You may remember I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger last time. No, not Stijn. We all know he’s still being held captive in “that room.” I’m talking about that kid on the playground. He’d just flung himself out of the swings and into the air, not knowing where he might land.
Let me explain.
There’s a playground across from our house. It has all the usual equipment except a swing. Well, to be fair, it really does have a swing, just not an officially sanctioned one. That’s because someone from the Slachthuisbuurt climbed up into the giant oak tree at the edge of the playground and installed it. The swing hangs down from one of the thickest branches, and has an arc that puts it just close enough to the brick wall of the local kindergarten to make it interesting when a kid really gets going.
It’s fair to say the swing is not up to code. The ropes wear through quickly with use, but no one seems to care. The kids love it, precisely because those ropes may snap at any time. Each ride could be your last before spending the next six months in traction and rehab. Not that any kid ever consciously worries about that.
And how do parents feel about it? Meh. In the Netherlands, you buy the ticket, you take the ride.
I’ve been thinking about that swing a lot lately, because of the New York Times article about “droppings.” Kid’s droppings. I mean, parents dropping off kids in the woods and then “leaving” them to find their own way home. It is a Dutch tradition (Why? Because the NYT says so, dammit!). Judging by the reactions I’ve seen here, it’s one of those traditions that is both loved and loathed in equal measure. There’s some good Dutch humor if you scroll down to the bottom of this article.
Just as funny and probably more telling, however, have been the American reactions to this, which seem to generally fall into one of two categories. First is the helicopter-y kind of “Oh no! No one should leave a child alone in the forest!” The second is the “Damn straight, toughen them up! American kids could use some of that!” kind of thing.
Not much middle ground there, but then again it feels like America’s not really doing “middle ground” anymore.
For a healthy dose of reality, I turned first to my 13 year old daughter, who, theoretically, I will be dropping off in a peat bog somewhere in Limburg later tonight.
Her reaction to the article was: “Well, I wouldn’t want to be forced to do it. But yeah, I can see how it could be a good tradition, and that you would definitely feel a real sense of accomplishment.” Then she quickly added: “Also, I’m really allergic to mosquitoes and mud sucks, so don’t even think about it.”
Then I decided to ask one of my English speaking neighbors here in the Slachthuisbuurt about it. Yes, he certainly remembered his parents “dropping” him when he was a kid. He didn’t characterize the memory as either incredibly fond or devastatingly traumatic. Yes, there was a sense of accomplishment, but you never really doubted you would make it back home.
Ah, so it was all about just conquering the fear?
“No, that’s too simple,” he said. “It’s more like learning that you don’t have to fear the fear, of knowing that you can probably do this, but that you have a support system to fall back on if you need it. Makes you stronger, somehow.”
I told him that a lot of Americans were saying that it showed poor judgment in terms of parental responsibility.
“Well,” he said, “we hear about people in the US who let their children play in a room with loaded guns. Or who allow their unvaccinated children to play with other children.”
The Dutch are quick to point out that if you read the article and not just the headline, it’s clear that the parents are not leaving the kids out there to die. Instead, the children are allowed to try to figure it out on their own. It’s OK to challenge them and let them take some risks. And the children know that if they need help, and ask for it, they’ll get it.
Back to that swing in the playground. Let the kids launch themselves off of it if they want to. Then they’ll find out what both physics and fate are capable of dishing out. There are consequences, but the consequences can be dealt with.
As I said goodbye to my neighbor, he stopped me to make one more point.
“You Americans…for all your tough talk, you sure are scared a lot. It’s like that video of your current President sitting at that desk next to the bird.”
Next up: my darkest Slaughterhouse secret. So far, at least.
Remember, you can sign up to get the latest Slaughterhouse Sketch by email…