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Bubble Wrap

By Deborah Mitchell

motorcycle jump

How can we protect our kids from getting hurt participating in risky activities and sports?


I am the mother who gave up. The mom who, somewhere along the line, just said, “Do what you want. I give up.” I severed the cord to my willful, tow-headed teen and gave him complete control over his own life. As any parent knows, kids sometimes wear you down until you have no fight left.

My sixteen-year-old son has lived and breathed dirt bikes since elementary school. And I have protested, pleaded with him and his dad that he find another, safer sport.

“But the kid loves to ride,” my ex-husband told me over and over, and at night, when my son and I went on our walks with the dog, he would tell me he wanted to become one of the best, that he loved riding more than anything else, even more than his own life. He’d talk with an enthusiasm I’d never heard in his voice, a desire that said he was strong and determined, and he practiced and worked on his bike every chance he had. He stayed out of trouble. Didn’t I want my kid to work hard for something? I told myself that he was exhibiting the grit that every person needs to thrive and succeed.

His dreams were not the dreams I had for him, but could I, in all fairness, take from him the thrill his personality craved, the goals he wanted to attain? Didn’t child experts claim that today’s parents bubble wrap their kids, that they’re too protective? At least this is what I told myself, to exonerate the guilt I felt of giving up the fight against a sport I knew was dangerous, especially for a child who was still growing and changing.

I never gave him my proverbial blessing, but I stopped protesting. It was easier to just look the other way and hope that he would come home safely. I didn’t have to listen to him say those awful words that made me cringe: “You’re the worst Mom. Ever.”

I didn’t have to listen to him tell me that I allowed his brother to pursue his dreams of playing tennis, but that I stopped him. There is perhaps no greater heartache than hearing your child point out a perceived inequity in parenting.

There have been little accidents along the way. Broken fingers. A broken hand. Sprains. Abrasions. Minor head injuries. Yet I knew it was only a matter of time before the Big One—the accident that would, in a few moments, change our lives forever. I knew this somewhere in the back of my mind; on some level, I’ve been waiting for it.

And one day last summer, I received the call from my son’s father. I knew before I answered that my son had an accident. It was still early in the day, and my kid usually called or texted me in the late afternoon to tell me, “I’m okay, Mom.”

“Where are you?” He asked. I was driving, thirty miles from home. My stomach clenched. He told me my son was in transit by CareFlite to a hospital in a nearby town. It would be at least a thirty-minute drive. He tried to pacify me with the words, “He’s doing okay. Stay calm.” But I knew that accident victims were not taken by helicopter if they were just “okay.” He was conscious, but he was scared, his dad told me. He explained that my son had taken a jump too aggressively and over-shot the landing, losing control and tumbling end-to-end with his motorcycle, over and over under the control of speed and momentum. Out of safety and concern, the Motocross track had been shut down while they worked on him, in case he injured his neck or spinal cord.

My son arrived at the hospital shortly before I did. He lay in the ER, terrified, immobilized in a neck and back brace, tethered by tubes and monitors. His face was bruised and swollen. The boy that I had carried in my belly, worked so carefully to create and carry, was broken, would be permanently scarred.

The first two things he told me were, “I’m done riding.” And, “Please don’t get mad at Dad.” As he moved in and out of awareness, he said he didn’t realize how much he wanted to live. He was not ready to die.

The helmet, the gear he was wearing, had saved his life. I was thankful that his dad had been so vigilant about safety. My son got off relatively easy: collarbone surgery, spinal fractures, concussion, collapsed lung and a few days in critical care. He would walk, and there would be no permanent signs of his accident, save for a long, thin scar along his right collarbone. Youth was on his side helping him heal, but it would also work against him. As his body recovered, he buried his fears and forgot how close he was to paralysis, even to death.

Time mends us physically and psychologically. He has bounced back and is yearning to ride again, but I am no longer the compliant mom. I cannot give up now—when even Lady Luck did not give up. When my son speaks of motorcycles, I protest vehemently, understanding that, while this may keep him away from the dangerous sport of motocross, there are plenty of other opportunities for his thrill-seeking personality, some of them legal, some of them not.

Then, too, at age sixteen, it’s only two short years before he will be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I can only hope that he matures enough to understand that life is a one-way, very short ride in a vehicle that is both amazingly resilient and exceedingly fragile. Dreams can be replaced, our bodies cannot.

My son decided to take up a less dangerous, though still risky, activity: wakeboarding. He understands the importance of safety equipment and, most importantly, of limits. A bicycle, a skateboard and a wakeboard have the potential to be used in any number of dangerous stunts or unsafe activities—just like a motorcycle.

What my son does after he reaches the threshold of adulthood will be out of my control. But I must not give up now.

Deborah Mitchell writes about secular parenting and environmental issues. She is the author of Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids without Religion. Follow her at @dm2008 or

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