When the opportunity to climb a 700-year-old castle turret presented itself, I considered my son’s safety. I was also concerned about dismissing an adventurous experience. What’s a dad to do?
It’s always easier in hindsight, isn’t it?
Was the advice or discipline you provided to your child effective? Your subconscious rarely asks this question when it comes to impulse decisions that may involve an element of adventure.
Of course, our son will love the log flume ride at Disney World! Despite him being younger than almost every kid on line…
That was one mistake my wife and I made because our son did not enjoy that particular experience. He was rather flummoxed and frightened. I was his ‘co-pilot therapist’ for the second half of the ride. That, in hindsight, prompted us to ask if our son was too young for other rides during our day at the park.
The parents, in this scenario, learned from their mistake. Life provided us with a lesson.
Such was the case in November of 2018, the year we traveled to Ireland. This was our first family trip to the green isle and my son’s first jaunt overseas. I was proud of the way he managed the circumstances on the flight, a lemon in the air known as Norwegian Airlines. Their flights are cheap, but when they charge you $10 for a blanket so your kid can sleep, one feels the strong desire to tell the high-altitude waitress to go F….
But our son managed both legs of the flight very well, more so than we ever expected. A good omen for the future, since his parents love to travel. And I even suggested we invite my mother-in-law to join us. She was a master entertainer in the backseat with our son while we traversed the roads of Ireland, which is no small thing.
Flash forward past terrific outings at the Gap of Dunloe, Galway, and drives through peat bogs. The remaining days of our trip were spent at a castle: Ashford Castle, to be precise.
To those unacquainted with this destination, words alone cannot express the posh surroundings that represent one of Ireland’s (and Europe’s) finest castles. This property was owned by the Guinness family, which alone is reason enough to visit. We dined in the same room that King George The Fifth frequented (a grand room built for his arrival, no less!). We enjoyed tea and scones in the afternoon. Lovely… quite lovely.
How could we afford this? A travel agent arranged our entire trip, and the connections she has in the business were leveraged with sublime grace. She even procured a suite for us, which came with a bidet and sauna tub.
Did I mention my son made the mistake of trying to wash his hands in the bidet? You can’t blame him—it was at his height and once the faucet handle was turned, it provided easy access to spouts of water. Fortunately, the bidet had not yet been tarnished by the parents who occupied the same suite.
My son and I set off on an adventure the following morning. So many things to see and do throughout the gardens! It was November, so the scents of the autumn season lingered in the air. We clamored through gaps in the surrounding castle walls, went through tunnels that connected one garden to another. We bounded down wide lanes that were once used by royalty, visiting diplomats and the grand nobles of the 17th century who wore high and white stockings!
You can’t make this stuff up—the castle was built in the 1200s. It was restored and expanded when the Guinness family purchased the estate in the 1850s at the height of the potato famine. In their day, they represented Budweiser, Miller, and Coors all rolled up under a brand that skyrocketed in Ireland and beyond.
And the original castle was built with authenticity – i.e. to drive back the barbarian hordes, perhaps Vikings, or revolting peasants.
The turrets beckoned to us from the distance. Sitting two or three stories high, at the crossroads of wide and aged walls when they connected at an angle. They were spectacular when we approached the front gates.
And they were locked.
“Nonsense,” I said to son. “Let’s go find a turret we can climb!”
This led us outside the gated walls of the castle, and we followed an unkept and overgrown trail to find an open turret we could access.
We spotted one 50 yards away, which was flanked on one side by trees that ran parallel to the castle walls. Thus, it was not visible from the common grounds. Then, we saw a workman’s shack a short distance away. We approached and heard someone speaking on the telephone.
The worker had his legs up on a desk and was chatting away about cricket or something of the ilk. When he saw us, his jaw sagged for a brief moment. He mentioned to the person he was speaking to he’d call back.
My five-year-old and I smiled. “Hello there!”
“We were wondering, is that turret back there open? Can we climb it?”
“Well, blimey, I don’t even think the owners know that one exists.”
My inner child responded with an evil grin. Good.
“Mind if we pop up there to check it out?”
He raised his eyebrows but did not voice any immediate concern. We thanked him and I rushed my son away before the workman had a chance to change his mind.
We found the rounded and Romanesque doorway open and looked up: no locks, nothing to stop us, we can climb it!
Then my inner parent, the one who is supposed to be grounded and responsible, bitch-slapped my ego. The rusted staircase handle was paired with stones built into the walls that climbed two flights toward the sky. It curved around twice, and the banisters themselves were, at many points, nonexistent.
The term, ‘child friendly’ was the last thing that came to mind. It was the complete opposite.
I could imagine the coronary a Disney Park manager would have if he saw this sight. Mickey would not approve.
But then again, when did Mickey ever light it up and go out in a blaze of glory? That safe, bubble-wrapped little mouse!
Thus, a paradox ensued within my mind. If we climbed the stairs and my son fell through the banisters, I would never forgive myself. If I turned away and told my son this represented an unsafe adventure…. I would never forgive myself.
More than likely, this was the only turret we’d be able to access. Later on, after checking out three or four others, I was correct: all locked and inaccessible.
Oh, what is a dad to do!
Judge me if you want, but here’s how I played our hand. I kept one hand on his left shoulder and told him to hug the stone and circular walls. I followed and gripped his jacket and was stern. “Don’t venture too close to the handrail.” Then I told him if he ignored me and fell, he’d break a leg or worse, and the trip would end early.
I’ve done this numerous times since he started running around the playground when he was less than two. I pointed out the consequences, showed him how to manage certain obstacles, and told him to think.
That came in handy. Our right shoulders were pressed against the stone walls. We ascended. The light grew greater as we inched further to the opening above. And then…
Eureka! What a view! The top platform was overgrown with weeds but the midevial turret was solid. There was, however, one gaping hole covered by a wood plank, and I pointed that out immediately. “Fall through that and… Yikes!” My son got the message.
This is where archers would crouch behind the stone upcroppings, and once they had loaded their arrows, they would turn and fire at whatever assailants were worthy of death. No one dare enters the grounds of Ashford castle!
It was exhilarating, not only for taking the risk, but knowing how so many of those timid souls, sipping tea inside the castle, would never see this view. This was our turret, our exclusive find and we had the guts to climb to the top!
That’s an experience no one will ever take away from me and my son, Connor.
The flipside, had things turned south, would have presented another title for this article: The Worst Parenting Decision I ever Made in My Life.
But again, hindsight is 20/20 – was it the wrong call to take the risk, or worth it for my son to feel the excitement that comes from adventuring?
Would I do it again? Yes.
Would I caveat the hell out of it, like I did before we journeyed up the not-so-Disney-safe staircase? Absolutely.
If you are faced with a similar situation, bear in mind the old cliché: fools rush in. Pause… and then consider the consequences, and voice those concerns to your child.
And establish ironclad rules.
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