Parenting for Dummies.

About a year ago, in the middle of a short holiday at my folk’s place down in the bush, I drove over my son with a Land Rover. It was a very good day.

There was, of course, that white-knuckled, loose bowelled, heartbeat free moment that every decent parent should be familiar with when you think “Oh my God, I’ve killed my son! All the books said we weren’t supposed to do that!”, but a second later he popped up looking as white as a sheet and a little battered, and I thought, with huge relief, “Thank Heavens! I’ve only maimed him!

After that, things just got better. It turned out I hadn’t even maimed him. We considered driving him in to the nearest town for X-rays, but within half an hour, he was running around like a maniac, and only limping when he thought we were watching, and I could start to enjoy the moment. And enjoy it I did, for a couple of reasons. Perhaps I should start by explaining what had happened.

My folks’ place is a shareblock, a large farm collectively owned by about 100 or so families. It’s covered by a network of dirt roads, and unlike most big-five reserves, the members are free to drive themselves around in their own vehicles. And what vehicles they are. There is a microbus with the roof and windows sawn off called “The Tub”. There is a Volkswagen Beetle, called “The Scarab”, also free of roof and windows. In fact all the vehicles have no roof or windows. There are Toyota Land Cruisers, Nissan bakkies (pickups) and vintage Jeeps. And there are Land Rovers.

The Land Rover. With everyone on top. As God intended.

We always had Land Rovers. These are not the shiny, new, air-conditioned, electric-windowed travesties that soccer moms drive around the suburbs. These are the beasts, the huge square blocks of steel and rubber with a turning circle of 5 miles. They don’t go fast, but they do go anywhere. Our one at the moment is an army-surplus monster from a bygone age. It is a thing of surpassing beauty.

And my son? I was driving up to the workshop (the Beast was leaking smoke) with my daughter and son, while my wife followed in our city car. The front seat of the Land Rover is a wide bench seat. My daughter was strapped into her car-seat right next to me, while my son sat on the other side of her, next to the passenger door. As we drove through a dry river bed, I heard a click and a shriek as my son disappeared from view. And you know the rest. Except to say that it was providence that we were going through a dry riverbed at the time. The riverbeds in the bush are generally wide strips of loose sand, like coarse beach sand. We drove over his leg, but it must have pushed down into the loose sand, and he emerged unscathed.

A quiet game-drive with the kids (dramatic reconstruction)

And why was this good? For a couple of reasons. First of all, because it means he’s one of us. When we asked him, as caring, sympathetic parents do, what the bloody hell he thought he was doing, he explained that he had stretched his arm down on the outside of the car and felt the door handle. Which he then opened. Because, he said, he “wanted to see what it did”. He was seven. Not three. He had seen a door handle or two before. He knows what they do. Generally. He just needed to see what this one did. Specifically. I dare say he must have been surprised to find that this one somehow caused the door to open. I don’t hold it against him though. It’s genetic.

My father had a lifelong sensitivity to beestings. This was because, as a child, when he was stung by a bee (not an Africanised killer bee, but its granddaddy, an African bee), instead of pulling out the sting, he sat down and watched the venom sac on the sting slowly pump poison into his arm. Because he wanted to see what it did.

When I was small, alone in the garden, I crawled under a heavy folding table and released the latch that was holding it up. Because I wanted to see what it did. Remarkably, it held the table up. Until someone released it. Then it collapsed, as the designers had intended. On top of me. I was stuck for what felt like hours, until someone heard the screams. I was not cured.

A few years later, I set fire to a plastic cigarette lighter. Because I wanted to see what it would do.  It exploded in a ball of green and blue flame. Which was what I was hoping for. What I wasn’t hoping for was the still burning glob of molten plastic which shot out and landed on my bare foot and burned its way through my skin. I was not cured.

Me as a child, learning (dramatic reconstruction).

Just a few short years ago, I threw a cup full of petrol onto a fire that didn’t seem to want to burn. Because I wanted to see what it did. It did nothing. Until I threw in a match. I’m not (that) stupid- I know all about petrol, so I stood fairly far away and threw the match. What I didn’t know was that there was obviously enough heat left in the dead looking fire to turn the petrol into a low lying vapour that spread over the whole patio. As I threw in the match I was surrounded by a blue sheet of flame, like some sort of magical tablecloth. It was beautiful. And I wasn’t using the hair on my ankles for anything important anyway. I’m still not cured.

