(By Annie Gyg — Guelph, Ontario)

I’m not sure as a kid I was familiar with the Aesop proverb “look before you leap”, but in the summer of my eighth year the meaning of that expression was unforgettably imprinted on my—I was going to say “brain”, but that’s not exactly right. It was my butt, actually. And it wasn’t exactly a matter of “looking before you leap”. It was actually “seeing before you slide”.

In this particular life-lesson opportunity, courtesy of a major blunder, I was once again playing my so-called role of ringleader of my little band of minions comprised of my two younger brothers—Paul, aged 6, Shawn, aged 5—and sometimes my sister, Bridget, aged 3. I was generally the genius behind the hairbrained schemes we undertook, and while I enjoyed being the imaginative, bossy big sister, the downside was it typically was me who took the heat from Mom when something went sideways. Inevitably, one of the little tattlers would complain “Ann made me do [insert whatever it was that they decided wasn’t fun anymore because they were too inept to do it properly and inevitably got hurt]”. In this case, however, I got my comeuppance directly as I made the strategic error of going first, instead of first having one of my lackeys test the waters.

Well, it wasn’t testing the waters literally. It was testing the playground equipment we built all by ourselves. The early 1960’s—when we were industriously constructing our playground outside the shed—was an era when real playgrounds certainly weren’t constructed to the same standard of safety as they now are. And, needless to say, ours came in substantially below that awfully low standard. We utilized materials at hand from the shed that stored odds and ends of lumber, tools, farm implements, haybales, horses, cats and other sundry farm creatures. It was a treasure trove of building materials and fodder for play for us kids.

From my then limited experience, a playground consisted of swings, a teetertotter and a slide. A really, really good playground would have a merry-go-round. Living in a rural area, the only playground we could theoretically access in the summer was at our school a couple of miles up the road, but that never happened. Hence the need to build our own.

Out of the shed we dragged the sawhorse and a plank for the teetertotter. It was a rather steep teetertotter, but it’d likely work. For the slide, another workable plank was dragged out and we piled up pieces of lumber to make the high end of the slide high enough, again quite steep because we weren’t babies, after all. The wood pile was sturdy enough to scramble up on. Good work. There already was a swing in front of the shed, and even with our collective imaginations we couldn’t come up with a scheme for a merry-go-round, so there was our playground—a plank teetertotter and plank slide, all ready to be tried out.

In my excitement, I took the lead, climbed the pile of wood and plunked my summer-shorted bottom at the top of the slide. And pushed off. And screamed! Not from the exhilaration of a swoosh down the slide; but from the burn of gazillions of splinters that jabbed into my butt! I never saw the splinters in hiding before I slid. I didn’t know raw lumber shot quills like a porcupine.

I have no recollection of how I got all those slivers out of my butt, but to this day I still feel the pain.

Often our most indelible and vivid life lessons are associated with pain of some sort: physical, mental or emotional. And sometimes we need to endure the pain repeatedly as life will give us the same lesson over and over again until we’ve got it. I’ve had other painful experiences of not seeing before sliding, of not looking before leaping. Like excitedly jumping into a paid speaking engagement without first checking out the makeup of the audience, and embarrassingly and shamefully totally missing the mark. I remain grateful for my spontaneous, creative, imaginative nature, but I’m also grateful for having tempered my impulsivity somewhat over the years by looking and seeing before leaping and sliding.

About the author

Ann, aka Annie Gyg, is a grandma, writer, speaker and creator of the Silhouette Kids promoting personal wellness to foster global wellness. Find Annie on Instagram and Facebook.

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