I’d like you to meet Phil Kinzer. He’s the owner of Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center in Dallas, Texas.
Why would I like you to meet him? Because he invented the gutter bumper.
Back in 1982 Phil’s then three-year-old bowled much like every other little kiddo. They gripped the ball to their chest, nearly dropped it on their toes, and finally released it to ever-so-slowly roll down the lane.
Only to watch it slide into the gutter.
And then they burst into tears.
And Phil had had enough. It’s a feeling we’ve all had. And so he invented the gutter bumper.
The bumper sits in the gutter. Not next to it. Not in the space between the lane and the gutter. This design means that for the length of the lane, the gutter is blocked–the ball cannot fall into it. And waaaaayyy down the lane by the pins there is a very intentional gap between the bumper and the outermost bowling pins, which means there is a small chance no pins get hit at all.
We are these bumpers.
Parenting is filled with so many questions. The easy ones we answer quickly and move on. Yes, you can have one more hug. No, you can’t ride your bike without a helmet on. Yes, the librarian will be thrilled you found the book under your bed.
Then there are the questions that linger. The ones that we roll around in our minds. Does the baby gate go above or below the two-step landing? Should a tween have their own smart phone? What is the best time for curfew?
These questions can be answered with maybe, perhaps and let’s try and see. But how do we measure what maybe is? How do we determine the parameters of perhaps? How do we define let’s see?
We do it with bumpers.
In each complex situation, we want to allow space for a child to try. They might do beautifully, they might fall flat. A child might bowl a strike. They might hit a few pins. And they might miss completely. We set the boundaries to keep them safe, and we guide them as they learn and grow.
Where does the baby gate go? Envision yourself as the bumper. First at the bottom, as they are learning to pull themselves up. Then at the landing as they are ready to explore crawling stairs. And when they master their balance and coordination, the gate gets placed above it all. We reset the boundary as they build their skills and are capable of more.
Should a tween have their own smart phone? Envision yourself as the bumper. What’s the purpose of the phone? First, to communicate with you. To use the phone as, well, a telephone. From there, when they are ready, we can add in apps—with the clear understanding that the phone is ours and we’ll be checking content daily. And then, as they show responsibility, we check in less frequently. All along we help them see the pitfalls of swimming in a media world, even as they gain understanding and awareness, we don’t want them to dive in too fast that they don’t have the tools to keep perspective and thus their heads above the social interactions.
What is the best time for curfew? Envision yourself as the bumper. First it’s early, especially with a new driver. We want them to navigate the whole evening well. Then it’s call me, let me know what’s up, what you’d like to do next, and I will set the time accordingly and with wisdom. And finally, when you’ve gained the skills to be aware of the dynamics of your friends and the other drivers on the roads, you’re ready for later.
In the lives of our children, we serve as their bumpers. We soften the edges. We aren’t saying yes, we aren’t saying no. We’re saying you can and.
So this week, when you find yourself uncertain of an answer, pause and smile. Ask yourself how can I serve as their bumper? Think about the limits that encourage them to explore, and to always, always have a space to grow.
- Want to go back and (re) read Week One? It’s all about belonging.
- For Week Two it is about listening to our own voice and the owl outside my window.
- Rubber Ducky, you’re the one (and how we watch our emotions, instead of get hooked by them) for Week Three.
- And the importance of yams (and letting go of what we expect will happen) for Week Four.
- Week Five was all about trying it over again. Hello, Mulligan.
- Writing ourselves in at the top of our to-do lists was Week Six.
- Mastering the art & science of transitions was Week Seven.
- Week Eight was call & response and the importance of camp songs.
- I love hearing from you. And I’d love to know all about your summer so far. You can send me an email, or join the facebook conversation here.
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