Barbeque night (overly dramatic reconstruction)

These are just isolated incidents from a lifetime of amateur scientific enquiry. The best sorts of discoveries are the ones you bleed for, or bruise for, or burn for. And now it seems my son is going to be just as good at learning as my father and I were. I couldn’t be more proud. Although I will be hiding the matches and taking out some extra insurance.

I wasn’t just happy because my son has an instinctive understanding of the scientific method. I was happy because I was witnessing the start of a brand new family tradition. He is not, you see, the first in his line to fall out of a moving Land Rover. I’ve done it too. More than once.

The first time was fairly pedestrian. Our Land Rover at the time had a metal framework at the back for the passengers to hold onto. To get in and out, you had to climb over it. We had stopped and disembarked for some reason, to examine some tracks or insects or some such. As I climbed back in, my father simultaneously asked if we were all ready and let out the clutch. In his defence, he had four small children, and had come to realise that we were never all going to be ready, for anything, ever, so it was more of a formality than a question.

The Landy shot forward. I didn’t. I shot down. It was quite a fall, about two metres or so, and took what felt like an inordinately long time. Luckily, as I hit the ground head first, I was distracted by the back wheel going past just inches from my head, so it didn’t hurt as much as it could have. After that I was distracted by my parent’s apparently overwhelming interest in what the bloody hell I thought I was doing.

There is a certain kind of person who refers to any bad things that happen to them as life lessons. What a sad and limiting approach to life. Having learned absolutely nothing, I managed to somersault off the back of the Landy again about a year later. It was awesome. There was blood. There was an angry yellow-black bruise. When I got back to school I was a legend. I walked on water until Nolan Jacobs put his hand through a glass window and tried to pull it back out again.

I grew up a little, and stopped simply falling off the Land Rover. Not that things got any better. You see I grew into an international crime fighting superhero. The first time this led to a problem was when I decided to hit the ground running. Literally. As the Landy pulled up to the front of the house, I timed it so that I could jump off, legs spinning like Wile. E. Coyote, and dash past the vehicle in a cloud of dust. To fight crime.

I did not fight any crime that day, but I nailed the Wile. E. Coyote part. My feet stopped the moment they hit the ground, while the rest of my body kept moving. I ended up ploughing a neat little furrow through the dirt with my nose. My response to the inevitable “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” question was robbed of a little gravitas by the fact that I was covered from head to toe in rich brown dust except for the two short streaks of red emerging from my nostrils.

The high point in my crime-fighting career came when my father, with a car load of guests, parked under a tree with a branch that was sent by the gods to lead little boys into temptation. It was straight, and hung over the car like an invitation. I stood, reached up, and grabbed a hold of it. It was smooth. It was cool to the touch. It was thin enough to get a decent grip on. A plan sprung instantly to mind. I would hang from the branch like Batman lurking in the shadows, and as the vehicle moved slowly forward, I would drop neatly into my seat as it passed below. To fight crime.

The vehicle did not move slowly forward. With his customary simultaneous “Is everybody ready?” my Father shot forward like a bottle rocket. I clung on for dear life while my feet bounced up and over the faces of a couple of guests, and then they were all gone, disappearing round the corner in a cloud of dust. I was left hanging about three metres up, quietly trying to remember if this had ever happened to Spiderman, for a minute or two until the vehicle reappeared. Clearly, my parents saw this sort of thing as one of the perks of parenting. “What” they asked, grinning up at me as I hung, red-faced, three metres up a lonely tree in front of a crowded vehicle of spectators, “the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

Me as a child, out for a game drive with the family (acrobatic reconstruction)

And now I find myself in a rather odd position. You don’t want your children to get hurt. You want to keep them safe. I will growl and snap and cajole and threaten to keep my son in his seat. I might even give him a second or two after asking “Is everyone ready?” before pulling off. I will pull off slowly, and drive over bumps gently.

