When the poet Robert Frost wrote about “something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” it was obvious that the something he was referring to was not a child: otherwise, the line would have read, “something there is that loves a wall too much;” or, at least, “loves all manner of portable ones.” I am referring, of course, to those instant barricades that banks, amusement parks and night clubs all rely on to funnel their large, mooing masses of humanity into orderly queues; there is just something about them that children can’t resist. It doesn’t matter whether they are literally velvet ropes or simply cheap plastic chains: whenever children are confronted by one of them they are powerless to resist pulling on them, leaning on them, (attempting to) sit down on them, and in general, wreaking havoc upon both the barriers and everyone else around them.
It doesn’t matter how familiar the child is with the barricade either: every house in America could be fronted with a velvet rope and a burly doorman, and still, every child in America would attempt to sit on every one of them, every day, with the result that every child in America would simultaneously end up flailing their arms, knocking down the stanchions, looking shocked, and defensively declaring “But it was an accident!”
I do not know if this is a universal habit, but I suspect that it is. Do Mexican children pull down the barriers at Chichen Ixta? Do French children fall flat on their derrieres when sitting on the ones at the Louvre? Do the children of Alpha Centautri cast all twelve of their eyes upwards in shocked amazement when the proton chain is disrupted by the insertion of one of their 226 knees? Probably.
Perhaps, then, the problem isn’t one of familiarity, but of acclimation. In many cultures it is customary for parents to gradually accustom their children to local traditions and foods; for example, a Thai mother might slowly introduce her child to hotter and hotter peppers, until they, too, can laugh at the silly farang as he attempts to eat a “mild” curry. Or, a British mother might expose her children to racier and racier tabloid stories, until finally they can look at the front page of The News of the World and see David Beckham’s bare bum juxtaposed with the Queen Mum’s face and barely bat an eye.
Perhaps we should do the same with our children and barriers; perhaps we should begin when they are small by putting barriers around their cribs. Something sturdy, like a combination of concrete and rebar (I’m liking the sound of this already), before continuing on with ever longer and more delicate barriers–perhaps stucco and plywood in grade school, and cyclone fencing and concertina wire when they become teenagers (like you haven’t thought of it), until, finally, they reach a point where they are “barrier-proof.” If this plan is followed rigidly I can foresee a future for them in which, even in their late teens, they will be able to stand in line at their cousin’s wedding buffet and resist the urge to rest their weary buttocks on top of the ethereal band of flowers woven into a loopy rope especially for the occasion.
It could happen.
Realistically, I have no reason to believe that even constant exposure to various and assorted barriers would result in anything other than various and assorted chaos. After all, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Last summer, for instance, I watched both of my children fall through the barriers at Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain and Autopia at Disneyland for four days straight–something that clearly qualified as insanity on the part of someone present. I’m just not so sure it wasn’t me.