet thick, and you can drive a cement truck onto the ice without fear. Why? Because then I don’t have to worry about small boys thinking they are like the Lord, and can walk on water without fear.
It looks like I’ll be spared the purgatory of watching the shores of my farm pond like a hawk for more than ten days, this year. Such arctic blasts are coming south it looks like the lakes will freeze solid in a hurry. The ice is already over an inch thick, and the children are only beginning to register the fact it is there. By the time it occurs to them to do some “risk-taking”, and “test limits”, the ice may already be four inches thick and safe. I can’t tell you what a relief that would be to me.
However, even as I say that, I feel a need to confess that back in my boyhood the definition of “safe” allowed boys to go on far thinner ice. (I have told this tale in other posts, but if you heard it before forgive me; garrulous old men do get repetitive.) Back when I was a boy a few old-timers allowed boys out on ice only an inch thick, in shallow waters, to practice the art of “stunning.”
What is “stunning”? Well, when ice is only an inch thick it is usually black-ice, and so transparent that you can see right through it. It also moans and dents down as you walk on it, but, when you weigh less than eighty pounds, it does not break. You can walk above the creatures that live below the ice, holding a stout club, and when you see a fish or mammal beneath you, you can clout the ice with your club, and stun the creature. It makes a spiderweb of cracks on the ice, and then, taking care, you smash the ice a little bit more so you can reach through a hole and retrieve the fish or mammal.
Why on earth would a boy want to do such a thing?
Well, you need to understand the old-timers who instructed me grew up in the Great Depression. In the Great Depression money was in short supply. People had to scrimp to get by, and dinners could be meager, especially in terms of meat. Therefore when a small boy or girl came home with a fish, it was no small matter. If the child came home with a muskrat he was a double hero, for he not only supplied meat, but the fur had value. On the rare occasions when a child stunned a beaver or even an otter, the pelt alone was worth what a bumpkin family might make in a week. Therefore it was “worth the risk” to go out onto thin ice and smack the very ice that supported you.
Now, it was an understood fact, in the art of stunning, that you might club the ice with too much vigor, and so compromise the surface you walked upon that you plunged through. That is why the professors of this art stressed it should only be practiced in waters so shallow you could see the bottom through the black ice. Even so, one wasn’t a hero when they plunged waste-deep in icy waters. Rather they were the focus of much hilarity from onlookers on the shore. But that was part of the risk one took. As one floundered back to shore the onlookers (who didn’t go out on the ice because they knew very well the ice could barely support a single person) reached out to help, and laughed affectionately, for they knew the risk-taker was doing his daring deed for a high and noble cause, namely: to bringing home meat for the family table.
There is no need for such heroism on the part of modern children, and I am sad to say I do not teach the art of “stunning” at my Childcare. Parents would utterly freak out if I tried. They prefer their children to have no use, and no value, and to be a sort of bubble-wrapped accessory of being an adult. I think this is sad because I feel that, in a healthy society, all contribute, even the children. However the Teacher’s Union would likely call valuing the efforts of children “exploitation”.
Back in the Great Depression there were children, up here in the hills of New Hampshire, who were heroes for picking berries. In the past I met old men who bragged they could pick ten gallons of blueberries in a day, as a boy, and those berries were in the pancakes and muffins of rich Bostonian households up on Beacon Hill the next morning, for a person came north to buy the berries from farm families. And the jingling silver the farm families then had made a great difference, in the Great Depression. The child could swell his chest in pride.
Compare this, if you will, with how parents now respond when a child has caught a big fish at my Childcare. It doesn’t matter if I gut the fish, clean the fish, and fillet the fish, and present the parent with a pound of bone-free meat. They wrinkle their noses, as if free meat is yukky, gross, and repulsive. They inform their child they would be far happier if they would not bring home such disgusting stuff, and give me a glance of disapproval.
There are times I am so irate about the behavior of parents that my wife tells me to go mend fences in far pastures, because she is far more spiritual and diplomatic that I am, and also doesn’t wan’t to lose customers. It is said that that the customer is always right, but I sometimes feel the customers are complete idiots.
They have no idea of the simple truths that can be made apparent when so-called “economics” are tweaked by reality, and this thing modern Americans don’t admit is possible, called “Famine”, rears its head.
The Great Depression was just such a tweak of “Economics”, only two or three generations ago. People were brought back to the basics, and one reason no big famine occurred was because people were practical, and valued a child’s ability to pick berries and catch fish. It wasn’t “exploitation”. It was “getting by.”
In comparison, what is a child worth, to most parents today? What is a child but a drain on the family budget? Hard working parents must pay me to watch their ungrateful brats. But how can a child be grateful, when parents give them no reason for pride, and typecast them as “a drain on the family budget”?
I think that the the only way I might get it through my customer’s thick skulls that their children are valuable would be to, rather than presenting them with a pound of raw fish, to take things a step farther and to cook the fish. The kids can also grow the potatoes and onions, and milk the goats, and then present their parents with a delicious fish chowder. Only then might certain parents see their own prodigy as something other than a “drain.”
However accomplishing this sure is a drain on me. In the process of showing parents how amazing their children are I must keep their risk-taking kids from falling through thin ice and drowning. I tell you, it is exhausting. The kids are exhausting, and the parents are worse.
I am glad the arctic is freezing the ice so quickly this year, and the time I must spend worrying about thin ice will likely be brief. For I have a different sort of thin ice to tread upon.
I need to trespass over the thin ice of political correctness. I need to tell the customer they are not always right.
The bitter blasts are helpful, for they help make a mockery of the political correctness called “Global Warming”. However that is a battle that I think has been already won. The general public has become jaded, and cynical, and scorns the people who state the world is threatened by warming when it is damn cold outside. I fought that foolishness for over a decade, and I’m tired of arguing with corrupted and defeated scoundrals who have already lost. I’d far rather fight with sincere parents who have lost their children, but could regain them.
And that is the thin ice I am now eyeing like a little Adolph.