But a small, quiet part of me will always be ready to leap out and pick up my son from the dirt. I will push his hair out of his eyes and wash away the blood. “What”, I will ask, eyes filled with compassion and concern, “the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

And it will happen.  Maybe not soon, maybe not with Land Rovers, but with fire, or water, or electricity, or wild animals, or hammers. It’s inevitable. Because my son is the sort of person who opens doors just to see what will happen. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

78 thoughts on “Parenting for Dummies.

  1. desgt says:

    I love your writing style. Great humor. Isn’t just doing something the ONLY way to discover what will happen?
    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    this one may also be of interest to you.

  2. Alistair wallis says:

    I used the car cigarette lighter to burn the seats…to see what it would do. Karma always seems to turn full circle when I gave some school kids a lift as a student and one of them put out his cigarette out on my back seat. I only found out the next day so I couldn’t ask him what the bloody hell he thought he was doing, only it would more likely have accompanied me testing the door frame with his head. Great Posts Stuart put me onto them 😉

    • 23thorns says:

      I did the same thing with lighters, but my karma was a little more direct. I borrowed my folks’ car the other day. I shoved the lighter in, and half a minute later, the whole thing shot out and landed in my lap. Luckily, I have all the children I need already…

  3. Miss Fanny P says:

    fantastic post and have had to Facebook share your whole blog as you write AMAZINGLY well 😀

  4. Great post! I too raised a couple of boys to what could be loosely described as maturity. Our family catchphrase was ‘And what did you learn from that, my son?’

    I then had a daughter. Someone commented to me that it was like God was saying ‘Erm, sorry about that. Here, have this.’ She was a great kid. If you warned her about something harmful she would actually listen and say ‘Okay’ and not reach out to touch/grasp/hit/burn/swallow it regardless.

    Then she turned 12, and her father and she made a drag car together. She promptly went out and burned all the guys off on the track, then ingratiated herself into the Drag Racing community by having an ‘Official Accident’. But that wasn’t enough. She enrolled into both hockey and soccer and wasn’t satisfied unless she came home with a minimum of twenty bruises and a concussion per game. She has since discovered Rock Climbing.

    I have now turned to drinking regularly and get somebody else to answer my phone. Where did I go wrong…?!

    • 23thorns says:

      Oh God, I have so much to look forward to!
      We’re ahead of the game so far. Every time we see a cliff edge or dangerous piece of rusted machinery, I order them to go and play on it. They never listen to me….

  5. Tim Brosnan says:

    Great post! The Sugarman comments are spot on. Thanks.

  6. […] If you’re going to run over your own kid, do it with a Landrover. […]

  7. elleturner4 says:

    As I have the attention span of a gnat, I don’t often read through relatively long posts (I’m afraid I like pictures best!) but your descriptions and stories kept me fully engaged and chuckling throughout! I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you 🙂

  8. […] rule of threes was came to mind the other day when I was reading 23Thorns: “About a year ago,in the middle of a short holiday at my folk’s place down in the bush, I […]

  9. Hilarious! I’m always amazed at how my brother and I survived our childhood, the things we did…

    Thanks for stopping by and liking my blog post 🙂

  10. […] The rule of threes came to mind yesterday when I was reading 23Thorns: […]

  11. cateberlin says:

    Would you mind if I use a bit of this material for my class? Maybe the next book? Not only will the punch lines connect with the demographic, but you also escalated the imagery from the under the car reenactment to the burning feet depiction for a similar albeit subtler effect. Artistic humor is harder to find. Actually, now that I think about it, you really have a knack for that. Hmmm. Anyway, ending that first intense rise with a reference to parenting books? Perfect. How does the handle work? You should be living an insufferable existence at the writers’ table in Hollywood.

  12. Fantastic post that required a giggling read-aloud to the hubby. Thanks for the laugh.

  13. This blogpost really struck a chord with me. You see, I was the same kind of inquisitive child that you wrote about. When it came time for me to grow up, and have children of my own, I lived in fear that I would have a boy like me. The Good Lord knew what He was doing, however, and gave me two lovely girls instead. Had I been the father of a kid like me, I am sure I woulda had to kill the little shit. I enjoy your writing and it is with warm affection that I say that I am happy to read about your life than to live your life.

