June 23, 2021–A dangerous combination is parents who see a threat in every natural situation, raising kids who see none.

I was reminded of this when we had visitors to our rural property awhile back. They had grown up in very urban areas, but were enamored by the illusion they wanted to find a place in the country.

After half a day, I think they reevaluated their options.

I quickly realized these were parents who viewed nature as an obstacle course to be navigated rather than a journey to be savored. They saw threats behind every yucca bush. Fire ants, scorpions, red wasps, cactus, mesquites that claw, dogs that bite. Every rusty nail, splinter, flint edge, or piece of tin presented a clear and present danger.

Of course their children were the opposite–oblivious to every red flag. Fortunately and inconveniently, Mother Nature is the ultimate teacher when it comes to showing that all actions have consequences. Poke a beehive, get stung. Step on an ant mound, get bit. Tease a barn cat, get scratched. Run without looking ahead, get clotheslined. By a real clothesline.

That lack of awareness about natural surroundings used to bother me even while growing up back on the farm. City kids would visit and I was always perplexed by their ignorance of nature. They didn’t realize animals weren’t cartoon characters. They would throw the cat out of the hay mow to see if it landed on its feet.

They always wanted to ride our horses, but had no clue that real horses are massive beasts, not My Little Ponies. They would be loud and move abruptly and walk behind them, yank on the reins or dig them in the flanks, and then be surprised when they got kicked or bit or bucked off.

They would roll in the grass and get chiggers. They’d slip in the mud and fall in the creek. They would climb trees and… well… no, they wouldn’t. They’d ask their dad to lift them up into a tree.

In fairness, the obverse is true. When this farm boy moved to the city, I didn’t understand the rules. Like what it meant when the streetlights came on, to avoid walking on the crazy one-armed neighbor’s lawn, and those junior high guys really didn’t want you playing in their work-up baseball game down by the railroad tracks.

In town, mom had to explain to my little brother why it was not OK to pee in the front yard. Forget about using a BB gun to peg any sparrows perched above the station wagon in the driveway. And geez, lady, did you really have to call the police just because a bottle rocket landed in your yard?

Back to nature, I admit when I moved to the Texas Hill Country from the Midwest, even as an adult I had to learn lessons that kids who grew up here already knew.

Strategies like it is wise to kick over any board or boulder before picking it up. That you should shake out your shoes before slipping them on. And you don’t walk barefoot anywhere.

But a lot of wisdom is simply paying attention.

The individual that always makes me nervous is the one that barges ahead without any awareness or empathy for the reactions of those around, whether man or beast or grass burr. I’m sure this behavior resides along some psychological spectrum.

Regardless of whether you are a city or country mouse, our favorite parenting style was always to allow natural consequences to flow from a child’s behavior. Don’t like what we’re having for dinner? Fine, you’ll be hungry for breakfast. Don’t feel like picking up your toys? Fine, some Goodwill shopper’s children will enjoy them. Don’t want to do your homework? We’ll love you no matter how many times you repeat 4th grade.

It’s the law of the jungle, whether that jungle is grandpa’s farm or your own back yard.