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I Learned To Let My Kid Take Risks From A Jungle Gym Called ‘The Crippler’

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My daughter has always enjoyed climbing. As a toddler she would scale cabinets, jungle gyms and any other object upon which she could get a foothold. San Francisco playgrounds introduced me to The Crippler. Imagine a 20-ft Christmas tree-like structure, except it’s made of metal chain lattice, in order to allow kids to climb to the top where you’d put the angel. Oh, and it spins. You can spin the tree very quickly, and watch kids tumble off like ornaments and candy canes.

If I could see her climbing The Crippler, but wasn’t within range to potentially catch her, my chest tightened like I was about to have a stroke.

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I felt nervous watching as my daughter ascended The Crippler. We’d resolved to raise her to be brave and risk-seeking, the goal to create her own ability to assess risk and make good judgments, rather than flinch every time she scraped a knee. But man, The Crippler.

For those first few months I needed to either be standing by while she climbed, imagining that I could at least catch her before she hit the ground. Or I needed to be totally ignorant of her climbing — as in, I wanted to be out of sight so that I didn’t know what she was doing. If I could see her climbing The Crippler but wasn’t within range to potentially catch her, my chest tightened like I was about to have a stroke.

Over the last year or two, this need to have some sense of ability to save her from harm has subsided, at least with regards to The Crippler. She knows how to hold on, no longer gets distracted by the other kids climbing next to her and is loud enough to call for me if she needs anything. I’m sure there’s another Crippler-like experience waiting around the corner for me — maybe it’ll be a physical risk she takes, or a situation more socio-emotional. And I’m more cognizant of the difference between stopping her from taking a risk vs. proactively being there to save her vs. reactively being available vs. hiding in order to protect my own feelings.

Hunter Walk is the Editor of Five Questions.