  14. Gobetween says:

    Please don’t think that fire is something to have fun with. Look at how Isabella “Pippi” Kruger has suffered.

  15. Oh my goodness! Love this post!! As a mother of two young boys, I have often said, “How in the heck do boys even live to see manhood?!”

    My oldest son poured water into his grandmother’s TV, just to. . .wait for it.. . .see what it would do?!?!?!?

    I’ll never get it. Life with little boys sure does keep it interesting.

    • 23thorns says:

      I think that most of them spend a lot of time being disappointed that they can’t get more things to explode. Sounds like your son might have found a way round that!

  16. Hysterical. As a mom of 4 boys, I feel somewhat disenfranchised. I must have been too protective. Look at all the potential fun I missed!

  17. psychofab says:

    I was much like this as a child, always finding new and inventive ways to throw my body down inclines at increasingly dangerous speeds. The worst idea was given to me by my sister: To sit inside a slick sleeping back and “slide” down the loooong stairs into the living room. It was great! Until my cousin whined that it hurt her butt. In response we shoved pillows into the bag, which promptly blobbed at the bottom forcing us into a cartwheel of sorts as we plummeted. I distinctly remember thinking I was going to suffocate, due to her bony everything nailing me right in the stomach, temporarily removing my ability to breathe. Doing these kinds of things is looked at with horror by so many parents now, because of the danger involved, but stories like these are my favorite memories. Besides, we had many good slides before anything bad happened lol

    • 23thorns says:

      I ran into some people through this post who were seriously suggesting that it was reckless and irresponsible to let your kids climb trees (you can just imagine how they felt about driving over them!)
      Imagine sitting round a campfire one day, telling your own kids the story of the time you didn’t do anything because it was too dangerous.

  18. Love this. Sounds like you passed the family crime-fighting torch.

  19. pamtanzey says:

    That was awesome! I loved it!

  20. duncanr says:

    white-knuckled, loose bowelled, heartbeat free moment

    Pretty much describes my reaction when the wife and I thought we had lost No 2 son on a family outing to London.

    We had entered the Underground a party 4 strong. The moment we realised we had become a party of 3 was the moment we recognised the tearful, screaming face of No 2 son flashing by us on the train exiting the station

    I sprinted after the train screaming at the silly b*gger to pull the emergency cord until I ran out of platform and the train and No 2 son disappeared into a tunnel.

    Hands on hips, bent double, panting for breath, I was mentally moving my guitar and computer into the new spare room we had unexpectedly acquired when a tearful, hysterical Mrs D screamed in my ear – stupid f*cken b*gger

    I nodded in agreement until I realised her remarks were addressed to me and not our recently departed No 2 son

    Just then, a train reversed slowly back out of the tunnel and stopped alongside us. The carriage door opened and the conductor, clasping No 2 son firmly by the ear, tossed him out of the train

    A tearful Mrs D clasped him to her bosom then . . .

    slapped him round the back of the head and demanded to know ‘what the f*ck he had been thinking of’

    [Some parental responses in a crisis are universal !!!] 😆

  21. […] you laughter with tears if you follow this link, written by a brilliant blogger in Australia. Parenting for Dummies by 23 thorns. […]

  22. Like your humorious look at life’s trivialities!

  23. Godalmighty I’m so sorry for posting a link to this on the uptight-British-mothers’ site! I’m mortified. I loved the post and I love your writing – it really makes me laugh. Tell your wife I thought her post was lovely and heartfelt, and not to be drawn in by the bitchiness!

    • 23thorns says:

      I once saw two couples nearly come to blows about birdwatching. Some people find the strangest things to fight about.
      Motherhood is one of those things which people pour their hearts and souls into, and there is a certain type of person who is wired to think any opinion which differs from theirs is some sort of attack, and that those who hold them should be attacked in turn, so i suppose that it should come as no surprise that Mumsnet should be the equivalent of fight club.
      Thank you for this comment. My wife was upset by the whole thing, but in the end, out of 1000 or so people from mumsnet who viewed the post, only a handful felt the need to call my son a moron, so maybe the good women of mumsnet are not the living embodiment of evil!

