NEEDED: Tales of Your Youthful Fails! (Or Your Kids’!)

Hi Readers! I’m preparing a new speech — as opposed to my beloved tried and true one — which I’ll be giving it from noon to 2 on Saturday, June 4, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’ll also be filmed for my show. (Address: The Old First Reform Church, 778 Carroll St. Directions here. If you want to, feel free to RSVP to, but it’s not required.) Anyway, what I realized I could use are some stories of great childhood failures.

By that I mean, stories from your youth when you goofed something up — and ended up being  glad of that in the long run. I’m also interested in stories like that from your kids’ lives.

These days we are so focused on preventing our children from feeling disappointed, sad, or defeated that we sometimes forget that one way for them to grow that protective coat of self-confidence is BY letting them fail.  It’s the old “fall off the bike and get back on” thing: If you never fall, you never learn that  you can get yourself back on again. In fact, falling — failing — starts to loom larger than ever.

So think back and tell us some tails of your fails. And as failing is looming large to me at the moment (Gotta give a NEW speech! AND it’s being filmed! Gulp!) , thank you very much for your help. — Lenore

87 Responses

  1. A friend of mine was taught to celebrate failure – which while appearing odd at first, makes brilliant sense. What you celebrate is that you’ll have learnt more. It’s worked very well for her, and I’ve been using it with my own daughter, for instance when teaching her how to ride a bike without trainer wheels.
    As so often the hurdle to trying is a fear of failing rather anything else, celebrating “failures” changes the game completely.

    So this is about overall approach angle.

  2. When I was a young lad I was fascinated by stickers, this being the days before stickers becoming ubiquitous. When I’d accompany my dad to the hardware store he’d leave me to wander the store, and I’d often spend time gazing fondly at the adhesive house and mailbox letters and numbers, in various fonts, sizes and foil colors, neatly arranged on a rotating display. One day my longing got the better of me and I slipped three 1″ numbers into my pocket. A few minutes later the store owner, a big, gruff guy, approached me and told me to follow him to the counter, where my dad was having his purchases rung up. The owner explained that he’d seen me taking the stickers–you can imagine how embarrassed and stupid I felt. Dad played it just right, keeping a stern countenance while having me return the stickers, then sitting me down for a Serious Talk about it at home. I learned my lesson: despite many, many hours over many, many years spent unaccompanied in stores, I’ve not shoplifted since!

  3. Last year my mother generously paid for my 13 year old son to attend band camp and he absolutely loved it! She agreed to pay for it again this year on one condition: he had to start writing thank you notes instead of forgetting as he often does. Well you can guess where this is going, he got a nice Christmas present from my mom and promptly forgot to write a thank you note, and I pointedly did not remind him.

    So she told him she would not be paying for band camp so if he wanted to go he had to come up with the money himself. He panicked a bit “How can I come up with $300?!?” Then he got himself together and started making up fliers advertising his services. Every house within 4 blocks got a flier in their mailbox stating that he would babysit, pull weeds, walk dogs, mow lawns, etc.

    The calls stared coming in and soon he had regular gigs. He took care of this house’s pets while they were out of town. He babysat for that house’s 2 little girls while the parents went out for a fancy dinner. He raked all the leaves up at this house. He trimmed the trees at that house.

    It only took less than 2 months of occasional work to make the $300 and he is so proud of himself! He feels like a million bucks to know he can earn his own way. And it’s given him a taste for the joy of spending money. He is continuing the work, but now he takes the money and spends it on comics and pizzas and movies.

  4. When I entered second grade at a new school which was a fancy suburban public school my mom let me do my first assignment completely on my own. She thought that was what you were supposed to do was let your kid do the project on their own. Mine did not turn out very great. We were supposed to make a spaceship out of cardboard paper tubes and tin foil.

    So my mom shows up to Parent Teacher night and all the spaceships are hanging from the ceiling in the classroom. Mine was BY FAR the worse. Not because I sucked even though I don’t do well at artistic projects. Mine was the worst because it was OBVIOUS I was the only kid that did their project on their own. The rest of them looked absolutely perfect and super complicated. For goodness sakes! Some kid had an EXACT replica of the Starship Enterprise! A second grader!?

    So unfortunately from then on my mom realized to fit in at this school she was going to have to help me with the projects or I would get bad grades and feel out of place. Not sure if that is a good lesson overall, but she did let my try at least when none of the other parents apparently even let their kids do that.

    Not looking forward to having to “help” my kids with projects either because my skills have not really improved in that area that much. I also really feel kids should do that stuff alone and teachers should not assign stuff the parents are going to have to “help” the kids do.

    I actually might put my foot down and not help them and stand up to the teacher if my kid gets a bad grade just because I did not “help” them like all the other parents do.

  5. Dolly, my kids have the worst looking projects every time … but they also give the best oral presentations, because they know the material cold because they did the work. And the teachers know why that is.

    My fail … goodness, there were so many. The time the “rung” to the treehouse in the woods broke under my feet and I kept climbing up, so had to figure out how to get down from the remaining step 4+ feet off the ground? (Answer: Jump towards the softest looking spot on the ground.) Or maybe failing to make the jump over the creek we had set up, and having to go back to Granny’s house (where one did not make messes) totally covered in red mud? (Lessons: ride faster if you want to land on the bank, not in the water. Also, do not show up on Granny’s porch covered in red mud.)

    Or maybe, to tie back to Dolly’s post: in 9th grade I completely forgot about the Rock Collection for my Earth Science class until the morning it was due. I was in the habit of getting to school early to practice my horn, so I walked around the school campus picking up rocks that I labelled in 1st period study hall. I got an A despite the lack of a fancy box. Lesson there: it’s never too late to get to work and do things right.

  6. My sister and I would not stop fighting in the car and my mom and dad had enough, we were about 1 mile away from our house and my dad made the infamous threat “if you hit your sister one more time you I will drop you off her and make you walk home.” (I was about 8 and my sister was 5 or 6). Of course we did it again. he pulled over to the side of the road and made us both get out. Then got back in the car and drove away.

    At first we were a little freaked out begin left at the corner of a busy intersection and a business research center that was not yet built out (just a field and some man made lakes) but we knew where we were (we had played back for years). My sister and I headed through the field and found our short cut home through the back ally.

    My mom and dad were amazed when we walked in through the back door of the house thinking we would have gone the way they drove home. It was that day that my parents pretty much let us navigate the world… we have gotten lost a lot of times but usually my sister and I always find our shortcut back to where we need to be…. figuratively and literally🙂

  7. I grew up in a house that was on the edge of a housing development – behind it was nothing but woods. My parents warned me that when I played in the woods, I should never leave sight of the house. If I could see the house, they reasoned, I could never get lost.

    For several years, I followed that guideline religiously. Then one summer, I had a friend over. We must have been about ten. At age ten, the “in view of the house” rule was starting to feel stifling – even if we expanded it to mean we could be in view of the neighbors’ houses too. My friend wanted to go exploring, and that was good enough for me. In we went.

    We took care to look for landmarks, like a boulder that resembled a gorilla’s head. But it didn’t prevent us from getting thoroughly lost. My friend turned to me to rescue us. I did my best. When we found the power lines, I knew the power lines intersected a main road directly west of my house, so I figured we were too far north. I carefully logicked out our location. Before you know it, we found Gorilla Head Rock again, and we got home just as my mother was starting to worry.

    After that experience, I wandered into the woods more and more, and by the time my sister was old enough to accompany me, I knew my way around quite well. She never had the experience of getting lost, although once my brother and his friend decided to outdo me by getting lost-er, and they found themselves in a completely different neighborhood across town. They knocked on someone’s door and had my mother come get them.

  8. I was not an athletic teenager, but my best friend was. A fabulous runner, she wanted me to go out for the high school cross-country team with her. And even though I had a bad feeling about it, I did. Sure enough, I was an abject failure at everything about it. I couldn’t run far or fast. I had no motivation on my own to improve. I worried I looked fat in the miniscule shorts and singlets they had to wear. By mid-season, I had dropped out. My friend, being nice, never mentioned it, but she also didn’t invite me to join the team again.

    Something about this stuck with me. Seven years later, at age 21, I entered a 10K race in Central Park, NYC. I had been running to keep my figure and thought, Well, OK, why not–no one is expecting me to win. So I ran it and fell in love. Now, pushing 40, I still run, have done three marathons, I love race, and hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

    What was the difference? The difference was where the motivation came from. When it became internal instead of external, when I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I found I could do it. While I will never wow anyone with my running, I’m not too bad at it. And it’s all the sweeter because I once failed.

  9. When I was a senior in high school (1996), I had a falling out with the girls’ softball team coach. Well, I love the bat-n-ball sport, so I decided to try out for the boys’ baseball team. Insane. The town I’m from is a football and baseball town! Everything revolves around those sports, and for a GIRL to try out for the team? Unheard of.
    Holey Moley!! It was tough; my hand hurt from catching, my legs from running and I had bruises all over me from the balls I didn’t catch or from sliding practice or numerous other things. I was regularly ridiculed by people, both kids AND adults! My own parents told me I was nuts! And of course the guys on the team weren’t exactly nice to me.
    Well, I stuck it out until the end, despite all I was up against. Its hard to push back against all that negativity, but I made it.
    I didn’t make the team. I wasn’t fast enough, I didn’t hit the ball far enough, I couldn’t throw the ball as far as the guys, etc. I even got labeled, ‘most likely to try out for the local minor league team and fail’ in my senior yearbook.
    BUT!! I learned a little bit about what I was made of. Others were awed that I made it though to the end, without giving up.
    That was a win for me, even though it was a fail.

  10. At the age of 12 I was a brand new boy scout, living in Detroit. My mom worked hard to help me earn my merit badges. Looking back, I still have no idea how she managed to accomplish some of these field trips and activities with the little money my dad gave us.

    The summer I turned 12 we went on a family camping trip to the Upper Peninsula (the UP–the spur of land above the hand that is Michigan on a map) in the National Forest there. I was there to earn some merit badges. I remember the lightning storm on the lake … I’ve never seen colored lightning since. I remember the bear that attacked the idiot in the campground across from us because said idiot whacked the bear with a stick for getting into his food. That same bear shook the cabin we were in that night and scared us half to death trying to get in. We hiked all over the place, identifying plants and animals and insects.

    When it came time to pack our stuff out I suffered from a case of “don’ wanna leave” and held back. Eventually I was separated from my family and well and truly lost. After some interminable time wandering around trying to figure out where I was, I sat down. With no one around I could admit to being scared and lonely and allow myself to cry. I cried myself to sleep.

    I woke with a start to see the same bear from earlier in the week standing above me, just looking at me. I thought about the whistle I had as part of my scouting outfit, hung around my neck. But I remembered a comment the ranger who talked to us about the wildlife–predators wouldn’t run away if frightened. They would attack. I couldn’t remember if a bear was a predator or not, but I figured I would just sit still and see what happened. I knew running was out of the question–I was a fat little kid and knew it.

