Well, it had been a long time since we had visited our son, and we at least wanted to give him another opportunity to return to a proper view of high fences. Also, in part I was curious to see how his children were doing. Over at my daughter's house, it was becoming quite a challenge. Since the increasing influence of neighbors and the ever-increasing dangers were demanding more and higher fences, their house had become a confusing labyrinth of fences.
When we arrived, we noticed that there were no new fences, but we were surprised to see that there were a few fences still up. I made a mental note to ask why he kept them, even though he didn't seem to value the safety of closer and higher fences. We also noticed the older children happily playing, out in the open, unprotected, in the middle of the yard. It was clear to us that he hadn't changed course, and we needed to try one more time to encourage our son to protect his children.
I told him about his sister's difficulties, and he seemed genuinely concerned when he asked, "Has she figured out that she is going about things the wrong way?" There wasn't a hint of anger or bitterness in his voice, and I was confused to see a confidence about him that wasn't expected. I asked him a few questions:
Son, why do you have so few fences?
"Its funny you should ask that, Dad," he replied. "It all started when I began to read the fence builder's manual. I discovered that fences actually serve to demonstrate the tendency of children to go over, under, or around them. I also learned that the fences were very specifically designed to assist children in learning to see and avoid dangers by guiding them toward the good places to play. I was surprised to learn that the manual didn't include protecting kids from danger as one of their purposes." [Now I was really confused - I always thought he was against fences...and what did he mean that protecting from danger wasn't listed? I was taught that it was by a very fine fence seller! He even provided me with a fence-builder's supplemental manual.]
He continued, "You had always taught me to follow the manual, so that is what we set out to do. That was when I noticed one section near the back of the manual that described a few of the dangers that could accompany fence-building. The prime danger was marked in bold red letters: Beware that you do not vary your installation from the recommended height, length, and placement of your fence! It could produce unintended consequences. It also warned that there were some fence sellers that were known for producing supplemental fence-building advice, and it specifically suggested that heeding such advice would void the warranty." [I wonder why I had never paid much attention to this? Maybe it was because the salesman told me that those portions of the manual were for a different kind of yard?]
"So we decided to eliminate all fences that were not found in the manual and to make sure that any remaining fences were installed strictly according to the manufacturer's instructions. that was just before you came to our house the first time. The whole concept was new to us, so we didn't know how to tell you that we hadn't rejected fences or the manual. We were only rejecting the supplemental materials."
But how can you keep your children safe with so few fences?
"You know, we were really nervous about that as well, but the manual also said that we needed to institute a danger-awareness program in our home. I also noticed a warranty card that said the fence manufacturer guaranteed the safety of all children when following the right method of fence building and instituting consistent danger avoidance education." [I had seen that portion of the manual before, but the fence salesman assured me that the updated educational program was designed to protect the children no matter what..."higher is safer and more is better" was their motto.]
"We decided to trust the manufacturer, even though we were very nervous about it. Everyone that we loved was insisting that this approach was sure to lead to disaster, so the decision wasn't easy. It just seemed that the one who designed the fences should know how to install them, and the instruction program seemed very thorough. We enrolled that next week."
What is this educational program? [I had to wonder because I had never even heard of such a thing. The education we were given by the fence salesman was simply how to build fences, and the advanced class then taught us how to teach others about building fences. We faithfully spread the word about how effective the fences were and were instrumental in recruiting so many new fence-lovers that we were honored as excellent sales associates by the Salesman's Quarterly.]
"It is interesting that you would ask that, because we thought it was a little odd at first. The educational program director came to our house and simply observed us for a few days while we tried our best to keep the kids from danger. After this observation period, we sat down at the kitchen table to go over his recommendations and lesson plans. We were not prepared for what he told us."
"He told us that we didn't understand the nature of danger, and that our main problem was that we were too focused on keeping the kids from going over, around, or through the few fences we had left. Even though we had the fences as they were supposed to be, we were told that unless we used them for the right purpose, they would not have the desired effect. To say we were confused is an understatement, but the lesson that really took us by surprised was when he showed us that the manufacturer clearly explained the biggest danger was actually found in the children themselves and had very little to do with anything in the yard."
Wait a minute! How can you keep children from danger if they ARE the danger?
"That was what we wanted to know as well. 'It is their desire to go toward the danger that is the real problem,' he said, 'however, you need to learn the next lesson before you will be able to help your children.' Then he took us to a spot in the yard that we rarely enjoyed, then he showed us its beauty and all of the great places to explore for children. (I confess that we also have a great time exploring this part of the yard.) He kept showing is around until we grew to love this area of the yard, and then he showed us how the fences were perfectly constructed to guide children toward this place."
"The only way to protect your children is to bring them here and teach them to love this place. The more they love being here, the less interested they will be in the dangers.
Ok...I think I get it, but why can't we build a few more fences to make their journey easier and faster?
"You know, we asked the same question. We had already figured out that the fences cannot prevent children from going over, around, or through them. Now we accepted that they simply served as a guide. On top of that, it turned out that if you add or modify those fences they always block the paths to the best part of the yard, and we learned that some families build so many fences that they never get to see the beauty of it. His description reminded us of my sister's yard.
We also learned that as long as we trusted the fences to keep our children safe, we were actually voiding the warranty, and we were told that we needed to teach our children about the fences, show them the beautiful spot to explore, and show them how the fences act as a guide to take them there. It definitely takes a lot more work, and we had to put in a lot of windows to keep watch over them. Whenever they began to go from the beautiful place in the yard, we would go out and teach them some more about the fences and guide them back to the beautiful place in the yard.
However, this has not only been more effective at keeping our children safe, we have had so many wonderful times together as a family, that none of us want to leave this spot in the yard. We live to go back there, if only for a few moments, and we spend so much time there, that the rest of the neighborhood has begun to notice. Would you like to see it, Dad?"
[Me and my son walked to the fences and then walked along it toward the center of the yard. There I saw so much of interest and beauty that I could scarcely go home! My son assured me that there was a spot just like this in everyone's yard.]
A few months later, I invited my children to our home for a party. That night I planned on burning the supplemental material, my sales associate of the year awards, and the remaining wood and stubble from our old fences. I also hoped to introduce my daughter to that wonderful place in the middle of our yard.
Next: A Sad Letter to Dr. Salesman
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