The Conservative Risk Taker: A Cautionary Tale of Parenting and Hypocrisy

I’m a risk taker. And I knew it shortly after I’d graduated from college when I loaded up my Toyota Tercel and headed to Seattle despite the fact I’d only visited the city once in my entire life for a grand total of 16 hours just two weeks prior. And despite the fact that I had no money whatsoever. (Don’t worry. I stopped in Vegas.) And no job waiting for me. No friends, either, except, I suppose, my college girlfriend, though that relationship was destined to fail shortly thereafter.

True to form, I had a sound bite (sound byte?) prepared for all those folks who questioned what I was doing (and, believe me, there were many).

“I’m intentionally surrounding myself in a sea of unfamiliarity,” I’d say “so I can find my natural buoyancy.”

Funny thing is, it worked out just fine. So well, in fact, that on many levels, I never wanted to leave. But eventually I did just that thanks to a great job I’d taken which called for a move to Nashville — my old college stomping grounds and just a short drive from my hometown.

But moving so close to home didn’t mean I was no longer a risk taker. And I knew that the moment I got on the plane to LaGuardia. Then into the leather-upholstered town car that was waiting for me. The one that would take me up to Shelton, CT where I’d waltz into my boss’ office, my suit custom and tailored, and my hands cold and clammy.

I was quitting. Out of nowhere. Despite the fact that many felt I was my boss’ golden boy. And the fact I’d won the company’s highest award for sales excellence for turning a $5-million territory (which no one wanted) into a $50-million territory in my first year. $75 million my second. And despite the fact that my job had proven to be quite lucrative.

“What are you gonna do?”

“Go to JazzFest,” I said, immediately realizing just how stupid — how aimless — it sounded. “And run the San Diego marathon,” I added in hopes of substantiating such aimlessness.

“Why, John?”

I didn’t know. At least not exactly. But the impetus, I suppose, was a nebulous and difficult-to-articulate set of ideals. Well, that and a hunch deep down inside. Oh. And some pipe dream about becoming a writer, whatever the hell that meant.

So, yeah, people thought I was crazy. And I understood that. Which is why I had another sound bite prepared specifically for them.

“Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be doing it.”

(I know. The sea-of-unfamiliarity one was way better.)

A year-ish later, I found myself involved in a stone business and worked my tail off for several years to help get it off the ground. And in the process, I (re)met Caroline, became a step dad and quickly conceived triplets, what with my astonishing virility and all.

But being a principal in a small business and the married father of four didn’t mean I was no longer a risk taker and I knew it when I told my business partner that I wanted out. Despite the fact that the business was a good one. Despite the fact that the hardest years were behind me.

See, it’s like this. I’m not like the lucky ones who make it look so easy, mainly because I can’t get this peg to fit into any specific hole. Or maybe it’s more that this peg fits into too many. And those are the kinds of things I think about as I walk along the mountain trails with 35 pounds strapped upon my back during the two times per year I trade my complicated but comfortable life for a simple but arduous one.

And those backpacking trips, themselves, are not without their own set of risks. Of injury. Or horrible weather. Or even bears. They’ve all happened. And those risks aren’t kind enough to give you a heads up, which is why you’re always on the lookout for them. But not so much as to let their potential ruin your walk. Because if that happens, the wrong side is in control.

So, yeah, I’m big on risks. But I’d be the first to tell you that taking them has burned me a time or two. And that they’ve set me back every now and again. So while not every single risk was a good one, every single risk was worth taking because even the ones that left me scarred also left me smarter. And they made me who I am, and I’m good with that.

I’ve taken way more risks than Caroline has. Which is why it’s so odd that, of the two of us, it’s always me who’s so worried about the kids. NO. I’m not that clown who scoops Junior up the second he scrapes his knee because (a) that’s a good way to turn a kid into a wuss and (b) I refuse to actively take part in the wussification of America. And I’m not a helicopter parent. With triplets, you just can’t be, y’all. It’s impossible.

But I am the clown who can’t take his eyes off of them in public. Who’s convinced they’re gonna kill themselves on their scooters. Who screams for them to get down from the counter they’ve not yet climbed upon. Who practically faints when they carry the scissors the wrong way.

Safety scissors, y’all.

And I’m also the clown who watches over them anxiously at our pool. Even when there are other adults who are also standing guard, I cannot, will not, take my eyes off of them for even a fraction of a second for fear of drowning. This despite the fact they’ve always been required to wear life jackets.

And that they totally know how to swim.

And now, my poolside watches have become even more anxious. Because Caroline just decided it’s safe for them to swim without their life jackets. And she’s right. And I realized it this past Sunday when I watched the three of them get along so well without them.