    After just a few minutes the bear snuffled, snorted (covering my face in bear snot!) and shambled off. I will *never* forget the look of that bear as he casually sauntered off into the woods. A few minutes later I heard the ranger calling my name and I felt safe enough to blow my whistle. Within a half an hour I was sitting in his truck eating some cheese and a tomato and enjoying it. Prior to that I never really liked either. To this day, they are two of my favorite foods.

    I learned to stay calm when unexpected danger appears. I learned to asses my situation and evaluate my knowledge and try to extrapolate what I knew to what I didn’t know. I learned all of this, and more, in the space of just a few hours.

    This is what we are denying our children, and our society.

  11. I’ve thought of another event, not nearly so traumatic. :]

    My oldest son loves climbing trees. He always has.

    We lived in a house where there was a perfect climbing tree for him. He was about 4. I refused to pick him up and put him in the tree as he frequently requested. I refused to allow my wife or friends to help him out either.

    I felt that if he *really* wanted to get into the tree he should climb up. Eventually he did. He stood at the top of that 5 foot tree shouting at the world the first time he got up. I was so proud of him.

    Then he couldn’t figure out how to get down. I told him “You got up there, now get yourself down.” Oh, I was so cruel. Lunchtime came and he still hadn’t figured out how to get down. I ate my lunch on the porch, commenting on how good it was.

    He finally gathered his courage and hung from the bottom branch and dropped the foot and a half to the ground. He stood there for a second in shock. He looked at me, the plate of food I had for him there on the porch.

    He climbed back up into the tree and experimented with how high he could get before he was too scared to jump.

    Watching him realize he could do this, and see the universe open up in his eyes … that made the guilt I felt at making him cry and suffer and tremble in fear all dissolve away.

    To this day, in almost everything he does, he tries to figure things out for himself instead of asking for help right away. Of course, now I need to figure out how to get him to ask for help, but that’s another battle.

  12. My kids are 9 & 7. They run around all over our subdivision with their friends. They play in the “woods”, jump on trampolines, run through sprinklers, build forts, make up games, catch bugs, ride bikes and scooters, etc. Whenever they come in with a big scrape or bruise I call them their war wounds. I tell them to be very proud of them and I remind them of who never gets war wounds, the kids inside watching TV and playing video games all day. They may cry a bit but they are very proud of every war wound they get🙂

  13. My daughter (age 5) wanted a shirt from the top rail of her closet. She can reach the hems of her shirts and usually she just tugs and it pops off the hanger. This time, it got caught on the hanger. She hollered for help and I (knowing we have at least 3 step stools) told er to figure it out. She was furious I wouldn’t do it for her. There was screming, crying, raging and the in a silent furry she stomped out to the kitchen, dragged a chair back to her room and got her shirt. She came back and informed me not to tell her I was proud she solved her problem. Because according to her, “You don’t need to be proud of people for just using their brains.”

  14. When I was about, oh 13, my mom sent me and my best friend on a journey to San Francisco, two hours from home. We were sent with the Amtrak tickets, cash, and suggestions on where to visit. No cell phone, smart phone, pda or anything else. And mind you, this was probably circa 2000 or so, not 1974 “when things were safer”.
    We were dropped off at the station and seen off on the train, and made our bus connection to the city ok. Spent all day wondering around, visiting Haight Ashbury and learning all about the bus system and having a grand old time.
    The day went just fine. No murder. No rape. Not evening a kidnapping. No one even pestered us! I’m not sure we even thought wondering around a metropolitan city alone, at 13, no phone or ID an odd thing. Just a great adventure.
    Nothing went wrong at all. Until we realised that we would have to meet a bus to take us to the station to catch the train home. That’s when we started asking each other if YOU remember when and where to meet the bus. And, um, hey, what might that bus look like again? Is it that one? pulling away? As in, leaving?
    We wondered for, oh, maybe another quarter hour trying to see if any of these rush hour buses lined up on Market street might be hours. And slowly every bus left. Now we were really stuck. And I was NOT about to call home (on a payphone, remember those?). Nope. I would not admit to my parents I had screwed up royally.
    Here’s where I started thinking, and hard. These next moves are what I’m still proud of.
    At this point I remembered, from previous, guided travels in the city, that BART (San Francisco’s subway) had a station that was joined with an Amtrak station. So now we booked it, found the nearest BART station and studied the map. The BART and Amtrak met up in Richmond, a few stations after the bus was supposed to let us off. So now we got our BART cards, jumped on the next train to Richmond, and then waited. And waited. And it got darker. And darker. And the drug dealers across the fence got louder. (Richmond is not the suburbs). And eventually our train showed up, and we piled on. I’ll never forget the look the conductor gave us when he went to punch our card and saw the tickets should have been punched two or three stations ago. How did we know we wouldn’t miss our train in Richmond? We didn’t. Never even occurred to us. We just knew we needed to get home, on our own.
    My parents only recently heard the story- as far as they knew we were safely on Amtrak the whole time.
    In one day, one long day, our early teen selves took two trains, one Amtrak bus, many city buses and the BART. By ourselves. No phone. No first aide kit. Not even a whistle. Or a kleenex for that matter. That day I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of. I learned to be confident in myself and that when needed, I can think fast on my feet.

    PS: I still wonder San Francisco, now with my husband. But I have yet to have an experience in the city that trumps that moment of “oh my god we’re stranded” feeling. or the even better one of “Oh my god, we made it home!”

  15. I don’t know if it’s a “fail”. I kind of think it was an actual success in that I realized how strong the mind is. I managed to get talked into joining the National Guard to pay for college. I realized quickly that I had no clue what I actually signed up for. I cried a lot those first few weeks of Basic Training. Some where along the way, I stopped crying and figured out what I needed to do to get through it. I was never the best soldier, but I quickly learned that I was a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit. Thank you, Uncle Sam!

  16. The year the first movie version of “Annie” came out, I decided that I was going to sing “Tomorrow” a capella in the school talent show, and for some some unknown reason, the music teacher let me get past the tryouts, even though I had never had a singing lesson in my life. I was completely cool about it until the night of the talent show, and then when the stage curtains opened, leaving me staring at a packed school auditorium, I suddenly realized what I had gotten myself into and nearly died of fright. It was too late and I was trapped, so I did the only thing I could do: took a deep breath and sang the whole song the best I could. My parents told me later that no one could hear my tiny, un-amplified 10-year-old voice past the first row, so I suppose even if I sounded terrible, it wasn’t apparent. I cringed with embarrassment over that for a long, long time, but 30 years later, I have to give myself credit for not just turning and running. I may not have sung well, but I sang, darn it!

    Then a few years later, when I was 14 and a freshman in high school, I failed monumentally by spending my bus money on food. We were very poor and I hadn’t brought anything for lunch (why I wasn’t on the free school lunch program, I don’t know) and I was so hungry that I lost my mind temporarily used that 75 cents to buy Twinkies at the corner store. When school ended for the day, I scoured the sidewalks hoping to find some money somebody had dropped, but there was nothing. My family didn’t have a car or a phone, and none of my friends were old enough to drive, so there was no hope of getting a ride. So, with no other choice, I walked the six and a half miles home, along busy city streets, through terrible gang-infested neighborhoods. It took me almost three hours and I was ready to drop from exhaustion when I finally got there, but I made it. And you can bet I never spent my bus money on anything but the bus again!

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  19. I was hoping some of the others stories would jog my memory and one has — shoplifting.

    It must have been at the beginning of middle school, my best friend at the time (and who, I’ll mention, just because it’s an interesting side-note, came from a very well off family), began shoplifting. She had all this cute Ziggy stuff in her room. Where’d she get it? Well, there’s a gift shop in town, and the five finger discount is so easy — she’d show me how. Game on.

    We’d walk in the shop, usually split up, then just stand in front of the object of desire until such time as store proprietor was otherwise occupied, and into the pocket it’d go. We were at it at least once a week. Always at this same shop. Do you know, I felt PRIDE when I looked upon a purloined piece on my shelf? — Isn’t that Ziggy candle nice? I stole that. Me.

    After about a month, a month and a half, of these lame-a** shenanigans (must have been SO obvious what we were up to), I was just slipping something cute into my pocket when I a voice behind me said “Either bring that up to the counter and pay for it, or put it back on the shelf please”. I put it back on the shelf, and left the store. I didn’t deserve that please. I was so ashamed of myself. I had been stealing! Stealing. It all become clear to me now. And I felt miserable. And the fact that the man was kind enough to “let me off” made me realize what I had been doing to a good person. I felt even worse. But would this depressing state of affairs even be the end of it? It was obvious that I could never go into his store again, but could I ever again walk into town as an honorable citizen? It was a horrible time. And to make matters worse – my friend who had started the whole thing didn’t even get caught!! Just me! Life was SO unfair.

    That was me and my life of crime done! I drifted apart from that friend of mine. Then about maybe two years later, we were both at some kind of sporting event, and found ourselves in the dressing room alone. Although there were locked lockers, some articles of clothing had been left outside, like shoes. There was a particularly nice (and expensive looking) pair of shoes that had been left out. She tried them on. They fit. She says, as ho-hum as you like, “Should I steal them?”
    “What??!! That’s crazy. And what would you tell your mother? Where would they have come from”?
    “Oh, I’ll tell her I found them on the side of the road”. (A standby excuse I recognized from back in the candles-for-free days.)
    I can’t recall what else was said, but I managed to convince her that the plan was ill conceived.

    I was shaken up anew. I couldn’t believe she was still at it. In fact, no longer was the thieving limited to a “faceless” store, she felt entitled to have whatever took her fancy. Stealing someone else’s, what had to have been, prized and beloved personal shoes — and leaving someone to walk home shoe-less! — didn’t even seem to faze her.

    Doing something bad like stealing, and then getting caught, the humiliation that followed, certainly helped me internalize what was right and what was wrong. Can’t remember how long it took to realize, but once I did, I always knew: I was the lucky one in the store that day, not my friend.

    There’s no way round it — the hardest lessons are the keepers.

  20. I underestimated the work involved in a project for my 10th grade Algebra class and was pretty SOL the night before it was due. I couldn’t drive yet and there was no way my mom was going to drive me to the craft store to get supplies at 6 pm the day before it was due. So, I hunkered down and did the best I could with a couple pieces of posterboard and foamboard from the grocery store’s office supply aisle (I walked there). My project looked like a drunk 5 year old did it and the experiment itself failed because I couldn’t get my calculations to come out right. I still did my very best on the write-up and hoped it would save me from an F on the project. The teacher displayed our projects in the room and I was sooo embarrassed by mine, especially as it was displayed between two projects that I knew had been done by parents (yes, in TENTH grade! Not that I ever think parents should work on their kids’ projects). Anyway, everyone laughed at mine, etc etc, shame, shame, burning shame.

