House rocketing

One morning, while he was supposed to be getting ready for school, my then-11-year-old son was running madly through the house. He'd go out the back door, across the patio, in another door, up the hall, through a bedroom, hit the back door again, around and around.

I finally snagged him as he went by, and we had the following conversation:

Me: "What are you doing?"

Him, gasping and slightly wild-eyed: "I don't know."

That, my friends, is a frighteningly honest answer, one that sums up much about childhood and its mysteries.

My son was tearing through the house at top speed like a cat that suddenly gets one of those unfathomable urges to zoom around the house like a rocket. And he was doing it for the same inexplicable reasons. Or for no reason at all.

Children are vibrating bundles of imagination and confusion and hormones and speed and attitude and noise and boundless, bouncing energy. Sometimes, all those forces grab hold at once and send the child wildly running amok.

If you don't believe me, stop by any school playground and watch the darling little children sprinting and screaming and fighting and rolling in the dirt. You won't understand any of it and, the truth is, neither do they. Nature's got hold of them and it won't let go.

Sometimes, kids just need to run. They need to shriek. They need to jump up and down on invisible pogo sticks, babbling nonsense. They need to squirm and giggle and snort at the worst possible occasions. They need to climb something -- right now.

And when they act on these urges, we fretting parents rein them in and ask what they were thinking. And they say, "I don't know." Every time.

How can we parents be expected to understand our children when even they don't know why they do what they do?

Parenting is a seat-of-the-pants endeavor. It's learn-on-the-job. It's hold-on-for-dear-life. It is, frankly, a lot of guesswork.

We try to guess why the kids behave a certain way, then accept it or condone it or try to change it or try to make it stop (though stopping it often is like trying to catch that racing cat). But we don't understand it. We might pretend we do. We might think we can remember when we were kids and acted the same way. We might analyze the behavior and consult parenting books and pronounce a diagnosis. But we don't know. Not really. Most of us can't be sure what's going on in the heads of other adults, much less what a five-year-old was thinking when he decided to "fly" out of the treehouse.

Kids live in their own little chaotic worlds. Their bodies and their brains are developing like crazy, pulling them in different directions. Stand next to a kid and (if you can get him to be quiet for a second) you can practically hear him growing and changing and humming with energy and imagining weird, dangerous feats to attempt. It sounds sort of like jungle noises.

It's Nature at work, encapsulated in a frenzied, energetic package that once in a while simply must scramble through the house at full speed. And we parents would do well to stay out of the way, if we know what's good for us.

Because you never know what children might do next. And neither do they.

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