My mother was raised and died “straight-laced Irish.” She kept a current copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette on her bookshelf and referred to it many times. My sister was obedient, brilliant and happy – in many ways the perfect child. My brother was thoughtful, reasonable and cooperative. I came along with very few of those traits
When I was four, we lived in a two-story house in New Jersey. One day my mother was working in a room on the second story, and she heard me shouting, “Hi, Mom!” The sound was coming from above her.
She looked out the window and up. There I was, at the top of a tall pine tree, and my weight was making the treetop sway wildly to and fro. This was just one of many moments of panic that I gave my mom.
At the age of two I learned how to open the door to the outside and leave the house. Alarmed, my mother started locking the door with a key. Noticing where she kept the key and how she used it, I pulled the drawers out in the kitchen and used them as steps to climb onto the counter, get the key and unlock the door.
Often as I wandered through the neighborhood I would get tired and take a nap. My favorite place to nap was in the road because it was warm and the white line was smooth. My mother was frightened about this and decided we needed a fence around our backyard. Dad spent a weekend with me putting in the fence.
For a while this seemed like a reasonable area to explore, but soon it became clear to me that there was more to explore on the other side of the fence. I found areas where I could go under the fence. When Mom found me gone from the back yard she sent Dad to fill in the gaps.
I suppose either of my siblings would have gotten the hint, but I was more interested in getting out of my backyard. So I tested the pickets (vertical slats that make a picket fence). Eventually I would find one that was loose and wiggle it until it came off and I could go through the fence.
This discovery generated another weekend with Dad in the backyard. Dad would stand next to me with a hammer and nails as I went down the fence wiggling pickets. When I found a loose one he would nail it tighter until I couldn’t wiggle it. Once all the pickets were tightened Dad went inside.
I went on to explore the fence for other ways to get to the other side. What I discovered was that the gate had a diagonal board on it. If I grabbed the pickets and climbed up the diagonal board I could climb over the fence!
Mom in her wisdom and patience watched me from inside the house to see how I got out. The next weekend Dad and I worked in the backyard.(My viewpoint, although Dad did all the work.) This time Dad covered the gate with chicken wire so I couldn’t climb the board.
It turns out that if you kick chicken wire often enough you can generate footholds in it. Once I stood in the first foothold I could kick a second higher foothold into the chicken wire. With patience and perseverance enough footholds could be created to get me over the fence! At this point Dad gave up and Mom started thinking about moving to another neighborhood! Eventually, we moved onto an unpaved road in a town which was mostly woods.
Probably the biggest issue in the home that moms face with their kinesthetic child is this: How do you keep them alive and yet not squelch their spirit? This spirit drives them to keep trying. It pushes them to take risks and see obstacles as challenges. It is the same spirit that makes great explorers, adventurers, and great leaders in business, science and politics.
We live in a world were merry-go-rounds and swings are being removed from playgrounds because someone might get hurt and sue, a world where taking risks is discouraged. It is especially hard for parents to watch their child take so many risks and not want to squelch their children for their own safety. I can only say that my father’s playful acceptance and my mother’s willingness to balance her anxiety with my desire to explore and take risks were instrumental in me becoming the leader I am today. And our world desperately needs people who are willing to try, make mistakes and try again.
Read more about the kinesthetic child
As a medical doctor, author, and homeschooler, Stephen Guffanti, M.D., offers a unique background and tremendous insight, and communicates with warmth and humor. Not only is Stephen a physician, but he’s also dyslexic and ADHD, and from this unusual perspective he brings hope and understanding to families. Born with a passion for education as well as medicine, Dr. Steve has served as the medical director of a clinic specializing in learning disorders and has studied nutrition and its effects on learning.