    When my teacher handed back the write-ups, I saw that I’d earned an A and a very nice comment from my teacher saying that the experiment might have failed, as they often do, but that it was clear from the write-up that I’d learned what I was supposed to. Then, he even defended me when there was almost a riot once some nosy kids spied my grade and couldn’t believe I could have gotten anything other than an F considering my non-existent craft skills.

    So, from that embarrassing failure, I learned that even at the last minute, hard work still pays off, and that if I have to do anything with a crafty component, I can do a decent job, but I need to give myself more time.

    I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment for using two of my strengths (writing and critical thinking skills) to make up for one of my weaknesses. I also started to think my mom, the original mean mom who wouldn’t do ANYTHING for us that we could do for ourselves, however poorly, wasn’t the Worst Mom Ever. It was many, many years before I could say she was right, but hey, it was a start.🙂

  21. We grew up in a small community on the San Francisco Bay. And I mean RIGHT ON the bay. Our houses were on piers. There was a group of kids that ran around together getting into all sorts of trouble, and rarely involving our parents. We knew better than that! There was a large hill, more of a cliff really, that hugged the shore and towered over our houses. When a girlfriend and I were 10 years old or so, we built a fort on the hill (like nesting cormorants) and decided it needed some paint. Since my parents were building our house there were always plenty of supplies. We slipped away with a half-used gallon of blue paint and some brushes, and started up.
    We got close to making it but about 50 vertical feet up something happened. The paint bucket slipped from my hands and started its gymnastic descent toward the bottom of the hill – and the parking lot. In my memory the whole thing happens in slow motion. The paint is hurling, rolling, flipping down the hill toward the cars, the lid pops off. It ends up, predictably, splashing paint all over one of the cars. We scrambled down the hill and did our best to wipe off the paint. But even with our best efforts some paint did not come off. We sat for a while and tried to figure out what to do. It wasn’t THAT noticeable? Was it? Even if it was, why would anyone suspect us?
    Finally we came to the conclusion that we just needed to ‘fess up. It wasn’t fun. I rememeber crying all the way to the home of the car’s owner (a bachelor whom two young girls would probably not be allowed to visit nowadays.) But we did it, genuinely sobbing the whole time. The owner took pity on us, saying that we would be square if we washed and polished the car. We had never washed and polished like we did that day. It was an old rustbucket (now multicolored) but it shone like a diamond. The very kind neighbor said that he thought it had never looked better.
    I look back on this incident and am so proud of our failure. Through it we learned that it’s always best to take responsibility. Just think of how ashamed I would be now if I hadn’t! And our faith in the kindness of our neighbors was reinforced when we were dealt with so compassionately. It was truly an opportunity to grow. I’m so grateful for it, and to my parents who gave us the space to make mistakes.

  22. In grade school I wanted to be a cheerleader more than anything. I was certain it would change my life for the better. I read books about cheerleaders, made up cheers and routines, and practiced obsessively. When tryouts came along, I worked harder than anyone and secured a spot on the squad. I was over the moon and so proud of myself. I loved my year on the squad and looked forward to being a cheerleader again. In fact, I was so confident in my abilities, that I no longer practiced obsessively and wasn’t nervous about tryouts. My mom tried to warn me, but I assured her that I knew what I was doing. Naturally, I did not make the squad a second time and was devastated. My mom kindly did not rub it in, but also did not call the school or otherwise try to intervene. The lesson I learned is you can’t rest on your laurels. We moved over the summer and I had an opportunity to tryout at another school. You can bet I worked extra hard (and made it)!

  23. I’m dyslexic, and have a learning disability in math. I decided to try the advanced program in high school, in spite of my English teacher’s refusal to place me there. My mother protested this decision with the school.

    I failed Algebra- miserably. I passed English with a B. Made an A in history.

    I learned that within my strengths, I could challenge myself. I learned that where I was weak, I needed to push myself. I ended up retaking Algebra and passing the next year, but tanking Geometry.

    I learned I loved psychology and how the human brain works. I took chemistry, even though I passed it by the grace of my science teacher who rewarded hard work and drive.

    I picked a college based on the math requirements for the program I wanted. I graduated. Later on, I had to work very hard to get a good school on the GRE. I have a master’s degree in counseling. A PhD is something I can consider- because I learned to love learning and to work harder than everybody else to get what I wanted.

    Even if I failed in getting the Advanced diploma in high school. Due to the Facebook era and graduating from a teeny, tiny high school, I know I’ve done much better educationally and professional than students who started out and took three years before dropping off the advanced diploma- and even better than those who were academically brighter than me.

  24. I ended up retaking Algebra and passing the next year, but tanking Geometry.

    I know it can be hard when you have a learning difference to tell what’s normal and what’s not, but it’s considered painfully normal that lots of people who are good at algebra are really bad at geometry and vice versa.

    As for “learning from mistakes”, there was the time I was supposed to go on my first big trip on the trains by myself. I was 10 or 11, and the plan was that my sister would get me into Manhattan and put me on the right train, I’d take the train to the Natural History Museum, and then she’d meet me there later.

    She put me on the wrong train, completely heedless of weekend service changes. After I went to the end of the line and back I got off and asked the conductor. HE put me… on another wrong train! I went back and forth a few times trying to work out what to do. I read my book. Twice. I got off and called home… and found that our phone wasn’t working. A police officer asked if I needed help. I really *did*, but I certainly wasn’t about to admit it so I mumbled and got off the train.

    Eventually I decided that the only thing for it was to get off at the closest stop – across the park! – and walk.

    I had no idea which way to go, but even though the obvious choice would’ve been to walk along the edge of the park, I decided to cut through the middle for reasons of speed. I asked for directions, and for the first time in my life came head to head with the reality of my poor sense of direction. (This is separate and distinct from my spatial agnosia, where familiar places don’t look familiar to me, aka “I got lost directly across the street from my house one time”.) So, I asked for directions again, and again, and again. Eventually I made it to the museum… just as it was closing and my sister had decided to call the police!

    Actually, when you think about it, I wish that whole story hadn’t happened. I guess I learned something, but I would’ve learned something at the museum too, and been less bored doing it!

  25. I am trying to figure what I didn’t mess up as a child. It’s odd looking back at it now and how much leash my parents gave my sister and I. We used to ride around our neighborhood on our bikes. I would ride or walk to get my haircut starting in 5th grade. I even had to walk along a very busy highway to do it. I am surprised we didn’t get ourselves in more trouble.

    I was trying to figure out which of my bicycling wrecks I should relate, the one where my friends and I made a ramp in our yard or the one where I was trying to go down hill as fast as possible? Or maybe I should tell the story of how I manage to have a firecracker explode in between my index finger and thumb? There’s also the time I jumped off a three foot stump in the back yard and managed to have my chin land on my knee forcing my front tooth to chip the adult tooth growing in and the blood…oh the blood. (at least that’s how I remember it.) It could also be me quiting soccer the year after I made the allstar travel team for the second year in a row. What about the time in elementry school where I was playing soccer with a bandaged foot after I just had my toe nail removed? I am surprised I survived at all, now that I think about it.

    I’m glad all of these things happened to me. I now know to be more careful when building a ramp to jump my bike and landing should always include both hands on the handlebar. I also know that if you are trying to go as fast as possible on your brand new 10-speed that you should watch out for loose gravel. I also learned that when your friend throws a dud firecracker at you, you need to continue to watch the firecracker you are attempting to light. (Even as a kid I think we learn early on about plausible ignorance. “Where did you get those burns on your figures?” “Is that what they are?”) I also learned that if you quit an active sport and continue to eat the same way, you will become the fat kid. Only this takes 20 years to learn. And playing soccer with a bandaged foot, no matter how well bandaged, dirt is sneaky. Dirt can obviously make its way through a million layers of gauze wrapping that your “you’ll get a staff infection” worrying mother painstakingly put on to keep you sanitary.

    Gee, I wish I were a kid again.

  26. I didn’t have a tail. Interestingly, neither did my dog. (Well, he was born with one, but believe it or not he got something like cancer in it and it had to be removed.)

    As for a tale, I’ll have to think about it!

  27. When I was in elementary school we had a field day every spring. The entire school was outside all day playing track and field and team games. I was a clumsy, uncoordinated child with no athletic talent (who grew into a clumsy, uncoordinated non-athletic adult) so you can imagine how well I did. Seven years I attended that school (kindergarten through 6th grade) and the only ribbon I ever won was a second place in the peanut hunt in kindergarten.

    I admit, there was some disappointment every year when I failed to bring home the gold. But I learned to go play games for the fun of it instead of worrying about whether or not I won. And my mother (who also was a clumsy non-athlete) encouraged me to do things I was naturally good at like writing and science.

    Because I wasn’t good at sports and couldn’t join the competitive teams I got to go to young writers workshops where I met real authors like Paul Fleishman and Steven Kellog. I got to go to science summer camps where I learned marine biology and took close up pictures of bugs with giant microscopes. And even though I never won a ribbon in anything other than peanut finding I still have very fond memories of field day.

  28. Okay, I’ve got one. When I was in first grade, my friends sister would walk me, my friend, and another friend home from school. She was in third grade, I believe. One day, she had somewhere else to do (I honestly don’t know where else a third grader in the 70s had to go), so she asked her friend to walk us home. Well, her friend – to her home. We had no idea where we were and just started wandering around, trying to find something familiar. After what I guess was 45 mins to an hour of going up streets and cross streets (and avoiding really busy streets), we came close to a house where we could see some old ladies sitting on the porch. I told the other two to pretend they were crying to that the ladies would ask us what was wrong. It worked like a charm! They invited us up to the porch, got us some lemonade and called my family. I was the only one of the 3 of us who knew my phone number. In no time, one parents ALONG WITH THE POLICE came to pick us up. Yes, even in the 70s parents did get freaked out when kids went missing for an hour. For some odd reason, one of the parents blamed me for all of it, I guess because once we lost the third grader, I was more or less the leader!! But my family was proud because I was the only one who knew my number.

  29. Not an experience exactly, but I once heard a sermon titled “Failing at a High Level.” If you’re succeeding all the time, what you’re doing isn’t hard enough for you.

  30. My failures came mostly in the form of bruises and blood. I’ve loved working with tools from a young age (like 4 or 5) and I remember hitting my thumb with a hammer so many times it wasn’t even funny. One year, when I was quite a bit older, I had gotten a swiss army knife for camp that came with a mini saw. I was using it to cut through a broken off branch and holding it (the branch) the completely wrong way, so that the first time my blade slipped, I cut a nice gash in one of my fingers. I didn’t cry out, or alert an adult. I wrapped it myself, re-evaluated how I was doing things, and changed it around so my digits were no longer in danger.

