Recently my grandson, Zach, age 11, announced he wanted to be an alligator wrangler! Although I am mindful to respect his journey as his own and make it a point to encourage him to experience all he desires in life, this one gave me pause.
It is one thing when your child says he wants to be a “fighter pilot” when he grows up. You can confidently nod in encouragement, express your belief that you are sure he can be and do anything he sets his mind to, and quite another when he says he is going to be an alligator wrangler and you just happen to live in Florida beside a canal that is home to a 3 ft. alligator AND he announces he intends to begin his career “today”!
This one got me! I even posted in on Facebook in hopes of receiving some words of inspiration from my wonderful group of positive forward thinking friends. As I didn’t have a concrete way of approaching this formulated in my mind, I chose the path of diversion!
I remembered a wood-burning kit Zach received for Christmas that was still on the shelf of his bedroom closet, unopened because it required parental guidance. I reminded my grandson of his wood burning kit and his long awaited desire to use it and announced that today was his lucky day as I was available to spend the afternoon exploring the art of wood burning with him!
It worked! He quickly retrieved the kit from his closet, opened the carton, and set up the kit with great anticipation. I knew I was relieved from the angst of his plan to go down to the canal and search for the alligator… at least for another day. The art of wood burning was actually a lot of fun for both of us. Zach was very creative with his designs and made a few very thoughtful “gifts” for family members.
The next morning, while drinking my tea and waiting for Zach to wake up, I knew I was in a much more centered place to consider the “alligator saga” should it come up again. My husband and I discussed how to handle it without squashing his spirit. We are both firm believers in valuing one’s spirit, especially a child’s. We are committed to being the voice of encouragement and the means of opportunities for our children.
With this in mind, we agreed upon a course of action. The dilemma was to be encouraging of our grandson’s desire and yet keep him safe…all while respecting his amazing adventurous spirit! Of course, we also knew that there was a good chance he would arrive at breakfast with a completely new passion in his mind…But that wasn’t the case.
Zach hit the floor running with the most amazing plan about how he was going to capture the alligator THAT DAY! We listened with excitement and enthusiasm and when he slowed to catch his breath, I jumped in and offered a suggestion.
I explained that being an “alligator wrangler” was an amazing and rare occupation and those who held that title probably had some pretty awesome techniques to share that might prove to be useful…and that the wisest people always took the time to research and learn all they could from the experts BEFORE attempting it themselves.
I suggested we go online, look in the encyclopedias, and even make arrangements to meet some adult wranglers to talk to. Zach was excited about my ideas and immediately got online. As he browsed the different websites he became mesmerized by all the pictures of alligators. And then HE suggested the best idea… HE thought it would be really exciting if instead of capturing alligators with rope, he could capture them on film! Believe me when I say…r-e-l-i-e-f …was the feeling of the day!
Zach’s excitement grew as his idea exploded with a whole new approach. He thought about how exciting it would be to take pictures of alligators and create an album, complete with times, dates, and locations.
I can’t tell you how fast we jumped in the car and headed to the local craft store to purchase just the right scrapbook album and accessories for Zach’s new project… “Captured Alligators by ZACH!”
Zach now has his “wrangler kit” ready to go, complete with camera and scrapbook. We have plans to visit different canals and lakes in our neighborhood to “hunt” for alligators.
In retrospect, when Zach announced he was going to be an alligator wrangler, I could have just flat out told him “no” that it was too dangerous or he was too young…but that would have taken away his feeling of power in his own life. I have no doubt that he would have obeyed me if that was what I wanted. It wasn’t.
Safeguarding his spirit of adventure was equally as important as protecting him from potential physical harm.