We didn’t have a lot of rules when we were raising our children, but we did have an important one. “Never climb into any place you can’t climb out of.” What it meant most often was, don’t climb onto to a roof or up a tree you can’t climb down from on your own.
Like most kids, my children were born with selective deafness. They didn’t seem to be able to hear rules. That meant there would often be a plaintive wail from outside the house (above ground level), “Help Dad! Help me!” It also meant I would have to get out of my comfortable recliner and miss the last exciting moments of my favorite television program while I went out to rescue a wayward child from their self-imposed predicament.
I would often find myself looking up into the terrified, tearstained face of one of my children pleading for help out of their situation. Standing at the foot of the tree, I would ask, “What’s the rule?”
“Rule? What rule?” Suddenly they had no idea what I was talking about.
I would patiently repeat, “Never climb into any place you can’t climb out of.”
“Oh, that rule. I forgot. It will never happen again. Cross my heart and hope to… fall and break both my legs if I ever do this again!”
At this point, as a parent, I became an absolute ogre. I would calmly fold my arms across my chest and begin to explain where they needed to move their hands and feet in order to climb down on their own. That usually triggered another panic attack. It was not the type of rescue they had wanted. I would wait until the shrieking and pleading died down a little, and then I would repeat my instructions.
Eventually I would have a sobbing, red-faced child (partly from fear and partly from hatred of this abusive parent) standing on the ground in front of me. I would then ask, “What’s the rule?” Through the saliva and snot they would mumble something vaguely resembling the rule before streaking into the safety of the house where they undoubtedly began planning my gruesome demise.
The purpose of the “rule” was not to curb our children’s adventurous tendencies. With the brood we raised, I am not sure we could have even if we had wanted. The “rule” was partially intended to keep from interrupting my television programs any more than necessary, but you see how that worked out.
The “rule” was mostly intended to teach a valuable life lesson. It was to teach them to be aware of their surroundings and if appropriate, to have an exit strategy in mind. It was to teach them a lesson which might be applied in any number of life’s situations. Don’t climb a tree unless you can remember how to climb down. Don’t borrow money you can’t repay. Don’t accept a job you can’t quit. Don’t buy things you really can’t afford. Take the ‘rose colored glasses’ off before you start a relationship. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. No wait, that last one was Vizzini from “Princess Bride” …but it still applies.
As individuals, families, businesses, communities, and nations, we need to remember “Look before you leap!” “Be Prepared.” “Never climb into any place you can’t climb out of.”
Has teaching my children the “rule” spared them from making mistakes? No! They seem to have followed in their father’s footsteps. Sometimes they make great decisions. Sometimes they are sitting tearstained and terrified in one of life’s many trees. I would like to think that understanding the “rule” has helped to give them a little more confidence when it comes to climbing down… on their own.
Moral: “Never climb into any place you can’t climb out of.”
©2014 William L. Steen