    My son (18 months) got to have a similar experience. We just bought I new house and we were out in the yard while I cut the molding. Every time I put the saw down, my son would go for it. At first I told him no, but of course the more I said no, the more he wanted it. So finally I let him grab it and the first thing he did was grab it by the blade. It startled him and he immediately let go. I could see in his eyes that he was rethinking it, and after a few seconds he grabbed it by the handle and he hasn’t touched the blade since.

  31. Tuppence, that teacher ought to be teacher of the millennium!

    I can’t think of any stories at the moment. My mom protected me from failure a lot — she was reasonably Free Range in the physical sense, but in the social and academic senses not so much. So maybe that’s my story — I try to be careful not to be like that with my kids.

  32. When I was 4 years old, I got into the back of my family’s station wagon and decided I was going to be on the swim team with my siblings. Being the youngest of 10, I didn’t want to be left behind while they went to their swim practices and meets, so I packed my towel and wore my bathing suit and got in the car with them.
    The only problem was that I didn’t know how to swim.
    My Dad did nothing to stop me. My sisters laughed at me, but I took my spot behind the blocks and waited for my turn. I saw my Dad whisper something to the coach, but the two of them just smiled. It was my turn, I got on the block, and did the best belly flop I could. I came to the surface and yelled, “I can’t swim!”. I doggie paddled to the lane line and then back to the wall. By the end of the night, I could make a length of the pool, and had officially joined the swim team.
    I asked my Dad later in life why he never stopped me knowing I didn’t swim well. He said if I had the guts to get up there, who was he to say no.

  33. My daughter is only 10 months old, but I made the biggest “oops” so far when she was only a few months old. We took her to the zoo and pushed her around in her little stroller (the kind where the car seat attaches into the stroller). We had her unstrapped the whole time so we could pick her up and let her see the animals. Well when we got back to the car I went to put her in, and I’m only 5’1 so getting the carseat into the car requires me picking it up and literally almost flinging it into the base, then wriggling it around to get it to lock. I didn’t notice til DD started crying (delayed reaction) that as I was doing this she had tumbled out of the carseat and onto the actual seat of the car. She was fine, but I was horrified and convinced that I had failed some kind of mommy test. I’m not sure exactly what it taught me except to be more careful to make sure she is buckled in and just that nobody is perfect, not even a mom who would die for her kids can keep them safe from everything, and you have to be able to laugh at yourself.

  34. I threw up on stage once as a kid. Barely anyone in the audience noticed and anyone who did forgot about it by the next day. After that I never got stage fright again because if you screw up that badly and no one notices or cares, they definitely won’t care if you mess up a line or two.

  35. My story is very similar to Tuppence’s and involves shoplifting. I was in 7th or 8th grade. There was a discount department store that was on the way home from school. My friends and I would stop in there on Fridays after school and buy a candy bar to eat while walking home. There was a security guard by the exit who would randomly look into people’s bags as they left the store. I guess that my friends and I must have looked innocent because the security guard never looked in our gym bags. Friday was the day we had to bring our gym uniforms home to be washed and we carried our clothing bags separately.

    One Friday after school I was walking home with a friend. We made our usual stop at this store and decided to shoplift our candy bars. I don’t remember who came up with the idea (probably my friend because I was definitely a follower and not a leader), but the other one of us went along with it. We figured that it would be easy because the guard at the exit had never checked our bags before. We each picked out some candy and put it into our gym bags. So far, so good. As we got to the exit we thought we were home free. But the guard stopped us and asked what was in our bags. My friend and I answered, “Our gym uniforms.” He then asked us to open the bags and saw the candy. The guard asked us where we got the candy. I was too scared to answer, but my friend said, “At school.” (My junior sold candy during the early ’70s at lunch time.) The guard then asked where we went to school and to see a receipt. My friend told him where we went to school and that they don’t give receipts when you buy candy. The guard let us go and we ate our candy.

    I felt guilty about getting away with stealing, even if it was a couple of 15 cent candy bars. I knew that there would probably not be a next time that the security guard would let me off so easily. I also felt bad for being a wimp and making my friend do all of the talking. But overall it was a good thing because that was the first and last time that I ever shoplifted.

  36. I also learned a lot of life lessons when I went away to college. My housemates and I would often combine our laundry. It was my turn to do the laundry and I thought that I had everything perfectly sorted into white and colored loads. Nope. A pair of my red socks found their way into the load of whites, which got washed in hot water. Everything turned pink, including my male housemate’s white underwear, socks, and t-shirts. Since it was my mistake, I had to pay for a bottle of bleach and to re-wash the whites (we used an on-campus laundromat with coin-operated machines). Lesson learned: double check the loads before putting them into the washer.

    One of my old blog posts is about life lessons and how helicopter parenting is preventing college students from learning them.

  37. I can remember several instances from childhood when we were planning a trip or outing of some kind, which got cancelled due to weather or unforeseen circumstances. Oh, the bitter disappointment! But I know it was instrumental in helping us face life’s disappointments to have to endure some of those times. I realize that moms and dads can plan outings on the sly, and only reveal the surprise when it is impossible for weather or circumstances to disappoint, but we kids had so much fun in the planning and anticipating. In the end I give my parents good credit for being the role model who enjoyed planning an outing, but had the grace to accept the disappointment when the plans didn’t always pan out.

  38. Oh, hey, I thought of a better one. A good one.

    As a child, I was painfully honest. Never shoplifted – the closest I came was accidentally leaving the store with a bag of popcorn I hadn’t paid for (it was crowded, and somehow, in the confusion at the counter, I simply forgot to!) and when I realized I… turned around and went back to pay. And I only ever cheated *once*, and not even for my own benefit!

    See, in the first grade, we took periodic tests as part of our reading program, both to measure our comprehension and also to practice skills for the Citywides, as we called them (the standardized tests). So every week or twice a week or so we’d take our reading comprehension tests, with the bubbles, and then we’d pass it to our neighbors to grade while our teacher read out the answers. And then we’d tell her our grades one by one.

    I was reading when I was three, by the time I was in the first grade I read very well (so well that I didn’t get placed in a reading group for a few months, but was expected to read on my own until the fastest group caught up with me), and I did pretty well on these questions. I got 100s, 90s, the occasional 85 or 80.

    Furthermore, I didn’t really care what grade I got either. My parents always said “It doesn’t matter what grade you get so long as you know the material and learn something”, and I believed it!

    The other kids didn’t really, I guess, and as time went on they started whispering to each other “Could you fix that for me? I almost got it right” and so on. And maybe as time went on they got less concerned with fixing only those they ALMOST got right. And our scores, in the whole class, went up and up.

    I thought this was probably wrong, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell the teacher. Maybe it was okay. After all, they ALMOST got the right answer – right? It’s not like anybody was lying – right? So when my neighbor, Jessica or maybe Rebecca, asked me to fix an answer for her, I frowned uncomfortably and did it. It had to be all right if everybody else did it, right?

    Not long after that the teacher caught on. She spoke to us very sternly about how she knew what we had been doing, and had us come up to her desk, table by table, so she could look at all our test booklets. And if she didn’t like what she saw, she RIPPED THE STICKERS OFF.

    We were table 4 or 3, and we went in order. Everybody got their stickers ripped off, and I was waiting for mine, feeling miserable about the whole thing, and she looked at me (and my seatmate standing right behind me, whose recent tests I *had* changed) and told me that SHE knew she could trust ME. And she let me sit down, and my neighbor as well.

    I don’t know how Jessica (or maybe Rebecca) felt about this. I know how I felt. I felt awful. This was WORSE than having my stickers ripped off, or having a letter sent home to my parents. My teacher trusted me, and she was wrong, and I wasn’t even going to tell her the truth. (And I never did tell her the truth either. I felt bad, but I didn’t feel particularly stupid.)

    I don’t know what I would’ve learned otherwise, but my ideas on cheating and honesty really are affected by that event.

  39. Okay, this is off-topic (and man, I have to stop abusing italics, it’s hurting my eyes what I typed before!), but it’s also one of the cutest things I’ve read all day:

  40. My Mother use to call me “an accident waiting for a place to happen”
    Stiches in the forehead- Watch not only for cars, but also for people on bikes when crossing the street
    Broken arm- Watch where you are running when playing tag
    Stiches in 2 fingers-be careful when opening cans
    Too many more to list and I learned from each and every one of these injuries.
    Also as an added bonus I can teach my kids the same things when they ask about the scars!

  41. Our dog is 10, our kids 6 and 4. The kids love to weave in and out of our various doors into side, front and lake yards. The dog can not be trusted to return home, and I spent the first three weeks in our new house reminding the boys to shut the doors, shutting the doors behind them, and a handful of times hunting down the dog when she escaped.

    Finally I figured 10 years was pretty good for a Saint Bernard and stopped participating in the boy/dog/door triangle. The four year old was the first to notice the dog trotting away. He called for her halfheartedly. Then went back to building his fort. After 20 minutes he and his brother decided they did want a dog and went on a hint for her. 45 minutes later the three of them returned. Soaking wet. And Triumphant.

    Despite the success of their adventure I have noticed the two of them reminding each other about the doors, closing doors after themselves, and interrupting their play to run to the house to close the door.

    No amount of “telling” about dog escape could provide as much impetus as “doing” a dog retrieval.

  42. We had a trampoline in our back yard when I was eight. The mat was worn and thin in several places, and my parents told me to stay off it until they could get the mat replaced.

    I knew better than they did, though. Oh yes.

    I “accidentally” threw my slingshot up onto the mat so I’d be “forced” to get on the trampoline. Once up there, I looked around and thought it looked fine to me, so I started bouncing on it a little. Then I stood up and started jumping. Swinging my arms.

    Then I came down one time too many, still swinging my arms, and the mat split right under me. I fell forward, and my arm came down right on the steel frame of the trampoline, dislocating my wrist and breaking my arm in two places.

    Never in my life have I felt such blinding pain. I saw stars when I hit the ground, and I can still remember screaming, lying there on the ground, then running in the house.

    After my mom got me to the ER and I was all fixed up (having your dislocated wrist pulled back into joint is NOT something you want to have to endure, trust me) and had my cast, my mom asked me if it was worth it. I answered, emphatically, “NO!”

    “Are you going to listen to your father and me next time we tell you something?”


    Did I always listen after that? No, but I did at least pause and give their words of wisdom some consideration first.

