The Ladder, the Leap, and the Ego

The drive to be seen, be important, be the whatever-est begins at a young age. Of course, the pure voice of the heart operates, too, and until the ego drive kicks in strongly, the heart may have a profound influence on a toddler and child. This is one reason that I enjoyed my own children when they were so young. I held them, read to them, sang, spoke, made their little mobiles and chairs and all the accoutrements of babies work for them. When they were old enough, I got down on the floor with them and played with building blocks and farms and cars and dolls.

I wanted to encourage them to explore those skills, concepts, and ideas that connected with their hearts. However, I was not a perfect parent, for sure, especially with my oldest son. Know why? Ego. My ego listening to what others thought he should be doing or not doing and “perfect” ways to accomplish those goals. Bullshit.

I have few regrets, but that is one. I don’t give a damn in any way, shape, or form what others think about how to raise anyone else’s kids, and if you are a young parent, neither should you. But also know that neither should you believe that you are superior nor that you should even hint to others about their parenting skills. Stay focused on helping children to know their hearts and develop those; ego comes soon enough.

Oh yes it does! I want to return to my young five year old self when my family lived at 3705 Keokuk in south St. Louis, Missouri, which I wrote about yesterday. The ambiance of the neighborhood in my mind includes memories of the local milkman who delivered to many families, including my mom. In the summertime, we (our gang — think the Little Rascals/Spanky and Our Gang) would see his truck pull into “our” alley because we knew when he got out that it would only take him seconds to plunge his ice pick into the crystal clear blocks of ice in which the milk bottles were immersed. We had ice chips to suck on — just as good as snow cones to us on a hot summer morning.

And then there was the older Italian gentleman who occasionally came through pushing a fruit and vegetable cart, calling out his offerings of the day. In similar fashion, the man who sharpened knives, scissors, and other tools shoving his cart, ringing his bell, announcing his approach made the rounds every two or three weeks in good weather. The gang knew these guys, and we were always intrigued with their skills and wares.

But those times with these men were just not enough to keep us busy. Nope. We played catch with the classic little red rubber ball or played kick ball in the alley. Sometimes, we would accidentally send a ball into the yard of an odd house that actually sat below street level. We called the old guy that lived there Mr. Crabapple because he had crabapple trees in his yard and because whenever he would see one of our balls fly into his yard, he actually tried to beat us to it and take it inside.

One hot summer day when we had lost our ball to him, we decided to scour the concrete trash bins that lined the alley. Oh, baby, a ladder — a broken, wooden, dry rotted section of an extension ladder. We had our little red wagon with us, and we laid the ladder on it and up the alley we went. What would we do with it? How could we have fun with it? How could we do something really big with it?

Pecking order and ego positioning are very real things, starting at a very young age. I was going to be the leader. After all, my dad was the painter and he had a bunch of ladders. I knew how to climb ladders.

“Okay, Mikey, what do we do with it?” Stevie asked enthusiastically.

“Let’s get on the garage roof.” Wow! I was so daring and brave.

We tried to put it up, but the broken ladder was too short. I had the solution for the short ladder going to a very short garage roof: put it in the wagon. It worked.

“You guys make sure the wagon doesn’t roll. I’m going up.” I made it.

“Oh, I can see so much up here.” Until I turned all the way around. Holy crap! I could see right in our kitchen window. My mom would see me. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be up there, but what is right or wrong when you’re being a big shot?

“I have to get down. My mom will see me.”

“Mikey, here comes old man Whipple.” He lived in my building and parked in the garage.

I panicked, ran to the far end so my mom couldn’t see me, and went to see if the gang was moving the wagon and ladder. They were moving okay. Stevie grabbed the wagon handle, pulled, and they were off and running down the alley. The ladder was more broken than ever as it lay at the edge of a garage bay. I did compose myself a bit, because I remember having the conscious thought that I would stay at the far end where my mom couldn’t see me and I could look over the edge and watch old man Whipple go into the building. Then, I would jump.

It worked, except that when I looked down, it looked very far. The guys were looking back from down the alley. I knew I had to get down fast. I don’t know why, now, but then, it was imperative. I hung from the edge and let go.

The pain shot through my right foot and up my leg. Oh, God, it hurt. I was hobbling bad, and Stevie ran back to me. I remember his shocked face and dead serious words to this day.

“Oh, no, does it really hurt that bad? You broke your hip.” It makes me laugh now, but it made sense to me then.

He helped me to the back apartment door and ran. We all knew that I was in trouble — again. I crawled up the flight of stairs to the back kitchen door. I don’t remember what lie I tried to tell my mom because — again — she saw through it. I do remember sobbing that I didn’t want to get caught by Mr. Whipple, so I jumped.

I had a chipped bone in my heel that required cortisone shots on two different occasions, the last being when I was thirteen — eight years later.

Sometimes, acts of ego can have long-lasting effects, both emotionally and physically. Yes, I believe in adults playing with kids, engaging with them in their environment, and not forcing competitiveness on them; that comes naturally and all too soon. What doesn’t happen frequently enough is encouraging the connections with the heart. That could have happened. Adults that saw our little gang could have given us some constructive suggestions, especially in that time when every older person wasn’t looked on as a “creeper.”

Maybe my experiences are why I love to see the natural curiosity of kids and not make them feel bad about it. “Stay out of those trash bins.” “What are you doing with that ladder? Put that back.”

How about “What did you find? What can you do with that? Have you thought about…” And a thousand other possibilities.

Encourage the heart interests of young people, when you have opportunity, when it is appropriate. That builds character.