I was concerned when my husband brought home a snowmobile for our six-year-old. Then I found out the neighbours are teaching their second-grader to weld.
Obviously, nobody asked me first.
It showed up in the back of the truck one day when my husband came home from town.
I protested, but it was too late. Our six-year-old had already seen it.
“It’s perfectly safe,” my husband said. “It doesn’t even go more than five miles an hour.”
I wasn’t convinced. Lots of things can happen at five miles per hour.
“It’ll help him develop balance,” my husband argued. “For when he gets a bigger machine.”
I wasn’t sure that letting him do something dangerous so he’d be able to do something even more dangerous was the best parenting strategy.
“See? Look here. The sticker right on it says he’s old enough.”
Actually, the sticker said “not for children under six,” but I could see my husband’s point.
“And look, he has to hold this button down with his thumb the whole time. If he gets in any trouble, he’ll let go and the engine’ll quit right away.”
One of our neighbours bought that same model for his little girl. She started out by going in circles around their house. When her dad noticed she was always circling counter-clockwise he went outside, said, “Here, let’s try the other way,” picked up her machine by the handle on the back and turned her around.
He was halfway back inside when he heard the thump.
With all that button-pushing with her thumb, the girl couldn’t remember to move the handles when she wanted to make a right turn. She crashed into their house.
So far, my little boy hasn’t been hurt. He’s having a great time. He’s got a well-fitted helmet, the speed on the snowmobile is set to a pretty low limit and the motor is quiet enough that we can hear him shouting “woo hoo!” as he rides around the yard.
But, I’m still a little stressed.
I was looking for sympathy during coffee with some neighbours, “Sue” and “Jim,” but there was no sympathy coming. Instead, they told me about their eight-year-old’s new desk.
“He made it himself,” Jim said.
I was thinking, “This is one self-motivated kid. He’s going to ace elementary school.”
Then Jim said, “It’s made out of steel. I showed him how to run the welder.”
“I think he’s starting to get the hang of it.
(Don’t write in. I know. This is ridiculous. But Jim assured me he was standing right there the entire time, the kid had the correct safety gear, and I know that the boy is mature for his age. Sue looked a little sheepish, but she’s normally pretty sensible, so I’m sure she’s not letting Jim put the kid in too much peril.)
The things we do
Traditionally, most rural kids have learned to drive and operate shop tools sooner than city kids. There’s more space for them to practise. There’s often more time, with at least one parent working on site.
And let’s face it — it’s convenient having an extra person in the yard who can fill the car with gas.
Whether you agree with it or not, we are far from the first generation to allow this sort of thing.
My father-in law was eight when he first seeded the family’s crop.
That’s right. Eight. His father was sick. There were no other options.
My father-in-law had his first quota book when he was 10. He also helped out on horseback, rounding up cattle. When he fell off the horse, he’d have to wander around the field until he found a big rock. He was too small to get back up without standing on something.
Letting eight-year old kids seed the crop on their own is mostly out of style these days. (As far as I know, not even Sue and Jim’s boy is doing this.)
But a couple of years ago I went to a “new combine clinic” with my husband and father-in-law. Two rows ahead of us, a father, mother and son were sitting together. The kid was 11. At the coffee break, his father told everyone that this would be the boy’s third year running the combine.
The kid looked small enough to need a rock on the seat beside him to keep him from tripping the switch that turns the engine off when you leave the seat.
(You’re welcome to call child protective services about this if you feel the need. But that 11-year old knew way more about the on-board computer than two-thirds of the rest of us. The kid’s hours of video-gaming might be more relevant to today’s combining experience than my father-in-law’s lifetime on the tractor.)
Good or bad?
Are we doing the right thing?
A kid that learns to run a snowmobile slowly, in the yard, with his dad watching, may not feel the need to race around recklessly when he gets older. Maybe my husband is right, and this will save the boy from a future accident.
A 10-year old who welds his own desk together is learning some valuable lessons about design, creativity and self-reliance. A kid trusted to run the combine during harvest knows what it means to be part of a team.
But we also know that farm kids have accidents. Lots of them.
Whether this high level of danger is a good thing or not, we need to be careful.
When he’s riding that machine, the boy will be wearing his helmet, with the speed set low. We’ll keep him in the yard — away from roadways, ditches and public trails until he’s old enough to go there legally.
But I don’t have the heart to tell him he can’t ride it. (Not that he can hear me, with all that shouting “woo hoo!”)
I’m just hoping my husband doesn’t come home from town with a mini-bike.