  43. When I was about 12, I was riding my bike around my grandmother’s small little burg in Ohio while my mom and dad visited my aunt and uncle (same burg). I decided I was going to stop at Dairy Queen and get an ice cream cone, which for some reason I believed I could eat while riding my bike.
    Well, of course you can’t do that and I ended up crashing my bike. It was a pretty bad crash. The bike fell on top of me, and as I pushing it back off, I realized the back tire’s screw was in my knee. Like, really IN there. I had about a block to go before I was back at my aunt and uncle’s house, so I pushed the bike, completely pissed off that blood was pouring down my leg and onto my brand new white sneakers.
    I yelled for my mom once I got to the house and she promptly drove me to the emergency room where I received six stitches. She was scared because there was a lot of blood, but she didn’t feel the least bit guilty about letting me ride my bike unaccompanied. I, of course, did not tell her the real reason I fell because I knew she’d say something to the effect of, “Well, of course you were going to crash, you dummy!”
    After my leg healed, I went back to riding around the neighborhood unaccompanied. I’ve suffered many falls since then (no emergency room visits required, thankfully), but I’ve learned to not steer a bike while attempting to eat an ice cream cone.

  44. My son discovered that he could conquer his fear of the unknown two summers ago at age 10. We had spent a weekend with my husband, who was on a business trip in a city about 2.5 hours north of where I live. My son and I drove back on a Sunday night. On the way home I dropped my son off at his friend’s father’s house, where he was going to spend the night. Before I left, I asked him if he wanted to take the train back by himself or if he wanted me to come and pick him up. Since he had never gone on the train by himself (he had been on the train many times with my husband and me), he wanted me to pick him up the next morning. He seemed afraid of the idea of taking the train on his own, even when his friend said that he had been doing it for the past year. The friend’s father and I agreed on a time for me to come and I drove home.

    When I got home, I felt sick but attributed it to the heat and long drive home. The next morning I woke up with a full-force flu bug. There was no way that I’d be able to drive 35-40 km to get my son and then drive back home. I could manage the 1 km drive to the train station (I would have had him walk home from the station, but he had to eat lunch and then go right to soccer camp on base). I called my son and told him that he would have to take the train home. His friend’s father could help him buy a ticket and put him on the right train. After a few, “Can’t you come and get mes,” my son realized that he’d have to take the train. I told him that it was a 25-minute ride and that he wouldn’t have to change trains. I also let him know that I would be at the platform waiting for him.

    When my son got off the train, he was all smiles. The very first thing he said to me was, “That was fun! I want to take the train by myself again.” He was very proud of himself for conquering his fear. He is now very experienced at taking the train or bus to visit friends in neighboring towns.

  45. These shoplifting stories remind me of my own shoplifting tale.

    At the age of 14 my dad had moved us across the country and disappeared. I was angry and frustrated and scared. Happy the abuse wasn’t happening anymore, but very worried he would reappear one day and it would all happen again. So, naturally, I acted out in a number of ways.

    I had a vest that you could zip sleeves on, though I never did even in the dead of winter. I had carefully ripped the seam just on the inside back of the pocket so I could slip whatever I was stealing into and have it sitting in the back of my vest. I was fairly successful at this as long as I was careful not to choose noisy or bulky items.

    One day I decided to try to rip-off a 7-11. Even then they were known to be extra vigilant. I was 14 and cocky and knew I could get away with it. I didn’t.

    The hardest part for me to deal with when I got caught was how disappointed and sad everyone was; the clerk, the cops, the customers who were there at the time. That was even more humiliating than the handcuffs.

    When I was processed and waiting for them to call my mom (and I was *not* looking forward to that conversation). Every cop seemed to make a point of walking past me and shaking their heads and making tsk sounds or commenting about what a shame it was.

    Finally, the officer got off the phone with my mom and looked at me and said, “It looks like you’ll have to spend a night in the cell. She said to let you stew on it.” I was stunned. I numbly followed the officer to the cell. When the door slid and slammed shut it was the scariest sound I had ever heard.

    A few hours later two cops dragged in this blond haired giant. To my 14 year old eyes he looked like he was 7′ tall. He had to turn sideways to get through the cell door. He sat on the bench across from the bed and stared at me.

    Throughout the night, whenever I opened my eyes or looked in his direction he was staring at me. I have had some bad nights since then, in some of them much worse in their own way, but that night stands out in my memory above them all.

    In the morning my mom picked me up and took me home and refused to discuss it. Her sadness and disappointment were worse than any argument or lecture she could have given me.

    I have never stolen a single thing since.

    Some time later, I’m not sure how long, I was at the grocery store across the street from the police station. A cop car drove up and parked on the curb and a cop got out to talk to someone. It was the man who sat in the cell with me all night.

    I owe a large part of my not getting in some real serious trouble later on to my mom who had the strength to let me stew, the clerk and customers who treated me the way they did, and the cops who went out of their way to “scare straight” a troubled teenager. I never did find out that officer’s name, but I thank God for him and his willingness to spend 14 hours (probably unpaid and away from his family) to straighten up one young man.

  46. I have a better one too.

    It was a winter morning in New Hampshire. Over a foot of snow had fallen overnight, and my brother and I, probably ages 6 and 7 respectively, went outside to build a snowman. We rolled three magnificent snowballs. But they were too heavy for us to lift.

    My mother absolutely refused to come outside and help us stack the snowballs into a proper snowperson. So there we were, stuck, with three beautiful big snowballs side by side on the ground.

    Finally, we pushed them together and made… a sea serpent. We gave it a head with a smiling face, and we made seats between the lumps for us to sit on. We even made a little seat for our baby sister.

    Thus began a long tradition of making snow monsters and dinosaurs. As we got older, we honed our skills and the monsters got bigger and bigger. The last one was a snow stegosaurus that I made when I was 15. It was breathtakingly perfect – I still gasp when I see old photos of it.

    I don’t think I ever made a stereotypical snowman for my entire childhood. (I’ve made two since adulthood.)

  47. I don’t have a shoplifting story. I was a good girl. I actually was made fun of by other girls because I would not shoplift Gap clothes like they did. Then they would make fun of my Kmart clothes. Sigh.

  48. In 6th grade I had clearly out grown my first bike, although I still used it to bike everywhere. For my birthday that year my parents got me a very nice Raleigh 12 speed bike and I thought I was the bees knees. It was new and red and beautiful and fast and finally didn’t feel like a little kid while riding my bike. My parents also gave me a new lock and told me always lock it up no matter where I left it.

    I rode it every day to school and back for several months. Then one day I was walking it home with a friend from school. We were walking by the mall and he wanted to grab something at the record store. We lived in a nice suburban area and the mall was pretty upscale. He was ahead of me and I didn’t want to fiddle with the lock so I just parked it at the rack. I’d only be gone a couple minutes right?

    Well, it was only a couple minutes, but that is plenty of time for someone to ride off on a beautiful, red, fast bike. I was in absolute shock. I still remember the walk home with my friend trying to cheer me up. It didn’t work, I know I had to tell my parents and knew they would be mad as hell.

    They weren’t mad at all once they saw how upset I was, fighting back tears to tell them. Part of me was upset at losing my bike and part of me was upset at letting them down. I was sad, mad confused, and without a decent bike. One thing my mom said stuck with me forever. She said, “She how bad it feels when someone takes something that isn’t yours?” After I nodded, she added, “Think about that if you ever think of taking something that doesn’t belong to you.” Needless to say I’ve never stolen a thing in my life. I will never make someone feel the way I felt that day.

    So I had to ride my crappy small bike to school until I saved enough to by one on my own. It was blue and old with some rust and most certainly it was not fast. But I locked that damn crappy bike up every time I left it for a second.

  49. My parents were pretty good at letting us fail as a learning tool. e.g. I frequently burned and cut myself, but I know to to cut firewood and build a fire like a champ now. Here’s one example:

    When I was an adolescent, several families took a camping vacation to Disney World. I had a limited budget to spend on junk. I blew through my money the first day. My parents gave me no additional cash for the rest of the week. All the other parents gave them a hard time about how cruel that was but they wouldn’t relent and wouldn’t let anyone else give me a “loan”…. Then years later, one of those parents told my parents that their own kids, now adults themselves, had no concept of how to deal with money, while I fully understand how to use it as a tool. They went on to say they always remembered how very mean my parents had been on that trip, and in retrospect, how very wise that was.

  50. This one came to me because I told the story of it to my parents and their friends recently over dinner at my parent’s yacht club.

    Yes, my parents are yacht club members, and I and everyone I knew, grew up boating. When I was 9 or so my parents were at the club having cocktails with friends of theirs and we kids (who couldn’t have cocktails and were bored by talking with adults) were off playing together on our various docked boats. Well, we decided to decamp from one boat we were on. The eldest boy got off no problem. Next it was my turn to climb from the boat (which was low in the water) onto the dock. Well the second boy, who was developmentally disabled (yes, that’s right, three children under the age of 10 and one developmentally disabled left to play on boating equipment by themselves…the only fear our parents have was that we might take off in one of them and hoof it over to Canada without permission), decided against his years of training living on and about boats, that he would get off at the same time I did. The result was that he though better of it at the last second, causing the boat to rock and me to fall down in between the boat and the dock.

    Now, there was no chance of me drowning, we’d all been swimmers since the age of 3, but I was soaked to the gills in the nice dress my mom had put me in for the equally nice yacht club dinner we’d be having with their friends later in the evening. After helping to pull me from the drink the boys helped me sneak (sodden and sobbing) into the ladies room on the 2nd floor of the club. I spent the next hour in there drying my clothes with hand towels and washing out as much of the muck as possible. The elder boy kept checking on me to see if I was okay.

    Then we went down to dinner. We had dinner with a number of sophisticated adults. We all went home. And no one found out what happened until 20+ years later. What did I learn? You can clean up your own messes and no one will ever be the wiser.

  51. Incidentally, Lenore… is “tails” for “tales” a typo, or is it supposed to be that way?

    (And no comments, guys. I try to hold it in, and I try, and I *try* but sometimes it’s like an itch and I have to say it. I blame my mother. I really, truly, blame my mother. Do you know I only learned how to type so my mother would stop “fixing” what I needed typed up for school?)

  52. its alright uly; we understand how some cant not ignore grammatical and word usage errors?

    /me goes off to hide in anticpation of Uly’s head exploding from all the problems in that sentence. :]

    I have a friend who deliberately says ‘disirregardless’ just to watch me squirm.😀

  53. My two girls begged me to do swimming lessons at the start of the year. We live in Australia and enjoy going to the pool and beach so it is a sensible idea. My oldest had done lessons before and was ready to move up to the next level, where they actually start to do correct strokes etc. She is an intelligent kid and most things she does come easily to her.
    By the end of the first lesson though, she had realised that this was harder and she couldn’t just do it straight away. She was in tears. She announced she wasn’t doing it any more. This was the first time that she had “failed” at something.
    I gently explained that I had payed alot of money to do the lessons and that she would be able to stop at the end of the term.
    We talked about what she could do to improve and how she could talk to her instructor.
    The following 4 weeks she continued to do badly and cry at the end of the lesson because she was “failing”.
    It broke my heart to see her struggling so much but I knew that it was important for her to develop perseverence and to understand that it’s important to follow through on commitments
    It took 8 weeks before she started to get the hang of things. The last 2 weeks before the end of term she finally got the hang of things.
    Now she is a lot more confident in her swimming. It would have been easy to let her give up after her initial failure but she is pleased I made her keep going.

