I was sitting in the backseat of my friend’s car when I got the call. I immediately froze in my seat. How could this have happened? My son is very smart. Almost scarily smart. He has always been overcautious, sometimes to the point of frustrating this “go-get-em” mommy. And he did what?!?
We had dropped my oldest son, Caleb, off at a friend’s house for the afternoon. I was heading out of town for a mini-getaway with a few friends, and he was planning on hanging with a few buddies until I got back. It was March of last year and was definitely still cold outside, but things were starting to warm up.
Caleb and his friends had asked if they could walk to the park a block away to play a little basketball. They headed there together to burn off some much pent-up winter energy. It was going to be a great day.
It wasn’t too long after they arrived at the park that I got the phone call. Caleb fell through the ice of the small pond situated in the middle of the park. He completely fell through the ice. Submerged.
This is what happened: Caleb’s friend had ventured out onto the ice to throw rocks at the area towards the middle that had started to thaw. Physics were against him and he fell through. In a split second, Caleb had a decision to make. Go to his friend who was shouting that he didn’t know how to swim, or turn and run for help. He chose to step out onto the ice which ultimately resulted in him crashing through, too.
We were very lucky that day. Both boys were able to make it out of the ice safely and were chaperoned back to his friend’s house by the local fire department. A woman walking around the park trail saw what happened and immediately called 911. Other than some tears and soggy clothes, everyone was okay. We were so fortunate.
That day got me thinking about boys and their instinctive bent towards bravery. Logically, Caleb shouldn’t have gone after his friend if he would have considered the outcome. Like I said before, he’s a smart kid and should have “known better.” And maybe he did know better. I’d like to believe that after briefly weighing his options, he chose bravery.
Bravery noun : courageous behavior or character.
Courage, bravery, instinct, drive, persistence, loyalty.
If you’ve ever watched boys at play you’ll notice a couple things. First, anything and everything can be turned into a weapon. Stick? Weapon. Rocks? Weapons. Bike? Weapon on wheels. And second, these weapons they concoct are generally used for the defense of all things good. They save the dog from the sure onslaught of terror from the neighbor’s cat. They protect their sisters from the threat of hidden basement ninjas. They defend blanket forts for the honor of their imaginary kingdom. However, our instinct and role as mothers, I believe, is to stop them from getting hurt or acting out such “violence” in ways detrimental to their livelihood. Stop jumping off the swing set, stop hogtying the dog, stop ramming your bike into the wall. Stop. Stop. STOP!!
But I challenge you to start thinking differently. I challenge you to start encouraging your son(s) to use this inner wiring and channel it for something good (i.e. not hurting the dog!). After all, bravery is something that will have to show up quickly when it’s needed most. Think about the fireman who has to rush into a burning and unstable building, the U.S. Marine who has to stand firm and guard his base in the line of fire, or the brain surgeon who has to make the brave choice to execute such a specialized incision. Bravery must be a natural and immediate response.
So how do you cultivate bravery in your son? Ask him to jump off the roof of the house daily? Yeah… no. I believe there are very simple, everyday things we can do to guide our sons towards becoming brave men. For instance, when your toddler is just absolutely sure he can jump into the deep end of the swimming pool, and you’re not so sure, let him. Let him leap. Be there to rescue him if necessary, but don’t keep his feet planted on the side of the pool. When your son is asking you, begging you, to let him go down the big slide at the park and you think he will be too scared, let him. Be there at the bottom to sweep him up when his eyes are as big as saucers, but don’t keep him grounded.
When your son asks you over and over and over to let him walk to school by himself, let the boy walk. Sure, you may be lingering behind, dodging between the houses so he doesn’t see you, or driving your car behind him just out of eyesight, but… let him be brave. Let him conquer.
Take your son to do some activities that require a little adrenaline. Paintball, football, skiing, sledding, high-ropes courses, rock climbing, cave exploring, white water rafting, creek stomping. Put him in situations where he will need to show a little bravery. Don’t push him into anything, but make opportunities available. If your child has physical limitations, explore options that will accommodate his needs (Adaptive Sports Iowa).
When bravery (notice I didn’t say foolishness) becomes a way of life for your son then bravery is most likely what will show up when he needs it most. Maybe, like when his friend falls through the ice of a thawing pond.
My all-time favorite book on raising boys is Wild Things by Stephen James and Dave Thomas. It is wonderful. It is full of insight and it is freeing. These men helped me (as well as others I know) better understand how boys tick.
I also encourage you to spend time talking with your husband about raising your son. It sounds kind of funny, but ask him some probing questions. What made you feel proud when you were young? What made you feel brave? What made you feel like nothing could stop you?
I also recommend, highly, the Bible. It speaks volumes about brave men and how they lived it out in daily life. I personally love the verses in Acts 4 that talk about Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. It shows how two average dudes, because of their courage and bravery, were able to stand up under some pretty intense pressure and speak to the miracles of Jesus.
So mommies, it’s time to get a little dirty. Put on your helmets and get ready to jump into life head first with your son. You’ll be amazed at the things he can do when you let him be brave.