To Fall: To Protect From or To Teach How To?
Ten years ago Savannah underwent a scoliosis operation. Three months after the operation we began working with a physical therapist to help Savannah to maintain her ability to walk. In the very first session, the therapist told me that she was going to teach Savannah how to fall. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I wanted to wrap Savannah in cotton wool and never ever let another bad thing happen to her. Here was someone telling me that we were going to teach Savannah how to fall. Why ever would we do that?
The therapist explained to me that Savannah was likely to fall at some point. She was still walking at that stage but was relatively unstable on her feet. She attended a school with children who were mobile. It was likely that she might be bumped. In the event of her falling she would have experienced serious damage to her already compromised frame. And so with my heart in my hands, I agreed to work with the therapist to help Savannah to develop the motor abilities to protect herself if she ever fell.
To my dismay, my vigilance and efforts in making sure that just about everyone who had Savannah in their care, knew to ensure that she did not fall was not enough. She fell. Yet, she did not sustain any terrible injury because she knew how to use her hands to minimise the impact of her fall. Of the many lessons I have learned in my life; this is one that stays with me.
We are living in a time when we have more information than we have ever had before. With the click on a link on our computer screens we find information that transforms us into micro versions of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, therapists, chefs, artists; educators, almost anything. We know how to put barriers in place to protect ourselves and our children before we even have a hint of any potential problem. We spend weeks researching before we choose a dance class or a cookery class. We can diagnose and treat health problems without seeing a physician. (Let me say here that all medical issues cannot be answered by Google. Please do consult a medical professional when your health is at stake).
All to make sure that we circumvent any possibility of a “fall” in our lives.
I have spent most of my life trying to prevent another “fall” in many areas of my life. I’ve learnt as much as I can about the issues that define my life: violence, trauma, loss, teenage pregnancy, families of divorce, faith, autism, cerebral palsy, siblings of children with special needs, health, education, motherhood, and so much more. Every item on that list has numerous sub items. All of which have occupied my mind in different ways over the years.
In many ways I’ve understood the need for all my children to have experiences that help them to learn who they are without my constant vigilance and protection. Talisa and Eli were raised within the Scouts movement. There is nothing like being a Sea Scout and having one’s mental and physical strength nurtured and tested through a series of tasks. My children learnt what it felt like to have to work harder and longer at tasks to accomplish it. Scouting encourages autonomy, hard work, endurance and persistence. For any parent who is struggling to build self reliance and self resilience in their children, I would strongly recommend enrolling your child with a Scouting Troop.
Yet even after all this, I too have been caught by the unspoken movement to pre-empt and protect my children from LIFE. Families these days are wired to make extraordinary efforts to ensure the physical and mental well-being of our children. The pressures that this generation faces are second to none. It’s so shocking in the time of so many advances in all arenas of life, this generation struggles so much with their self-worth. The drive to have a good story to present on social media leaves no room for “learning curves”. For those people who actually experience learning curves or “falls”, we are somewhat struck by their lack of foresight to avoid it. In this day and age, it seems shocking to most that people “allow” their lives to be interrupted by well…..er life.
When Eli had his sudden issue with appendicitis last week, my initial thought was could I have done anything to prevent this? When I spoke to a few of my friends, they were acutely interested in the same question as well as knowing what the signs were and what to do if one suspects this unwanted medical “fall”. No, I could not have done anything to prevent Eli from going through this. In this upheaval I had to do something that I usually don’t want to do. I had to relinquish control and teach Eli to trust the process. I heard myself saying to him that I did not know what to expect after the operation. I was honest with him and with myself that it would be painful and that we would find ways to get through it.
He had to try in small increments to push himself. He was surprised when he realised what he had to do was never as difficult as he initially thought it would be. He is fast developing an understanding of the power and miracle that is the human body. Savannah learnt this many years ago. She learnt what to be aware off as a person who was unstable on her feet. She learnt what supports to request so that she did not fall again. She accepted the wheelchair far more easily into our lives than I did. She has never once misguided herself into walls or people or down steps. She developed an awareness of her surroundings which is very good for someone with her challenges.
We all want to be wrapped in cotton wool and never hurt. We want to do that for those we love. I know first hand that the things that will cause us to “stumble” and to “fall” are not always physical in nature. The heartaches and damage that are caused in relationships can keep a person down for a long time. By overprotecting ourselves and those we love, we sometimes do not allow our instincts for self preservation and self respect to develop. We become accustomed to someone else protecting us and when they are not around, it becomes easy to fall into relationships that hurt us. With no idea of what our own standards are, we struggle to develop the character traits to withstand life. Without those experiences that allow us room to grow and to trust our decisions, we “fall” never to get up.
In different areas in my life, in different relationships I realise the benefit of knowing how to “fall”. I learnt where the bottom was for myself. It made me determined to never allow anyone to take me there again. Character is not developed by life following the exact trajectory that we plan. Character is developed by how we respond when life happens. I can only hope that as we all move forward with hope in our hearts for life to be better; we are wise enough to learn how to fall and brave enough to teach those we love the same skills.
In truth, when life does not get better it is us who have to get better at knowing how to “fall” so that we may rise again. Then by God’s grace we build again, a better life.