  54. My daughter Zoey is 21 months old and people always marvel at how laid back we are with her for first time parents.

    Before she could ever crawl, she started to pull herself up and climb everything in sight. She was about six months old. After two days of trying to stop her from climbing, I realized it would be easier to just teach her how to get down safely. We taught her the phrase “tushie first” and, with frequent reminders, she quickly learned how to get down safely (and what happens when she doesn’t).

    Now, over a year later, she runs fearlessly to the top of the playground equipment. She is shy with people, but when she’s somewhere with something to climb, she forgets all that and takes off on her own without a look back in my direction. It makes me proud to see how confident she is, even at this age.

    She’s very small for age and, I love to hear other parents laugh at this tiny little girl pushing her way to the top with kids twice her size.

  55. Lyndsay: That reminds me of my friend’s littlest girl. She is 2 and so so tiny and she is fearless. It is the cutest thing to watch her climbing up big things with the big kids. I do have to say though it may be more her personality that how you raised her. The reason I say this is this little girl has twin sibilings a bit older than her and they are not nearly as brave as she is. One is actually very timid and gets nervous easily. So you know, nature and nuture both play a part.

  56. Uly, you’re fine as far as I’m concerned. When someone nicely asks or light-heartedly quips at a play on words created by a minor error, I’m right there.

    It’s only the people who say things like “your inability to spell correctly shows you are far too uneducated to discuss this subject” that I give the mental razzberries to. And anyone who apologizes as much as you do when remarking on spelling/punctuation/whatever clearly isn’t doing it to be mean-spirited.🙂

    Of course, you won’t see this until you come out of your Alan-induced coma…. 😉

  57. I’d like to extend the conversation to teens. When my 2 were teens they had to get up for school with alarm clocks alone: you ignore it, you pay the consequences. they chose when and where to do their homework (listening to music was always involved..which I couldn’t do as a teen). Unfinished homework: school gives consequences, not mom. they decided how late to stay out and quickly learned how to manage their sleep, play, and homework priorities…I ask you to consider what happens to the sheltered child who is always told what to do at home when they suddenly find themselves on their own at college. Many of my kids’ friends went wild with their new freedom and failed out. I am proud to say that my now 2 adults have great careers after higher education and they are delightful parents themselves who are of course raising curiosity filled and quite capable kindergartners

  58. I used to ride my bike ALL OVER the place. One time, I rode my bike onto a school playground, and clotheslined myself and my bike on the chain that was blocking off the driveway. It really hurt. It scraped up my bike that my mother and stepdad had repainted and fixed up for me. I cried and I was angry with myself.

    But I believe I’m a better driver for it. I look for the smaller, out-of-place things and I don’t assume that just because that driveway has always been open, it always will be open.

  59. The one and only time a girlfriend and I hitch-hiked home after dark (yes, the streetlights had long ago come on), dressed admittedly provocatively, we got picked up — wait for it — by a CITY BUS.

    The driver didn’t charge us. He didn’t want to see us get picked up by someone “disrespectful” (his word). This was, oh, 1979.

    The bus was full. It was so embarrassing neither of us ever tried to thumb a ride again.

  60. Lenore – What a terrific question. Thanks for asking it. It’s not only a joy to read all of these, but inspirational as well. You do a terrific job providing a venue for people to share and for all of us to get a much truer sense of reality – a bit diff. than what media might portray. Thanks.

  61. When I was between 5th and 6th grade we made the determination to move me to a private school. We were told that, due to the rigorous academics, they recommended that entering students be held back a grade or they may fail. My parents asks and I said no, I wanted to go in as 6th grade. The 1st quarter I got a C and the rest B’s, my worst report card ever and i’d worked hard to get them. Well, I knuckled down and next report card was back to all A’s (and remained that way excepting a B in physics junior year in high school). I know it’s not ‘failure’ in the traditional sense, but my parents trusted me to exceed even after a set back, on my own, there was no tutors or frantic calls to the school or calls for extra study or help. They trusted me to do my best and, after the brief stumble, I worked my way back to the head of the class and stayed there.

  62. in first grade, I missed the bus to go home. railroad tracks ran through town, about a mile south of the school- I knew these tracks ran by my house 6 miles away. I just walked to the tracks and followed them home. My family was frantically looking for me (along with a few friends and cops), but I made it home fine. Mom was very much free range and laughed about our exploits…

  63. I was pretty careful as a kid. Due to my skin condition, accidents were extra painful and took months to heal.

    My sister
    Knocked out a tooth running into a mailbox
    Broke her arm after her best friend accidentally pushed her out of a tree.

    The biggest was the time she fell off the high dive over the concrete. The safety rail stopped just before the concrete ended. She was distracted for a second and stepped wrong. She fell off, but managed to grab the frame and stop her fall.

    The 1st lifeguard blew her whistle and yelled at sis to stop fooling around. The head lifeguard, William, came running out of the club house. William stopped a couple of the Dads from climbing up to pull her up.

    Had they climbed up, their weight on the board would have crushed her arms and hands. I’ll never forget William standing under her telling her were to put her feet so she could stand on the frame and pull herself up. Mom arrived in the middle of this.

    Once SIs was back on top of the board, William climbed up and checked her out. Since she was unhurt, Mom and William made her jump off the board like 10 times.

    Mom regretted not making her get back on the horse the time she was thrown, but the teacher was afraid sis’s collar bone might be broken – and sis had a history of going almost a week with broken bones untreated because of a high pain tolerance.

    Same pool – I dove off the low dive and was swimming to the toddler steps on the other end of the pool under water. The same lifeguard, who had yelled at sis for falling off the high dive, accidentally dumped an entire bucket of chlorine in the pool.

    They blew the whistle to evacuate the pool, but I couldn’t hear them underwater. The guards on duty just stood there whistling and yelling. So sis jumped in and pulled me up yelling at me to get out. William came running from the club house. When we got to the edge – he hauled us out and carried both of us to the locker room.

    He kicked the swinging locker room door open, yelled emergency male lifeguard in locker room. He tossed both of us in the shower and turned it on full blast, washing our eyes out first. First me then sis because she had pulled her goggles on, when she jumped in.

    He had one of the other girls go get our bags and left so we could change. While we were changing he called mom to see if I needed to go to the ER. Actually my skin cleared up for several weeks after this.

    He was finally allowed to fire both lifeguards who had been on duty but not doing their jobs. He was furious that a 6 yo had enough courage to jump in to get me out – and two adults were trying to blame me for not responding to the whistle.

    Part of his argument was they were blaming sis and I for the accidents and according to him we were two of the best behaved kids at the pool

    The whole swimming the length of the pool underwater was known to the staff. William made the point of introducing me to new lifeguards because more than once a good guard had jumped in looking for me in the deep end not realizing I had surfaced in the shallow end..

  64. My story is on my blog. It’s about Take Our Kids tot h Park and Leave them there day. Check it out:

  65. My Epic Fail:

    In high school, I failed calculus my senior year. It was mainly due to the fact that I fell behind early and just gave up when it got too hard to catch up. My parents knew I was failing because progress reports told them so. My mom negotiated extra help sessions after school for me, but I stopped going after a while. So my parents let me take the F I’d earned and I wasn’t allowed to graduate with my class. Because I had been primarily an honor student except for that one class, I was allowed to attend the ceremony and walk the stage, but my diploma folder would be empty. I didn’t want to go, but my parents made me, and it was deeply humiliating to have to stad there knowing I had blown it. What’s more, I had to make up the course at summer school and I had to pay for it myself. My parents said they had paid four years of Catholic school tuition, and didn’t feel obligated to pay for any more. I hadto find a course that would fulfill my requirement, enroll myself, and get myself to and from the class. And it couldn’t interfere with my summer job. So, I worked during the day, went to my class at a local community college at night, and got myself home on the train every night since I didn’t have a car. It was a tough summer, but it was my first taste of real adult consequnces for screwing up. I got an A in the class, and when I got my high school diploma in the mail in August, my parents threw me a huge graduation party. My dad told me later that he was proud of me, because I had screwed up, but I worked hard to make it up.

    Nowadays, kids’ parents would be complaining to the principal and school board so their kids will pass. My parents just let me fail and reap what I sowed. I took a page from them, and sometimes make my daughter go to school and face the teacher if she doesn’t finish her homework, because I want her to learn that she’s responsible for her own success or failure.

  66. When I was growing up, my mom was very anti-free range. She never let me out of her sight, except when I was hanging out at my friends’ houses. She felt the overbearing need to know EVERYTHING about my life – where I was, who I was with, what we were doing, where I was planning to go next, what I’d eaten for lunch, etc. It was extremely stifling.

    The one thing she did not know, though, was just how free range my friends’ parents were. One friend lived in what I now realize was a very shady neighborhood, but her parents let us walk down to the city park by ourselves and play all afternoon without supervision, starting around age 7 or 8. They figured we would have enough sense not to talk to strangers we got a bad vibe from, and to ask other moms for help if one of us got hurt. Imagine, nothing bad ever happened to us, and this was in the late 90s, not the 1970s.

    One time when I was 11 or 12 I was with a different friend, whose parents also let us wander through the neighborhood and the woods behind it unsupervised. We were told to come back by sundown, but we decided to stay out later because the woods “looked cool” at night. We rode our bikes down the paths through the woods and laughed at how grown we were.

    Then a group of teenagers, all of them probably around age 15-16, caught sight of us and decided to give us a scare. They started yelling and screaming about how they were going to “get us” and chased after us on their bikes. I’ve never pedaled a bike so fast in my life! We were so scared witless, but we made it back to the house in one piece, and I think my friend’s parents must’ve seen the looks on our faces and known that we learned our lesson about being out too late because they didn’t even say anything to us about it.

    Through the loose reign of my friends’ parents, I learned a lot about self-sufficiency and independence. My mom was really good at giving me free reign when it came to school, and she did let me bomb more than one project or test to teach me a lesson about prioritizing and doing the hard work for the grade. But she just never learned how to let go in more practical, real-life ways. I’m still thankful for the adults in my life who let me and my friends play in the park, ride my bike through the woods, and walk down to the local shopping center unsupervised. I learned how to cross a street, order my own food, and ride a city bus thanks to them!

  67. I left my english homework in my homeroom teacher’s class in a backpack hanging on my hook. After realizing my error post-bell, I asked my english teacher if I could just go run back and get it. To my shock she said, “I’m sorry, no, you will receive a zero.”

