Back in the early seventies I lived on a farm in East Texas. Just out the back door there was a corral, and a pipe fence surrounded it. In one corner there was something ranchers call a loading chute. You run cattle down this fenced “hallway” to a closed gate. Whenever you are ready you can open the gate and let the cows pass through one at a time, usually to a trailer backed up to the gate so you can take your stock to market. To make the whole thing strong, the gate has a frame around it.
My oldest son was about three years old and was walking pretty good for a toddler. Plus he was in that climbing stage they get into where they think they can explore the entire universe if only they can climb high enough. Sure enough, one day he took advantage of a momentary lapse of attention to escape from his baby bed and explore the back yard.
I knew what it meant when I heard the screen door slam. I immediately took off running through the house. It couldn’t have taken me more than 5 seconds to get outside and find out where my baby had gone. I opened the back door to see him sitting on top of the gate, eight feet off the ground, looking down at the corral. My heart stopped.
The thing I was most scared of was that he’d lose his balance and fall before I could get him, so I tried to make no noise as I crept up behind my son. When I got to the gate, I discovered another reason to panic: I could just touch his bottom from the ground, but I couldn’t grab hold of anything to make certain he didn’t topple. That meant I was going to have to climb up on the fence without using my hands (a trick in and of itself), since I needed to have both hands ready to catch, should he fall.
Somehow I managed it. Although he was sitting on a round pipe 2 inches in diameter, he never tottered. When I could reach him, I grabbed him up and tucked him under my arm like a small pig, enabling me to use one hand to climb back down. I never felt so much relief in my life as when I got him safely back down to earth.
Then I started to wonder: how the heck did he get up there? There was no way he could have climbed up there by himself. Even if he somehow managed to climb the fence, there was a three-and-a-half foot gap between the top of the fence and the top of the frame. A gap his two-foot tall body couldn’t navigate. It just wasn’t physically possible. Nonetheless, the moment I set his feet on the ground, he tried to head back to the corral. I picked him up and carried him into the house. Maybe aliens beamed him up there or maybe he flew, but I was not going to go through that again.
Later, after I calmed down a bit, I thought it over. I was torn. You see, I never wanted to put barriers between my son and his potential, but I knew that some things weren’t safe for him to attempt. It was my wife who put it in perspective. “Silly bear,” she laughed, “that’s what parents are for! We put reasonable limits on the actions of our children so that they can live long enough to outgrow those limits.”
Remembering this little adventure made me smile. My oldest son turned out okay, so I guess I didn’t stunt his emotional growth too much. But then I started to wonder: have I really fulfilled my potential, or have I simply accepted my self-imposed limitations since becoming an adult? You know, perhaps it’s time I tested those limits again. Maybe I can climb a little higher than I’ve told myself I can. And if not, well, maybe the aliens will help me…