It is an indisputable fact that no matter how many precautions we may take – no matter how much we spend to ‘childproof’ our house (I always thought this was a strange expression – when you waterproof something, it keeps water out. Does that mean when you childproof your house, you’re trying to keep the children out?), accidents are going to happen. I’ve been reading more of Lenore Skenazy’s book Free Range Kids, which spends quite a bit of time pointing out how ridiculous and over done most of these ‘safety’ measures are. Inspired by her hilarious rant, I went on Amazon this evening and did a general search under “Children and Safety”. One of the books that came up is titled, Safe Kids: A Complete Child-Safety Handbook and Resource Guide for Parents. Below the title are a list of bullet points of the kinds of safety issues the book covers (it is extensive, to say the least), and then it says, “Packed with checklists, worksheets, forms and sample documents”. Worksheets? What could they be for? Amazon has a convenient ‘Look Inside‘ option for some books, and this was one of them, so I clicked in, hoping to see what one of the worksheets looked like. Unfortunately the worksheet page was not among those shown, but there were ten lined blank pages with the heading “Parents Safety Notes” at the top. As in, “Note to self: do not allow Tommy to practice juggling with the steak-knives”?
The Table of Contents was pretty revealing, though. Included in it was everything from “Clothing Records” (I’m afraid to ask) to “School Worksheets” (I can only imagine) to “Muggings” (Really? Where do these children live that they need to fear muggings on a daily basis?) to “Transporting Children by Means other than Cars” (Like horses?) to the ever popular, “Bikes”, “Playgrounds” and “Skateboards”. There are only two ways to deal with such overwhelming evidence of the dangers lurking in even the most innocent of places (Like in your clothing. Look out for those rogue socks!). Either you barricade the door and never leave the house (after it’s been fully childproofed, of course), or you toss these books in the trash and trust that you will know what to do to keep your child safe, just as your parents did, and their parents before them.
Because, despite everything, as I said in the beginning, accidents will happen. You cannot childproof the world. As a case in point, I’ll relay an incident that just occurred yesterday to my dear friend Hallie. Hallie has 5 children, ranging in age from 10 to 2. She is not an overprotective mother, but she is very sensible. All of her kids ride bikes with skill starting sometime in their second year. Her husband spends time with them, teaching them to ride, and they are great at it. They know the rules of the road, the hand signals for turns – everything. The neighborhood they live in is older (not in New York City) and the houses have sidewalks in front. Their street is a kind of cul-de-sac and the kids can ride up and down the sidewalks and around the block with ease. Alden, her 3 year old boy, is as cute and mischievous as they come, and rides his bike with the older kids every day without mishap. Until yesterday, when he had an accident and face-planted off his bike, thus requiring several hours of oral surgery to re-align his teeth, put on braces and stitch him up. Poor little guy!
Would reading the Safe Kids book section on bikes have prevented this accident? Well, I haven’t read it, but it probably talks about the importance of helmets and elbow and knee pads, none of which would have made any difference in this case. Alden was not a first time rider, and there was no reason for Hallie to be with him while he rode. Even if she had been, how many of us could react quickly enough to catch a falling 3 year old before they hit the pavement? None of us, I’d guess. By the time we realized what was happening, it would be over. Hallie is a great Mom, with confident, happy kids. Poor Alden is proof that no amount of books on safety or measures taken to prevent injury can keep kids from the occasional accident. If anything, all such books do is make us see dangers where there aren’t any, and then when an accident happens we can berate ourselves for our failure to keep our child safe.
Alden will get better, and have a great story to tell when he’s older. “You broke your leg? Well guess what happened to ME when I was only 3 years old!” He’ll learn from his mishap, and if I know Hallie, he’ll be encouraged to get back up on his bike as soon as his mouth has healed.
Here’s an idea for parents who are reading that Safe Kids book. On the Parents Safety Notes pages, write “Accidents Will Happen” over and over. Once you’ve got that straight, you can throw the book away. The rest will be easy.