Last week, Maryn got her head stuck in a Queen Anne chair.
She and her sister were playing in the dining room, goofing off on opposite sides of a chair. Ava’s head would swing to the left, and Maryn would mirror her movement. Then to the right. Again to the left. Finally, Maryn became bored with the game and decided to shove her head through the middle. Then she got stuck.
I was in the kitchen making dinner, announcing every few minutes they were going to tip the chair over and get hurt. I figured Maryn would bounce off and get a rug burn. Then, I imagined both girls cracking heads if their “copy me” game got out of sync. But I never thought my five-year-old could get her head lodged between the wavy cut-out of a formal dining room chair.
“MAMA!” Ava screamed. “Maryn’s head is stuck!”
The seven-year-old began to cry. Maryn began to whine. I began to panic. I remembered stories about children getting their heads stuck in-between the spindles of cribs and handrails. Stories of crushed windpipes. Suffocation. Hanging. Broken necks.
Obviously, Maryn could breathe because she had progressed to screaming and crying. However, I didn’t know how we were going to free her, or how I was supposed to leave both of them to get a saw…and yes, I was prepared to saw the chair enough to break the wood with the adrenaline that raced through my veins.
When Maryn heard me say that I had to call their dad for help (or should I call 911?), she grimaced and yanked her head through the chair, scraping the sides of her temples and cheeks, and leaving a blue bruise on her forehead. She cried for a few more minutes and curled up on the couch, where she eventually fell asleep.
One of these days I may laugh, but for now, I’m still thinking about it too hard. The books, Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antionette Portis mean a little more to me, as they share the story of a pig and rabbit warned not to play with things that could harm them.
Watch where you point that stick! This is not a stick. (It’s a paintbrush.) Don’t trip on that stick! I’m telling you, it’s not a stick! (It’s a horse.)
Why are you sitting in that box? It’s not a box. (It’s a race car.) What are you doing on top of that box? It’s not a box. (It’s a mountaintop.)
Maryn is the more active child with a vivid imagination. She is surrounded by toys and animals and games and art supplies, yet she prefers everyday things to occupy her mischievous self. Laundry baskets become cages for wildcats. Brooms become a witch’s transportation. Staircases become escalators. She enjoys herself in the simplest of ways, yet I’m always hovering to spoil the fun.
You could get hurt! You’re going to fall! You’ll shoot your eye out!
What happens to a child’s imagination when parents get inside their heads? What do we do to the natural wiring of their creative ways when we tell them about the potentially dangerous consequences of play? When does the backyard become an open space where accidents wait to happen?
If we are chosen to become parents, our occupation changes from whatever it was to that of security guard. Our primary responsibility in life is to keep our children safe. Yet we sometimes take these measures to the extreme, clipping their wings just before we nudge them out of the nest.
Children are encouraged to be kids, but within reason. Draw something creative, but color inside the lines. Imagine how confusing this must be for a child! We tend to correct self-expression to make it safe; to make it acceptable for everyone else — but mainly ourselves.
I doubt my Maryn will attempt a stunt like that again. If anything, she’ll move on to something else that makes the last trick seem relatively harmless. After all, she’s the determined one. She just uses her head.