    I was a star student, the teachers’ pet, how could she not allow me to go retrieve my homework I left in the adjacent room. I cried.

    When I returned to homeroom, I told my teacher of my tragedy and how unfair it was. My teacher listened to my rattled story of abuse and after I finished she leaned down close to me. She said with full eye-contact, “I’m so sorry, but next time don’t forget your homework.”

    My mind spun. How could my homeroom teacher, the one I loved, the one who I brought pictures to, the one I looked up to, not right this injustice. Clearly the school was out to get me and I was going to tell my mother all about it. Giving their star student a zero for a simple mistake, ridiculous.

    When my mother finally got home I told her the tale complete with wild hand motions. Now, had this been 2011, my mother would have swiftly got on the phone at my command and demanded a parent/teacher/principal conference at this insanity. My ego was hurt and needed a hug. How could leaving my homework in my backpack be MY fault.

    Unfortunately for 10 year old me, this was 1989. My mother listened to my story with intent and after I finished she reiterated the word’s of my homeroom teacher. “Well, I bet you’ll never do that again. Let’s hope you can make up that zero with straight 100s for the rest of the year,” she uttered as she stood up from the dining room table.

    My mouth was on the floor. No one wanted to hear my sob story, no one wanted to scream ‘this is totally unfair!’, no one was concerned that I might not get into college because of this one zero.

    Defeated I went to my bedroom and sat on my bed. After sulking a good while, I grabbed an extra folder I had on my shelf. With a big marker I labelled it “Homework”.

    I decided the best thing for me to do was to put ALL my homework, regardless of the class into this one folder and I would carry it around with me at all times. This way, I would never accidentally leave it in my backpack or my cubby and I would make sure I had it before leaving the house each morning. Who knew a 10 year old could come up with a solution to their own problem.

  68. Gotta say, this is fantastic. Tons of failure and hard learned lessons, and look, we’re all still alive. It’s inspiring🙂 I had the best “Free Range” mother ever. Raised me by herself, she did! And she WANTED me to fail at things. She said “You only ever learn ONE thing from success, but the number of things you learn from failure? Immesurable.”

    One of my earliest lessons was in pride, and how it can blind you. Mom wanted to teach me to ride a bike, and I was an ecstatic 5 year old. I dropped the training wheels in minutes (literally), and I was just so proud of myself. So was Mom. She said, “Go ride around for a bit and practice while I get the camcorder.” My grandfather lived right across the street, and I wanted to show off a bit. I was riding around, not looking where I was going, yelling for my Grandfather to “Come look! Come see what I’M doing, I’M a big girl now!” and somewhere between yelling and rubbernecking, I rode my bike right off the edge of a set of concrete steps about a story tall. No child sized helmet could have saved my head at that point. The last thing I remember from that experience was walking back home with my demolished bike, blood running down my face so fast and hard I could barely see, and my mother screaming her head off as she walked outside with the camcorder. I was crying like crazy, not because it hurt, but because my bike was wrecked! I learned (after coming to in the hospital) that no matter how proud of yourself you are, and how well you’re doing, you still need to look where you’re going; Sometimes, life throws stairs at you, haha!!

    The hardest lesson, though, wasn’t really a failure on my part, but it truly felt like one to me. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was pretty young (about 14 or so, still “childhood” age). She fought tooth-and-nail for 2 years before there was nothing left to fight for. When she died, I felt like the greatest failure in the world. I felt like “If only I had ____” she’d still be here. I finished school, graduated, fell in love, got married, and started a family, all on my own. It took me years to learn “You can’t win in every thing, every time. But you’ve got to keep going; Life goes on.” Mom still has a lot to teach me in raising my own children, but that was the last hard life-lesson I learned from my “Free Range” mother.

  69. I used to roam the woods a lot as a teenager. I don’t think my mom knew I was out there, or if she did, how far I ranged. (I am sure I never disclosed how far I was actually going. Probably told her I was walking in town.)

    Anyway, I learned those woods by slowly expanding my territory. There were deer trails but no signage. I never saw another human out there. I had no compass or maps or supplies or walkie-talkies.

    And once I got really lost.

    I had gotten too far out of my comfort zone and didn’t know how to get back to town. I panicked for a few seconds, then sat down…. and listened.

    In the distance, I could just make out the sound of occasional car traffic. So I hiked toward the sound of the traffic and stumbled out onto a familiar country highway, the one that led straight back to my house. Whew!

    Lesson I learned there: sometimes when you don’t know what to do, just stand still and listen for a minute.

  70. It is one of my earliest memories, or rather, one of those memories that stand out clear from the muddle of intervening years…

    I must’ve been about six or so. I had a black knitted purse with eleven cents in it, and was allowed, for the first time, to walk alll the way (about 300 yards) to the drugstore to purchase a sweet all of my own with it. I loved ‘black and white licorice powder’, a sweet and salty concoction, the memory of which still makes me drool.

    Arriving safely at the drugstore (and nobody would imagine that something might happen along the way, back in the sixties, early seventies) and clearly stating my desire, I was told that my longed for sweet would cost me a dime.
    I thought, “I don’t have a dime, I only have eleven cents”, and returned home. It was only when I had returned that I realised that a dime was ten cents, and that I not only had enough for my sweet, but that I had MORE than a dime, as eleven is more than ten!

    I can’t remember what happened next, allthough I think I probably walked back to the store and bought me my sweet, but I do remember the ‘lightning bolt’ or realisation and the embarressment of not realising sooner that ten loose copper cents is the same as one silver dime.

    I also remembered being annoyed having to walk all the way back again, of course.

    I grew two inches (or at least, that’s what it felt like) by that sudden revelation. I grew from a pre-schooler into a reasoning child who understood that something that looks smaller and ‘less’ can represent more. I had entered the world of abstracts.

    Two inches? Ten!

  71. As a kid, I was told I could do anything. I went to college expecting to study hard, get grades and graduate. What I found at the big campus was curve grading, the inability to ask for help and poor grades. After my first F, I could not decide on a major and dropped out at almost 80 hours completed.

    I got married and started my family. This was the best choice for me. I do not have the skills to maintain family and career….I cannot do it all.

    Now my family is older, I know what the best career for me is and I have returned to college. At age 40, I ask for help and rely on others. I have successfully completed with straight A’s. All that young teen needed was to fail and move on.

  72. Rather than childhood fails, how about stories of a child’s success in the face of a parent’s momentary failure?

    When I was about 10 years old, my parents inexplicably decided not to drive me to a previously-scheduled event. I can’t remember the reason, but they just cancelled without consulting me. I didn’t think that was fair, so I decided to go alone, and I walked all twelve miles to get there. The incident became one of the defining moments of my childhood in which both my parents and I learned a great deal about capabilities nobody knew I had.

  73. I suppose one example, not very freerange, but about apparently failing, is from when I entered one of the many singing competitions I went for as a kid. I must have been 12 or 13; there weren’t too many entrants in this particular class, but I lost it a bit near the start of one song, and had to start again.

    But I still won the prize.

    Ever since, I’ve always remembered this if I’m worried about ‘stumbling’ in some way, either on stage or in something like a job interview. You *can* recover from these things, in fact you can really make an impression if you make a confident and gracious recovery. Indeed, I’ve seen great musicians do this at concerts, and they just take it in their stride – it never lessens anyone’s respect for them.

  74. I grew up on a country road where drivers usually go about 60-65, although there isn’t much traffic. The one bit of free-range parenting my mother did was to let me ride my bike back and forth in front of our property (a city block long) on the shoulder of the road (with a helmet) facing into traffic. Coming back from the far end of my route when I was 8, I got hit by a car and was thrown into a 6 foot ditch. The driver didn’t even slow down, let alone stop. My neighbor came running out to see if I was all right, and I was just fine but my bike’s tire was ruined so I was having trouble wheeling it out of the ditch. He carried it back to my house for me. I’d also skinned a knee.

    The next weekend I got a new bike tire and was back out there riding with extra reflectors. I learned that even though something bad happens, the only thing to do is to keep doing all the right things, because life is full of surprises.

  75. Scraped, bloodied, falling off trees, crashing after makeshift jump for bikes, getting beatnup by my older brothers.burning my fingers on fireworks, getting chased by angry hornets after throwing rocks at the nest,stitches,stitches and. More stitches, angering motorist and getting chased through the wood after throwing a snowball at moving vehicles, sneaking into rail yards, sneaking into houses under constuction,stealing stuff, smoking pot, hitchhiking across the USA, challenging authority, stealing pumpkins fro the field and getting hell for it, swimming in swamps in the middle of the night, my first sexual experience, totaling my parents car multiple times, getting chased by the cops, piercing thumb to become blood brothers, hanging out in then woods to drink beer, fighting. BECOMING A MAN.
    Juryriggin stuff, playing with fire, teasing girls, sneaking out at night, lying to get out trouble, looking at dirty magazines, breaking into houses, shooting stuff with pellet guns, throwing eggs at cars, kissing girls, fishing, thumbing all over Europe, sleeping under a bridge, getting soaked in the rain, shitting in the woods, outwitting the teachers, outwitting my parents, growing wise, older but not too soon.

  76. When I was in about 5th grade, I auditioned along with my two sisters for a community theater production of “The King and I”. I practiced and practiced and practiced for that audition. I sang and sang and sang, and was sure I would make it, along with my other two sisters who were equally talented. On the day of the audition however, I got nervous and was thrown off easily when the accompanist started my song in a way that seemed unfamiliar to me. Instead of bucking up, smiling and continuing on with the song that I KNEW by heart, I dissolved into a mess of tears. I was a disaster on stage. I couldn’t recover, and of course I did not make the cast.

    My older and younger sister got cast however. I was heart broken, but my parents did not let me rain on my sisters’ parade. As the theater was many miles from home, we all had to go together to rehearsals. I dutifully went to many rehearsals with my sisters and sat longingly in the audience doing my homework while they got to be the princesses of Siam.

    My parents didn’t make a big deal about how I flubbed the audition, but it was clear to me when my 2nd grade sister shone through that I should have just pushed on through with a smile on my face. I kind of wish I had, and yet I see that I learned a lot by just failing. Life is hard. Sometimes you don’t make the cut. And it’s okay.

  77. I wanted to tell you about a series of books I just read and thought you might love, related to this topic.
    Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet) is the first book in the series. The four children spend a Saturday each out and about in London alone and their associated adventures. The youngest is not supposed to go alone and thus his adventure is full of mistakes that teach. Great books for young people. Must read for even parents, great lessons for free range.

  78. LOL, Wendy, I love that chapter. He asks directions from every police officer he meets on how to get to the circus. And the one asks “Where are your folks” and he goes “At home”, and the second goes “Are you out here alone?” and he goes “Yes.” and the third asks the big question – “Aren’t you too small to be out here by yourself?” “No, I don’t think so.”