    • Yes, thanks for the comment and for your defence of me in the face of such nastiness. It was my fault entirely for getting involved at all. Lesson learnt! Interestingly, I cried for about 6 hours longer than our son did when he was run over. I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of life lessons…maybe that a group of mothers ignited are far more dangerous than a 2-ton vehicle. I know which one I’ll be avoiding in future 🙂 Thanks again!

      • I really am sorry to have upset you – I should have known better than to post something there that goes against the ultra-protective grain of many mumsnet mothers. The forum can be a great source of support (and humour, on occasion) but its nickname ‘the nest of vipers’ is pretty accurate, and if you don’t abide by the unwritten rules it can be viciously bitchy. Women at their best and worst, I’d say.

        Well, I stand by what I said on there – I’d like to inject a bit more of your parenting style into mine! I’ll keep reading and enjoying your blog but I’ll think twice before linking to it like that again.

  24. Anne Camille says:

    Very funny! When my son was young, I used to say that proof that God had a sense of humor was that she gave me an inquisitive boy who would always dream up things “to see what would happen”, things I could never anticipate. Somehow we both survived. I like to say that I raised him live.

  25. Thank you for taking an otherwise horrendous opening (in the best sort of writing way, of course) and turning it into a great morning giggle! You’re quite the story-teller! 🙂

  26. I remember, as a kid, putting my finger on a car cigarette lighter just to see what it did (it hurt). And my 7 year old opened the car door on the motorway a few weeks ago. Hmm I guess we have the same genes. I wrote about risk and having a child who needs to be watched all the time (on account of severe autism) a couple of weeks ago Freedom to explore is so important.

    • 23thorns says:

      I’m surprised at how often this car lighter thing comes up. I missed out as a child. I made up for it the other day. I had borrowed my father’s car. My son pushed in the lighter. Because he wanted to see what happened.
      What happened was that, when it reached fighting temperature, the lighter shot off into the back of the car. I had to grab it to stop it burning the seat or my daughter. Life list updated!

  27. Brilliant post. As usual. I’ve learned to put down all food and drink when in the viinity of your writing.
    I was the timid and tame one. Still am to a degree I guess. My brother was the one who made it worth our family having health insurance. My personal favourite of his exploits was when he decided to pull on the rope hanging out of the tree to see what would happen. He had forgotten that HE had put the rope there and that it was his climbing tree pulley system, bucket on one end and brick on the other. Needless to say, the brick landing on his head reminded him. Sadly, my 2 boys have inherited the crazy gene that clearly skipped me.
    My husband has been banned upon fear of death of sharing the stories of what he and his mates got up to as kids.

    • 23thorns says:

      I rather rear that they will just go off and make their own stories.

      • Looks like my daughter too has inherited the curiosity. I told her to stay away from the scorching hot exhaust on our new tractor and the bright spark reaches out her hand to find out just how hot it actually was. *sigh* I HAD hoped to raise at least 1 sensible child to watch over the other maniacs. It is not to be.

  28. Fantastic!! Loved it reminded me of the mishaps and near death experiences my brother was prone to when he was little…he’s survived into adulthood.

  29. “Turning radius of five miles.” Ha! I had one of those and loved it to death.

  30. You have a great way of painting pictures with your words. Wonderful way to start the morning with laughter. I think my brother may be related to you. I still vividly remember the day my brother cut his leg with the skill saw with only his little sister (me) home.

  31. Brilliant! I love a story that makes me laugh…thank you!

  32. Such good stuff. Thank you for the lovely laugh. Absolutely priceless 🙂

  33. javaj240 says:

    Most things are genetic. My daughter foolishly thinks she can straighten her hair. As it turns out, she is just as deluded as her mother was. At least they make tools specifically designed for this sort of things these days. I think they call them hair straighteners. We just called them household irons. Whatever. Same result. Less chance of the charred forehead by today’s method, though. That’s certainly a step in the right direction.

    • 23thorns says:

      I still have all that to look forward to. My daughter is only three. She did cut her own hair the other day. I wish I could say she learned her lesson, but it looks fantastic. Maybe she’s just a natural.

