A few weeks ago, my son D. and I were in our driveway, unloading the trailer. The trailer was still attached to the SUV, and filled with stuff that we were bringing to the house, tied together with giant straps and bungee cords.
Not surprisingly, D. grumbled a bit about helping. Most teenage boys would. But he couldn’t just leave it at grumbling and the simple task of unloading boxes to the garage or basement. He had to take one of the loose bungee cords and start whipping it around in the air.
Phooom phooom phoom phoom phooom, in giant circles with his arm.
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that whipping an elasticized cord with a thick metal hook on the end in a circle with one’s right arm might not end well. Even if one is a rightie.
When I was about 13 and was first being trained in First Aid as a Girl Scout, I remember one thing very clearly from the black and white manual: a disturbing photograph of a hand with a monstrous fish hook caught in the fleshy palm. Half of the time the instructor was talking, I was trying figure out how they would get the hook out.
I recall some instructions about cutting off the barbed end with wire cutters and then sliding it out—ouch. The picture gave me nightmares—it was almost as bad as the Guinness Book of World Records’ photo of the world’s longest fingernails that curled inside themselves like bizarre claws.
So, there I stood, a few decades later, watching my 15-year-old son whipping a bungee cord in a circle. I was thinking two things: 1) What are boys made of anyway?; and 2) Whose eye was he going to take out first?
“D,” I said, as I backed away, “I don’t think that’s very smart.”
Phoooom phooom phoooom. Silence. He looked toward me, puzzled.
Oh, no. Now he wasn’t even looking at the cord. Clearly, this kid was never trained in First Aid. Was that where I went wrong? That he was never a Girl Scout?
“You could take out an eye,” I pointed out, hooking my finger toward my cheek to demonstrate, just in case he didn’t get the concept. “I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do,” I said again.
“Well,” he said, phoom phoooom phooming again, “We think different things.”
Now, wasn’t that the truth. D. had obviously calculated the length of his arm, the precise arc of the circle he was making, and the statistical probability of catching anything with the hook.
D’s not a huge fan of geometry, and he hasn’t taken physics yet.
Perhaps he noted that it wasn’t truly a metal hook, but a metal hook covered in protective plastic and it was therefore unlikely to actually pierce an eye.
Or perhaps he didn’t think either of those things. He just thought flinging a bungee cord would be fun.
It’s not like he’s four, I told myself. Or even eight. He’s 15 years old. In about five months, he’s going to be sliding behind the steering wheel of a 3,800-pound pile of metal and attempting to direct it down curved back roads in with only his mom (First Aid certified, of course) to guide him.
And generally, D’s a good kid, as far as teenagers go. He’s happy go lucky, he mows the lawn, he puts me in a choke-hold now and then, and he likes living on the edge.
Plus, now he had been duly warned.
So, I took a deep breath.
“Go to it, then,” I said, and exhaled.
And then I walked away, leaving him swinging.