It is what it is: Throwing caution to the wind – or not

My mother likes to tell a story about me and my twin sister from when we were toddlers. Actually, she there are a lot of stories she likes to tell, but this one gets repeated frequently.

As the story goes, my sister and I each had our own Tyke Bikes — anyone who was a youngster in the early 1970s might remember the foot-powered riding toys with the yellow seat with black spots and the red and white wheels. We’d ride them back and forth on the sidewalk in front of our house, and apparently, our individual personalities began to show in our riding styles.

There was an uneven patch along the sidewalk where one slab of concrete had sunk — it probably wasn’t more than an inch or two, but in my memory it might’ve been a foot. As my mother tells it, my sister was the fearless one, and would go tearing down the sidewalk with reckless abandon, with little concern for crashing.

I on the other hand, was a bit more cautious, and would proceed carefully along the sidewalk, always conscious of the gap. I think the reason the story is so frequently retold is because it’s where I got my first nickname — Fuddy-Duddy (a phrase for someone who is old-fashioned, stuffy and conservative), shortened to Fud.

It’s a personality trait that has stayed with me. I prefer to look before I leap. To this day, any time I climb a hill on my bike or on skis, I always pause for a few moments at the top — in part to catch my breath, but also to consider the descent and offer a quick prayer to the gods of gravity before heading down. I have some mountain biking friends who, when we get to the top of wherever we’re going, I just tell not to wait for me on the way down, I’ll see them in the parking lot. It’s not a big deal, especially when I’m the one with the car keys.

Flash forward 40 years, and it’s been fun to watch my own children’s personalities come through in their activities. I have a son who is a freshman in high school and on the cross-country ski team, and a daughter in seventh grade who has taken to swimming like a fish. They are both much more daring than I ever was, but they also have different approaches to their sports of choice.

My son, for example, just recently had a ski meet and placed much higher than he had in previous races. Impressed, we pestered him for details about the race. Was he skiing faster, really pushing the pace? Was he in the zone? What happened?

For his part, he insisted it was no big deal. The course had a steep hill with a sharp turn at the bottom, he explained. Some of the other racers went screaming down the hill, but crashed at the bottom trying to make the corner. My son took the hill a little slower, and stayed under control and passed his competitors at the bottom. Sometimes just staying on course is a victory. My son tends to be a little more reserved and calculating, and when he explained his race, I had to chuckle.

My daughter, on the other hand, does not know the meaning of the word reserved. Her personality is outgoing (and then some), and when she gets in the pool she doesn’t hold back. She recently swam her first 200-yard individual medley — 50 yards each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. It’s a tough race, and she started out guns blazing. According to my wife’s description of the race, she started running out of gas as the race progressed, and barely hung on for the final lap — but finished well nonetheless.

It’s even more interesting to see my kids do something side by side. They done karate together for a few years, and will each do the same kata with the same movements, but they will look very different doing it. My daughter is all about speed and precision; my son exudes strength and power.

Each approach seems to work. How do I know? They can both kick my butt.

Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at

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