Ezra came downstairs this morning with big news. He had just read that, “two hundred people died climbing Mt. Everest. And only eight hundred people made it to the top!”
“Wow. That means that one if five people died trying,” I noted, using every opportunity to sneak in a little math.
“Well, I’m gonna make it to the top.”
“Ezra, it’s really dangerous. Even if you don’t die, your fingers and toes could freeze off,” I responded, using every opportunity to instill fear and keep them close to home.
A few minutes later, as Zach was reinforcing my assessment that it wasn’t a good idea to risk life and limb to climb a really cold mountain, Ezra announced, “Well, when I’m a grown up, I’m gonna ask again.”
“But honey when you are a grown-up you won’t have to ask. You’ll be completely in control of your own life,” I reminded him.
A few minutes later, as if he’s been working the whole time on a new plan, he said, “Well, you know I’m going to live in Argentina when I grow up. So I’ll just sneak out from there.”
“Ezra, honey, you won’t have to sneak out. When you are an adult, you won’t have to ask my permission to go to Nepal.”“But then how will I…” and his voiced trailed off. He just couldn’t quite get his head around it. A time when Jeff and I did not have veto power over his travel plans is simply inconceivable.
Barbara Pan, one of my advisors and great a teacher of childhood development and whose death I wrote about here, told a story about her then nine-year-old son. Barbara remarked that he had grown so tall in the last year, and she wondered how tall he would be when he was full grown. He wondered in turn, “Well, how tall will you be when I’m full grown?”
“I’ll be the same height I am now, Noah.”
She went on to explain what she was sure he already knew, that at some point we stop growing. But Noah couldn’t quite grasp that someday he would be taller than she, and she let it drop, knowing that he would soon enough have the cognitive skills to put it together.
Like Barbara, I know that all too soon Ezra will recognize for himself just how limited my powers are. Maybe he already understands more than I think, both about my inability to stop him from climbing too high for his own good and my inability to stop trying. Here’s how the end of the conversation went:
I said again, “When you two turn eighteen, you can go wherever and do whatever you want. Do you understand?”
“Oh yeah, I understand. Because then you’ll be too old and tired to catch me, right?”