Sunday, May 15, 2011

Risky business.

Liam's always been a cautious kid. He rarely does anything without thoroughly thinking it through and seems to weigh the pros and cons of each step in his mind before ever moving forward. This can be good a thing - I think he's only needed a Band-Aid twice in his entire five years - but it will no doubt keep him from enjoying some of life's greatest pleasures.

So we're working on it. I use the mystery round on Wheel of Fortune to talk about risk versus reward. I say things like, "You never know until you try," a LOT. I push him out of his comfort zone without warning once in a while so he can feel what it's like to leap first and look second. I don't coddle. I talk about how much we can learn from failure. I do my best to let him fail.

But it's not easy. Liam hates to be wrong (not that he's EVER wrong...) so taking a risk that can lead to failure is not high on his list of priorities. Especially if the risk is my idea. So we take it day by day, slow and steady. Which is perfectly fine by me. It's a BIG lesson. One that a lot of adults, myself included, continue to work on every single day.

But while slow and steady may be the approach that works best for me, Bill's take is slightly different. I think it's classic quantity versus quality. I'm with Liam almost all of the time so I can afford to trudge along and wait for a good teachable moment. Bill has considerably less time with him so he has to make up for it with a lot of sparkle.

Like last week at dinner. Out of the blue Bill said, "Liam, I will give you a hundred dollars if you taste this hot sauce." I nearly choked. A hundred dollars?! Shoot, I'd drink the darn thing for a hundred dollars!

"Wow," I said to Liam. "A hundred dollars is a lot of money. What are you going to do?"

He didn't have to think about it at all. "No, thanks. I'm not going to risk it."

"Are you sure, buddy? That's like five $20 bills." Look - a multiplication lesson! I'm all about the teachable moment.

"Yeah, I'm sure," he said. "I'm not risking it."

So that was that.

Or, at least it was until Saturday night.

We had some friends over for dinner and were all sitting outside on the front porch, listening to the rain and the cicadas and having our dessert. I went inside for something (to get more wine? to put the baby to bed? who knows...) and when I came out, everyone was laughing and Liam was looking bigger than I'd ever seen.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Dada's going to give me a hundred dollars and all I have to do is taste this sauce," Liam said proudly.

"Wow, bud, that's awesome! But I thought...didn't you say you didn't want to do it?"

"I changed my mind," he said, planting his fists firmly on his hips and smiling. "I'm risking it!"

It had only been a week since Bill first made his offer and yet Liam's attitude had changed completely. What possibly could have happened to get him from point A to point B so quickly? I think the answer depends on whether you look at quantity or quality...

Let's start with quantity since I'm the one writing (and because it seemed like the clear answer when I started this post...). All week Liam and I have been playing a new dice game called Farkle that he picked out at Target. I said yes when he threw it in the cart because it said something about risk-taking on the package and five bucks to help him get more comfortable with risk and practice addition sounded like a pretty good deal to me. At first, he was a very cautious competitor. But after I beat him a few times by risking my small points to score big, I noticed his strategy starting to change. He started taking a lot more risks (calculated and strategic risks, of course) and has beat me every single time we've played since.

But it wasn't until I started writing that I remembered something else that happened this week.

On Mother's Day, we went for a walk down to the duck pond by our house. Bill and I were walking, Finn was in the stroller and Liam was on his little bike with no pedals (it's called a "Strider" but he calls it his "Sketcher" because the font in "Strider" is the same as the font on the Sketchers commercial...). As soon as we started down the hill, Liam started picking up speed. Like, a lot of speed. He was flying faster than you can imagine and all we could do was run after him, making weird little noises. It was like we could tell he was losing control but we didn't want him to know that we knew just in case he had no idea. So we didn't scoop him up or scream his name (not that we could catch him), we just kept running down the hill like a couple of people who don't run, panting and grunting and crossing our fingers. There were cars coming on one side of him and a pretty steep hill down to a stream on the other side of him and the front wheel of his Sketcher was doing that thing that front wheels do right before bikes crash and kids go flying.

We were kind of freaking out.

And then it was over. Liam stopped at the stop sign just like he's supposed to and sat waiting for us on his Sketcher, waving at all the cars that drove by and shouting, "Happy mother's day!" He didn't seem fazed at all by his near-death experience so we shook it off and played it cool.

But later, when we were walking up the hill, Liam and Bill fell behind and had a little man to man. Liam admitted that he had totally lost control of his bike. He couldn't slow down and thought he was probably going to crash. But instead of freaking out, he took a risk and went with it. You might think, "What else could he have done?" but I've been in that situation before and I can tell you it's still hard to give up control like that even when there are no other options. (For the record I was on rollerblades and chose to play it safe by crash-landing. My friend Emily did the same and we were both bandaged and limping around school for a week. And we weren't in preschool; we were in high school.)

"Wow, Liam," Bill said. "That's the kind of thing that will change you forever. I bet you'll remember that moment your entire life."

And even though it may be too soon to tell for sure, I'll take a risk and say I think Bill was right.

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