  79. I lived in the Canadian arctic as a child, and you couldn’t ask for a more free-range existence. In the arctic in the 80’s, phone service was sketchy and expensive.

    One night after supper, I was out playing. I’d been gone for a while, and my mom was talking to her sister (in southern Canada) on the phone. All of a sudden there was a loud knock at the door. My mom went to check who it was, and it was some of my friends.

    “Karen’s stuck in a snowbank across town,” they said. “She wants you to bring the snowmobile and come get her.”

    My mom looked at them incredulously. “I’m on the phone,” she told them, “LONG-DISTANCE! Tell her to get herself out.”

    I was 4. And apparently I was a bit miffed that I did not get a handy ride home. But with the help of the other kids (in our community pretty much all the kids hung out together) I did manage to dig myself out of the snowbank, and I did manage to walk home, in time for my mom to tell her sister, “Oh here she is. She’s just turned up.”

  80. I sent my children off to school on the public bus for the first time on their own. I went as far as the exchange with them to be sure I could point out the stops they needed for getting to the school and the stop to come home when they needed to change busses. Since we’d gone several times together, I felt my 8 and 10yo could manage it on their own.

    They showed up home, late, tears streaking their cheeks because they got on the wrong bus coming home and had to get help to find the right bus half way across town. They had forgotten the simple lesson I showed them that most major busses travel the same route back and forth, so they could simply cross the street and catch one going back to the exchange….which incidently was the correct one to come home. They also forgot to talk to the driver. They are so helpful, he likely would have suggested they stay on the bus and ride with him back as he returned.

    They were perfectly safe on transit and got home just fine. They also learned to listen to directions from me a bit closer and pay attention to the bus signs better.😉

  81. When I was young my parents enrolled me in piano lessons. It was expected. I was lousy – I would never practice, except for a half an hour the day of the lesson.

    One day the teacher, who lived across the street, gave me “in the hall of the Mountain king” to work on, figuring it would keep me busy for at least the next 6 to 8 weeks. I loved the piece and practiced all week, and came back the next week having learned it. My teacher was flabbergasted.

    So I learned that I could learn music if I thought it worthwhile.

    Of course, I didn’t go back and become a piano virtuoso – I was still lousy, but I learned two things: that most teenage boys don’t necessarily get much help with 1. Classical Music can be very fun, and 2. if you never practice, at least you get better at Sight Reading.


  82. A childhood failure? That’s where the fuzzy purple elephant came from! My 3rd grade teacher (who had a tendency to be a little rigid in her expectations and rules but also had, at her core, some pretty good instincts about kids) had us all making needlepoint pillows. She tried to teach us how to make small, careful stitches and not pull too tight or leave the stitches too loose. I had a vision of creating a purple elephant, so despite Mrs. Barnes’s admonition to use more than one color, lest I get bored and make too-large stitches, I stubbornly adhered to my vision. She was right; I got bored, stitched too big and pulled too tight. I ended up with a puckery needlepoint that wasn’t going to make a very nice pillow, at all. Mrs. Barnes’s tsk-tsked a couple of times, but then looked me in the eye and said, “well, kid — what are we going to do about this?” I felt like she was honestly engaging me in figuring out a solution and I went from feeling like a miserable disappointment to a problem-solving partner. I asked “can we cut the stitches down the middle so it will look like a fuzzy purple-striped elephant. Mrs. B closed one eye, looked it over, nodded her head and said “I think we can make that work. We’ll have to be really careful not to lose the threads, so lets do it right before we sew it on the pillow back. I’ll help you. In the meantime, go sew the rest of your details (I had planned a few flowers at the elephant’s feet) and then let me know when it’s done.” As I walked back to my desk, she said, “and keep your stitches small and not too tight on those flowers, huh?” I nodded — and did them just right. We still have that pillow, and no one can tell he wasn’t a planned fuzzy purple elephant from day one.

  83. I thought I was ready for having babies. You know, emotionally ready. Really ready. I wasn’t 16, I was twice that age. And sex didn’t work, so we adopted a child. Let me tell you, adopting a child is not something that you do on impulse one night in the back of a car because you’re drunk and it feels good. It’s like getting a master’s degree while undergoing Freudian analysis. And it’s just as expensive, too.

    Anyway, so the baby comes. (Well, actually, we go and get him.) And nothing, let me tell you NOTHING could have prepared me, really, for what was to come. Was I emotionally ready for caring for that six-month-old infant? Hell no! I had all the stuff, I had read all the books, but when it came down to it, I was a mess, and he paid the price.

    He’s ten, so he’s survived me pretty well so far, and I have more kids now. I did a little better with those, i think, because there is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE.

    Let me say that again: there just isn’t a substitute for experience. So even if you think you are ready, even if you have read all the books, even if you have talked to your friends, researched things on the internet, watched through a keyhole and thought you were an expert, you don’t know sh•t until you’ve done it yourself.

    That’s the real piss-off of the human experience. I wanted to skip over that messy principle of learning through experience, I wanted to skip a lot of “stupid” things I saw my buddies doing when I was in high school and college. I wasn’t attracted to losing consciousness or vomiting or having flu-like symptoms, so I just “skipped over” drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or doing drugs. In fact, I hardly ever drank at all. I guess because I didn’t want it, I didn’t have to go there. With sex, though, well, that was different!

    I thought I knew everything about marriage because I’d watched everyone else’s “mistakes,” and oh boy, I was going to get that one right for sure. Well, my marriage lasted 13 years and then it was done. I guess I didn’t really know how to pick a partner when I was 22. But I didn’t do anything that legions of other human beings haven’t done, which is to make your best guess and LIVE.

    Okay, calm down, I know there are serious consequences to things like drunk driving and doing hard drugs, and the laws are designed to save us from ourselves. Wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle, the law says. Buckle your seat belt. You’re going to cost society too much if you end up with a head injury or killing someone. Laws against teen sex are attempting the same thing: to save us from ourselves, to save society from the fallout and grief of kids having kids of their own to raise.

    What some have failed to mention about the human evolutionary programming stuff, though, is the context in which human society and biology evolved. In a tribe, if a 14-or-15-year-old bears an infant, she’s not on her own raising it. I’m not saying that the daddy hung around. In fact, the male is a minor player; he’s out hunting for meat, and the ladies are huddled together, babies strapped on backs, lots of support and community, interdependence and shared experience.

    Does it seem so utterly bizarre that a cat gets pregnant and has kittens when it becomes sexually mature? Not really. Do we exclaim about how wrong it is, imagine that it would have been better if the cat had waited to have sex until it was prepared for the consequences? For heaven’s sake, we humans used to procreate when we reached sexual maturity too—because we could, because it was easier on our bodies, and because we had a pretty great support system in which to raise up those new humans.

    Our current society, while perhaps more “civilized,” seems utterly counter-indicated by our biology and basic human needs. Even though I waited until I was 32 and married to start “having” kids, the isolation of the middle-class, North American way of life, raising kids in the 21st century, nearly killed me. What about community, interdependence, support, empathy, shared reality, connection? Nah, you’re supposed to make it all happen by yourself in your 3-bed, 2-bath rancher, with your husband. Bah.

    My guess is that within the next decade or two, we’ll look back at the histrionics of this period and shake our heads about what got us all fussed, because we’re going to have some REAL problems on our hands.

  84. Do we exclaim about how wrong it is, imagine that it would have been better if the cat had waited to have sex until it was prepared for the consequences?

    Actually, yes, we do if we realize that cats who kitten before they’re 18 months tend to have smaller, less healthy kittens and a significantly higher rate of maternal abandonment.

    Now, maybe you can handle having whole litters of kittens die, because cats have lots and lots and LOTS of kittens and you don’t think they’re particularly valuable. However, very few people are willing to accept that level of bad parenting by humans, nor the costs of that.

  85. When I was in 3rd Grade, I had really not wanted to go to school on a Thursday. So I pretended I was sick. I thought it was totally worth it, until the next day. My friend, J.C, was telling me I missed out on a WHOLE lot of fun stuff. And if youre thinking “Fun” is some Nuculear Physicist coming in and talking to us about “atoms” or something, your wrong. That day was a free day, and that they called the fire department to wet us with the hose so we could have a water day. And later, they had popsicles, and a bunch too! And then they would watch a boatload of movies! In hearing this, my mouth basically unscrewed off its hinges and dropped! I was so embarrased that i was the only one (and I mean it!) miss it because i faked being sick!

  86. Let’s see…as my father’s 11th child, and he was the one who stayed home with the last of us after he retired, I had an enormous amount of freedom growing up. Speaking of faking sick, I figured out what lying was in second grade. I would just tell the teacher I was sick, then my dad would walk across the street (that’s how close we lived), come and get me, and put me in bed. I did it whenever I felt like it. Then one day when I said I was sick, the teacher asked me, “Are you *really* sick?” And I said, No! I’m fine! And out of shame, put my head down on the desk. Then she thought maybe she had wrongly doubted me and asked me if I wanted to go home. I refused…I felt like I’d been found out. So then, without any adult interference, I decided not to lie anymore to get out of school. I wonder now what would have happened all those times I came home if my Dad had hovered over me, coddled me and asked me over and over if I felt better. He had other things to do, and just trusted me to tell him when I needed him.

    Another memory that makes me think I had a free-range childhood is of myself on our city’s bike path growing up, maybe around age 10. I loved biking on it, and I figured out how to bike to visit one of my friends, maybe a mile away. But one summer day when I was alone I fell off my bike and viciously scraped my knee (I did that often). A man stopped and asked me if I was okay and if I needed help. I said I was fine, but he said, let me make sure you get home (remember, this is in the days before cell phones!). Since we were closer to my friend’s house, he helped me walk my bike there. Then my friend’s dad opened this door and saw this stranger helping me home, and said, “It just goes to show, most people are good.” That always stuck with me. At first, it was because up until that point I never doubted that this stranger was a good person who genuinely wanted to help. I knew all about stranger danger, not to get into anyone’s car, not to accept gifts, etc., but I think I also just trusted my instincts about this person who stopped to help right away when he saw me bleeding and crying. But I also always remember this because it’s true. I learned a lifelong lesson that day. People are what make us safe.

    It frightens me to think what that stranger would have done today–would he have been too afraid to stop and help a little girl? I know this is too late for your speech, but I just thought I’d share.

  87. I don’t know how to contact you, Lenore, so I am going to ask you my question here: What did you think about the story of the mother from Scarsdale who dropped her two young daughters off in White Plains after warning them to stop arguing in the car? She was trying to teach them a lesson and was arrested for doing it (“child endangerment”, I think). Did you blog about it? I have just discovered your blog–and recently read your book–so I am not up-to-date on your past blogs. I’d sure like to know what you thought about that whole thing!

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