Turns out those life jackets had been holding them back. They’re now more agile in the water than ever before. And I knew it when I watched Sammy do flips beneath the surface. And when I watched Kirby swim from one side to the other with but a single breath. (Okay, maybe two.) And when I watched Jack jump into that area between the shallow and the deep end, feet first and straight as an arrow, enabling him to slice his way through the water, floating down to the bottom, then hovering there for a moment, eyes both goggled and wide, contemplating the surface beneath as if it belonged to another planet before finally using that foreign ground to push himself back to the top. Back to the rest of us. Back to me.

Just as I was starting to fret.

These infants turned into toddlers, y’all, and the toddlers turned into kids. Rambunctious, tumultuous, acrimonious, hilarious, adventurous, impetuous and beauteous kids. Kids who finally have wills of their own and who are exercising those wills in ways that create a separation between them and me that never existed before.

And there’s a risk somewhere in all of that which I’m apparently not comfortable with. Despite the fact that I, myself, am a risk taker.

I thought a lot about this on that hot Sunday as I watched them swim so deftly. And I finally realized that my tolerance of risk stems from the fact that I’m a control freak. As long as I’m the one taking the risk, I’m just fine. Because I’m in control. Me. And I know what I’m doing.

And, for me at least, being a parent feels better when I’m the one in control. Yet I’m learning that true parenting means exercising control over your kids when you have it such that your influence can still be felt when you don’t. And for that to occur — that magical influence that extends beyond your watch — you have to let go a little bit — more and more, in fact, the older they get.

And last Sunday, I realized, maybe even for the first time, that I might be holding on a little too tight, y’all. Me, of all people.

So the next time I witness Jack float eerily just above the bottom of the pool, instead of fretting, I plan on taking a deep breath and realizing that he’s not drowning. That he’s not gonna have an aneurysm. That he’s the one in control of the situation. Not me. And that he’s totally doing a good job with it. And that no harm will befall him.

Because, when you think about it, all he’s really trying to do is find his natural buoyancy.

And he’ll probably find it a whole hell of a lot easier if I just get out of his damn way.

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About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • http://raisedbymydaughter.blogspot.com/ neal call

    This was a really nice piece; very insightful and made me think about my own experience with my daughter. Really liked it, seriously.

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

       neal — i really appreciate that. i kinda liked it, so i’m glad you seemed to, too.

  • Debbie

    Just wait till they drive……………

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

       debbie — i know. well, i get it that i don’t get it, at least, and after i’d hit “publish” i actually thought: Gee, i wish i’d written a sentence or two about just how much will be asked of any parent as the children get older. and how hard that distinction of wanting to hold on and needing to let go becomes… thank you for your comment.

  • Gooddayregularpeople

    That was beautiful, John. I wish you’d submit it to mamapedia. It really is something so many of us could learn from. 

    Beautiful.

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

       i love hearing from you. and what’s mamapedia. i’d be happy to submit it wherever, so long as it can always live here, too. tell me more, my friend.

  • Kristin

    You nailed it, 100%. In the midst of a conversation about parenting, I said to a group of mom friends during a playgroup several years ago, “I firmly believe that our job as parents is to prepare our children for greater and greater independence from the moment they’re born. There’s a reason they come out of the womb — they’re ready for just the teeny-tiniest bit of independence. And if we do it right, the amount of independence they’re ready for just increases.” Some of the mothers agreed wholeheartedly, others looked horrified and remained silent. Non-helicopters vs. helicopters for sure.

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

      yeah, well i personally think you nailed it, too. 

      • Kristin

         Well thank you, Sir.!

  • http://naptimewriting.com/ Naptimewriting

    Dang. That pull between the trying to be the best capital-Y You and letting them be the best capital-T Them is exhausting, thrilling, breathtaking, and  fraught.

    I could tell you how much I empathize with the lines “I can’t get this peg to fit into any specific hole. Or maybe it’s more that this peg fits into too many.” Or how deeply I appreciate that there’s someone else out there who freaks out as they think about climbing on a counter, even though their many falls are greeted by my “Wow, that was a nice dismount!”

    But all I can do is sing the them song to Picture Pages. And for that I probably can’t forgive you. Maybe. We’ll see.

    • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

      love the comment, but i’m afraid i didn’t catch the “picture pages” reference. thanks for reading!

      • Kristin

         Picture pages = a Bill Cosby segment on Captain Kangaroo in the late 1970s. My little bro watched Captain Kangaroo then and I LOVED watching picture pages with him! It had its own jingle — I can still hear it in my head too!

        • Kristin

           For a brief intro…
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWg0U3fi7sE
          Very few episodes are available on YouTube. Not sure it has aged especially well……

          • http://johncaveosborne.com John Cave Osborne

            No, I get what Picture Pages is, but didn’t understand why NaptimeWriting mentioned it. In other words, what was it about the post that conjured up memories of Picture Pages?

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  • father muskrat

    Good post!  When we were looking at houses last year, I sought to find one WITHOUT a pool for this reason (and liability concerns, given my habit as a kid of scaling our neighbors’ fences to jump on their trampolines, swim in their pools, and enjoy any other attractive nuisances I could).