The Playroom: Jumping Fences

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

The scar is jagged — a gash on the palm of my hand intersecting my life line. A reminder that life expectancy can be affected by doing something stupid, like jumping an 8-foot fence surrounding a construction site senior year. I jumped the fence because it was in my way, a part of the night, blocking me from where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to take the time to walk around it, which would have been a sensible approach to a fence problem.

Recently someone told me they didn’t like the trees blocking their view of the lake; if it were their property, they would take the trees down. I see the trees as part of the view, not part of the problem. I do not think trees should be yanked out of the earth leaving jagged scars.

My scars, the jagged edges, illuminate paths I want my children to take and shadow those I want them to avoid. I don’t want my children jumping fences. I want them to act sensibly, walk around, use the gate, that’s what gates are for.

I want them to listen to me when I say, “Do not jump the fence after hockey pucks. Use the gate like a normal person.” I want them to listen to their father when he tells them, “Don’t jump the fence!” and to the contractor who installed the hockey goal, “Don’t jump the fence to go after any pucks now.”

On the way to the ER, I wonder about the why and I ask my son, “Why don’t you ever listen to me? Why did you jump the fence even after I told you not to?”

“Because I needed to get the puck.”

How do I teach him not to jump fences? How do I show him the path I’ve lit for him? The one where you plan and act sensibly, the path where you patiently work toward your goal of retrieving the puck and go through the fence at the gate, not over it. Jumping fences is risky, you can get hurt.

Jumping fences involves taking chances, falling down and, sometimes, ending up in radiology. I want my son to live a life without scars. I want to protect him and teach him not to be so fearless. But I’m not so sure that’s something you should teach an 8-year-old boy. I’m not so sure I should try to protect him from everything and police every move. I don’t know the answers.

The trees answer for me. In the veins of the leaves covering the ground where he fell, I see the life lines of my son, his friends, of all the boys who have played and fallen in this patch of dirt just east of the river. I see spring, summer, winter and fall, seasons changing, boys growing up, moving away, becoming men. The leaves surround him as he lies on the ground, holding his arm, holding back tears,. He tells his friends his arm doesn’t hurt, puts on his glove and gets back in the game. The answer is in his life line, not mine.

When the pain in his arm is more than he can handle, I will scold myself for not knowing he was hurt, for not hovering and protecting him. I will dry the tears he wouldn’t cry in front of his friends, hold him against me as he calms down, bandage his arm and drive him to radiology, again. I will walk with him beside the lake, through the trees, and love him, flawed, beautiful, part of the view.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at