Flight of the Preschooler


Sam is the kind of child for whom clichés like “look before you leap” mean exactly nothing. He is very much a leap-then-look kind of boy. I’ve got some ideas about where this tendency came from. Scott and I were both pretty cautious kids. But my Dad has these reel-to-reel tapes, extremely early home videos, that show him wearing a sheet for a cape while he leaps off of a picnic table. There’s no sound on this  footage, but I’m pretty sure the boy in those pictures is yelling “Superman!”.  Which is just one of the things Sam likes to shout before he pitches himself forward into the unknown. Or, sometimes, the altogether too-well-known.

Mostly, he doesn’t say anything at all. He just jumps, and I either turn around just in time to see it, or just a second too late to see it. If I do turn in time, I invariably squawk something like, “Sam!” or “Sam, no!” or, if there’s enough time, and as I’m running to prevent the damage, “Scott Allen Merriman, Jr., don’t you dare…!” I try not to give him the satisfaction of these reactions, but the things he does have the potential to be so deadly that my shock invariably overrides any rational restraint.

And he’s not the type to call out “Mom, look!” either. For all that he’s an attention hound, stuntman Sam appears to be acting entirely on impulse. Yesterday morning, he leapt across a three foot gap from his sister’s bed to her rolling, revolving office chair, bringing himself to within a hair of crashing head-on into the corner of her desk.  Last week, he climbed to the top of the kiddie slide at the pool and jumped straight into the air. I had time to shout, “Sam don’t you…” before he was in flight. He came down in the middle of the slide, where his feet shot out from under him and his back and head bounced as he finished his ride down the inclined plane. The lifeguard and I reached him at the same time. His face never submerged, and he skidded to the bottom screaming in agony .

But this did not stop him from standing on the slide again the next climb up, as if he could have the experience painlessly if he could just stick the landing. That time, I was watching more closely and treated him to my dragon voice “Sam Merriman, you sit down now!”

He has a yellowing bruise on his cheek right at the moment and three stories of how it got there. Any of them could be true. “I fell in McDonalds” refers a recent episode when he was sitting on his knees in his seat, violently twisting it back and forth and suddenly lost his balance, ending pinned between the chair and the play-area window. “I landed on a stick” happened in the backyard, when he was zooming back and forth between the tree house and the swing set. And “I went splat in Miss Amber’s room” addresses a gallant escape he made from his own class into the one across the hall that would have been perfect except for the face-first landing.

And yet it was his sister, who is careful to a fault, who fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm on her first day at a new school last year. Go figure.

I think the hardest part of all this for me to accept is that natural consequences have no effect whatsoever  on this child. He knows that jumping in the air on the slide leads to cracking your skull on the landing. He knows that running on slick floors leads to falling down hard. He knows that sharp corners mean painful bruises. And it doesn’t stop him. As soon as the initial pain has passed, he’s ready to resume whatever daredevil stunt led to his getting hurt in the first place.

I prefer to be the kind of parent who lets her kid learn by interacting with the world. Even Caroline has a basic instinct to avoid repeating activities that get her hurt, and she learns a lot faster from doing than being told not to do. But Sam seems to need a parental reality check before he gets hurt. “Sam honey, remember last time? Remember when you stood on your trike? How you fell and hit your head on the concrete.”

“Oh. That didn’t feel so nice.”

“No dear.”

“OK. I won’t do that.”The classic "oh" face

This time. But next time? He probably will.

When he was two, he jammed his finger into a hanger hole in a metal dustpan, then jerked it out again when he saw the panicked look on my face. Twenty two agonizing stitches later, he had genuinely learned not to poke his finger into small places. But seriously, I hope he learns some of these other lessons without the reinforcement of the lidocaine immunity he shares with me. (He didn’t have to be sedated for the twenty two stitches, and the numbing agent kept wearing off, leading him to chant “Ow, ow, ow,” in a monotone until the doctor put on more. Which is about like a typical dentist-filling trip for me.)

The finger

Gruesome, isn't it?

 I’m not looking forward to his first broken bone. (And if Caroline got one, he’s sure to do so.) Or his next set of stitches. Or the tearful call from school when one of those things happens on a loving teacher’s watch.  I honestly don’t fear for his life in these situations, but I certainly do fear for my sanity.

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For the love of Mike, TALK to me! (Concrit welcome on fiction)

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