I have one of those boys who when I was a kid would have been called “accident-prone.” Will is the classic second child–fearless, impish, headlong. A dangerous combination of precocious and reckless, he is the kid who rides a two-wheeler–granted at just four years old–while looking at me as I run alongside him, rather than at the sidewalk ahead of him. Within just a couple of months, we were at the emergency room twice–once for a a couple of staples to the top of the head after he took a dive off the back of an armchair and landed head-first on a lego. The second time after he dinged his mouth on the corner of a coffee table, which resulted in a tooth going all the way through the lower lip–something that E.R. docs call “a through-and-through” and that requires both internal and external stitches. The picture you see here of an eye injury and prematurely missing front tooth is a composite of no fewer than three injuries: the first, when he hit his teeth on the side of a pool, which turned his two front teeth grey; the second when his knocked the weakened tooth out with his knee at camp; and the third, well, nobody really knows what happened, but he ended up with a bruised and grazed eyelid. Good times.
While I can practically feel the grey hairs sprouting from my head as he careens at top-speed down a hill on his razor scooter, I have to monitor how much I monitor him. He is also a kid with a twinkle in his eye. He’s a flirt, he’s sneaky, never misses a beat. People often say things like “Watch out for that one,” or “That one’s going to be trouble.” And while I nod in agreement, there is part of me that dies a little when I hear these statements. I recognize that with his proclivity for self-injury comes an irrepressible spirit that needs protecting, I am also conscious of the way in which “stereotypes,” even good ones, can be dangerous. Statements like “he’s the daredevil,” “the artist” or, on the other end of the spectrum, “he’s the rule-follower,” or “bookwork,” can pigeonhole kids and can limit their self-conception unnecessarily.