After reading Not Calm (Dot Com)'s and Friday Playdate's Tuesday posts I examined a few of my own feelings about the state of things and how I can protect my children from the violence that seems to be everywhere:
My sons' favorite part of school is recess (no surprises there) but last week when I picked them up they were deflated.
During the eight years my children have attended this fine school I've watched one thing after another on the playground become "off limits": the group of twelve trees constituting "the woods" (evidently trees are a silent killer), the open field if there is a trace of mud (in Alaska, a weekly occurrence), the hill if there's any ice (ditto previous comment), the fence around the perimeter (because fences shouldn't be touched on general principle) and if there's even a trace of rain the whole thing is gone--it's indoor recess.
The situation is symptomatic of a larger issue which seems to continuously counteract my efforts as a parent: Regulation of the most basic aspects of everyday life in the name of protection, a societal attempt to sterilize humanity from the perils of existence. Life is a dangerous game, full of choices, costs, gambles, and consequences but in an attempt to improve our surroundings and eliminate unnecessary risks we are sanitizing childhood into oblivion.
Think about when you were young and learning to ride a bike. Did you know anyone who wore a helmet? The only kid I knew who wore a helmet was the boy next door who had a rare medical condition that had softened his bones. Other than that, I never saw anyone with a helmet, never saw one for sale in a store, and never would have thought of wearing one.
Moreover, I never knew a child to suffer a head injury while riding their bike. All the kids I played with in our neighborhood, all the hours I spent on my bike and there wasn't one head injury. As an adult I still have yet to see or hear of anyone who's suffered even a minor head injury while riding a bike, let alone a life-threatening fracture.
I know they exist out there--somewhere--I've read articles in the paper where emergency room doctors are quoted saying bike helmets have saved many lives. I'm sure there are even some reading this article who could tell gruesome tales but my point is: They are the rare exception. But when the
But before you think this is all about bike helmets, let me expand a bit. My parents were children of the sixties lived through threats of nuclear holocaust, the Watts riots, riots at the Democratic National Convention, riots at Kent State, heck, riots everywhere, the fear dying in a controversial war, conflicts over civil rights, assassinations--JFK, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Bobby Kennedy--corruption in government and the resignation of Nixon. But they made it through and are well on their way to collecting social security.
But go back even further when my grandparents married in 1943, days before he shipped off to serve as a medic in World War II. They had lived through the Depression and knew what real poverty looked like, they lived through the trauma of Pearl Harbor, the possible world domination by the Third Reich, the death of friends and loved ones, and biological epidemics such as polio, influenza and countless other diseases. But even amid the turmoil someone was saying, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Have we reached that point? Are we running around with the televisions blaring fearing nothing of more substance than Fear Itself?
The problems and traumas of previous generations have been, if not irradiated, substantially diminished leaving us with so much leisure time and life expectancy that we have had to find new dangers to occupy our worrying hours. Smallpox, diphtheria, polio these are replaced by the fear of fluoridated water or allergic reactions to vaccines--ironically those same vaccines which wiped most childhood diseases from our collective memory.
Where there was once the threat of infiltration from Communist destroyers we now have Radon, allergens, nicotine, fluorocarbons, SARS, and DEET lying in wait to destroy our lives. Where there was once the reality of 25% unemployment at home and world-wide economic depression there is now the fear of not being able to retire by 65. Our life expectancy is roughly 80 years and our overall standard of living is higher than at any other time or place in human history but we're busy worrying about everything from child abductions to global warming to school shootings to a colliding with an asteroid.
Does this mean that that these new problems aren't a concern? Does it mean there isn't a danger of my child being involved in a school shooting? Does it mean I throw caution to the wind, bungee jumping off the nearest building? No, I still buy plenty of insurance, wear my seat belt, refrain from running with scissors, keep the batteries current in my smoke detectors and am thankful for restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. But I weigh the odds against the costs and consider the law of diminishing returns.
As a corporate attorney my husband reviews, drafts and negotiates contracts all day long; every person who comes to him would like to protect themselves from every eventuality, every possible problem they could encounter, every litigation that might ensue but there is a point at which the time, money and effort spent protecting against life's dangers hampers the basic purpose of business: to make money. At some point the work of covering one's bases becomes so large that trade is hampered in a mire of procedures and policies, decision-making is restricted in a morass of red-tape and production is countermanded by worry over who will take responsibility when something goes wrong.
This is what's happening to our children: in an effort to sanitize them from every germ, every chance of injury or violence we are wrapping them in a bubble where their creativity, intelligence, accountability and independence are compromised. This is what we're giving up by regulating and enforcing every precaution against danger--the old freedom v. protection argument so aptly being demonstrated in the airline industry since 9/11 We need to instead weigh the risks, examine the odds and take prudent but wise measures to protect against real dangers.
What real dangers? Well I'm not so much worried about my children becoming one of the 115 children abducted by strangers each year in the
But even amid these abstractions, amid dangers that are harder to see than the latest bombing on the six o'clock news, I am comforted by hope. Hope that the violence, though well-publicized, will continue to be rare, hope that our families can survive a crazy world intact, hope that our children will turn out "okay," and that the good and decent people all around us--the ones paying taxes, volunteering at soup kitchens, donating to charities, standing up for goodness--will be doing their best right alongside us. Without hope we've lost what chance we might have had at success. So every morning I suck it up, give the kids a hug and a kiss, send them off to school and say a prayer. What other choice is there?
There is no way to protect ourselves--or our children--from every risk inherent in our mortality and when we try we pay too great of a price. What price? Well, now that the boys can't play Wall Ball they're left without their favorite form of exercise (what child in America today couldn't use more exercise?) without the satisfaction of playing a game they made themselves, without the social interaction and learning to get along the game facilitates and all they have left is the certainty that the adults are running every aspect of their lives. The final irony is that it won't eliminate playground scrapes and bloody noses--there will always be some kind of risk--they'd have to pass out surgical gloves and masks, individually bubble-wrap each child and stick them in a corner. And even then someone will be allergic to latex.
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