      • Heather says:

        Wow, you did get lucky. I ‘styled’ my own hair at about 4, and my mother was extremely displeased with the results. Since I never had to look at the back of my head, it never bothered me. It did take me several additional years to learn that items thrown in the trash (such as hacked-off hair, or notes about dumb boys) weren’t actually gone forever but could be retrieved by adults and used as evidence against you. I sure could’ve used a shredder.

  34. lylekrahn says:

    Great stories. It reminded me of when my friend and I were around 12 we waited impatiently in his parent’s car until he decided to play with the cigarette lighter. It didn’t appear to be working so of course he touched it. We were left with the awful stench of burnt flesh and the impossible task of explaining where that came from.

  35. Some of us just have a longer learning curve than others! My experiments always involved car cigarette lighters (when cars had them), water and electricity and gymnastic stunts off of playground equipment. I’m a little hesitant to tell my daughter when she asks about the scars. There’s a fine balance between bubble wrapping your child and letting them learn the really, really hard way. Enjoyed reading this very much – thanks!

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s not so bad if the world knocks you around a bit so long as the people who love you never do. The right sort of children just pop all the bubbles in bubble wrap anyway.

  36. Kami Tilby says:

    Laughing out loud, tears running down my face, freaking funniest thing I’ve read in ages. Thank you for the insight into the male psyche and for the wonderful start to my day!!

  37. Joanna says:

    Your selection of images are the icing on the cake, but to be honest your writing is so funny that it hardly needs them – my exploits in the ‘what the bloody hell, do you think you were doing?’ department usually involved the River Thames and various boats and outboard engines which for some reason I was allowed to go off in from a very young age on my own. I am so sedate now and have no kids, so it is glorious to read about your life and the fun you guys have 🙂

  38. Alex Paddock says:

    This post was friggen brilliant! Have just snorted hot black coffee all over my laptop! As a child of a family who also lived more in the bush than the city I can so relate! I think my son must share some genetic link with your family though – also a fan of exiting moving objects, running into glass doors (because he can morph throug you know!!) and punching walls full force to see if he is like Wolverine (turns out he isnt……….)! You have made my day reading this!

  39. Hilarious! ahhh…. takes me back to the days when my parents would ask me and my brothers that same “what in the hell do you think you’re doing” question.

    If your wife doesn’t yet have gray streaks through her hair, I imagine she will soon.

    • 23thorns says:

      don’t worry about her. She is still in the first bloom of her youth. Worry about me. My beard is grey, my eyes are dim and my hearing shot. My joints ache when it rains. I’m turning forty next month.

  40. Dawn says:

    You are a terrific writer – I am at once laughing and hearing my own father’s voice – “what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

    All the best to your young warrior… there is much to learn and try.

  41. I’m pleased to see that on the day you took the photograph of us on the vehicle that we had put rather a lot of sunblock on the children. It might go some way in allaying the fears of child services.

    • 23thorns says:

      Don’t worry. I’ve got it all planned out. If they come for us I will take them out for a little drive in the Landy. They can sit next to the front passenger door.

  42. I LOVE this story and I LOVE your humor! I try to live through life’s “tragedies” with humor also….then things turn out fine!

  43. Alex Paddock says:

    This post was friggen brilliant! Have just snorted hot black coffee all over my laptop! As a child of a family who also lived more in the bush than the city I can so relate! I think my son must share some genetic link with your family though – also a fan of exiting moving objects, running into glass doors (because he can morph throug you know!!) and punching walls full force to see if he is like Wolverine (turns out he isnt……….)! You have made my day reading this!

    • 23thorns says:

      On his first sleep over, my son managed to run right through a glass door. I was most impressed. I’ve tried it several times myself, but the most I got was a broken wineglass, a slightly bent nose, and a headache.

  44. My husband read your post to me, I suppose to see what would happen. Spewed my coffee through my nose and now I have to pee. Now he is plotting on the grandkids. Fun post, thank you for starting my day with a laugh.

  45. Hilarious, but there is hope. My boys are grown now, but we get to start over with our grandson. The cycle of life, cut, bruise, screams, etc….

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