Slightly less horrifying (but still paranoia-inducing) than news reports about actual children being hurt are the ones that spew out all of the many seemingly common ways your child could hypothetically be hurt/killed/maimed. Back when I was little the only things that were really drilled into our heads were these two statements: "Don't speak to strangers" and "Stop, Drop, and Roll" (you know, for all of those times you find yourself on fire). The underlying message of these warnings implies as long as you follow these TWO simple rules, you should live to see tomorrow. Everything else is a go!
This was easy enough to remember. I specifically remember when I was around 8 or 9 years old getting to put my training into real-life use when I was out riding my bike around in my small hometown. It was near night-fall and I was headed back home when a car pulled up next to me and the driver asked if I needed a ride home. I immediately freaked out in my head because I was like, "THIS IS IT! I'M GETTING ABDUCTED!! MAN THE BATTLE STATIONS!" But, instead of screaming, "YOU AREN'T MY MOMMY!!!" at her, I politely declined and pedaled away quickly. I found out later that she was just someone who knew my dad and she recognized me, but she was proud of me for not accepting a ride from a person I didn't know even though she was just trying to help. Clearly my stranger-danger training worked. (Note: I haven't had a chance to use my Stop, Drop, and Roll training yet as I've managed to make it through 31 successful not-being-on-fire years so far. YAY!)
Ah, if only the simple times could last. It seems that a lot has changed during the years which have passed since I was a kid and now when I actually have one of my own. Everything is CRAZY scary now! Not only do you have the "Don't talk to strangers" and the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" but you have a billion other tiny little rules about what you should or shouldn't teach/do with your children to keep them safe. My mind is spinning! What if I forget to teach you something and you go into the world unprepared??? How terrible would I feel if something happened to you and it was because I let you down in your Jedi safety training???
These thoughts are my new constant companions.
Just this morning I was listening to NPR on the way to work and heard a story about something called "The Choking Game" that kids are playing as a free way to get a high-like rush. It basically involves strangulation as a means of depriving the brain the oxygen it needs to, you know... live. The kids either use their hands to strangle their friends until they nearly pass or they do it alone by wrapping something around their necks and tying the other end to something else so they can strangle themselves. The idea, of course, is to STOP right before something bad happens. It turns out that kids aren't as good at pinpointing when that bad stuff happens as they thought they would be. Kids are freaking DYING from this crap!
I swear, when I was a kid, NO ONE had to tell us not to strange ourselves for fun! If someone said that to me as a kid I would have been like, "Um... yeah... do you think I'm some sort of idiot? Why are you telling me this?" But, now I feel compelled to have this talk with you when you're older because apparently kids ARE some sorts of idiots! It won't mean I think you're an idiot, but it will mean I don't want you to fall under the pressure of your idiot friends who want you to do the idiot things they come up with. I'm guessing by the time you're a teenager The Choking Game will be a thing of the past, but kids are adventurous and dumb so I am sure something equally ridiculous will take its place. "Tonight on News at 11: Is your child playing the Shish-Kabob Game? It involves taking sharp Hepatitis-covered bamboo skewers and stabbing them through several levels of children to create a Shish-Kabob of bloody, diseased, screaming teenagers! Why your child might be at risk!!" Absolute insanity!
Here is a short list of things I worry (worried) about because of newspaper articles, news reports, or general run-of-the-mill old wives tales:
*Magnets: Apparently if a kid swallows more than one magnet they can wind up with life-threatening injuries when those magnets stick together as they work their way through the intestinal tract. Kids and pets have lost parts of their bowels or even DIED simply because kids and pets eat every frickin' thing that isn't nailed down. I know this is true because I ate blanket fuzz and a couple of metal ball-bearings when I was a kid. Hey, don't judge me! You are ALWAYS trying to put things in your mouth before dad and I stop you! You try to eat wood-chips, for heaven's sake!
*Hot dogs: I hesitate to feed you even the smallest particle of hot dogs, not because they're gross and made of pig anus (okay, maybe partly that) but because everyone tells you not to feed small kids hot dogs because they're a terrible choking risk. My brain tells me that they aren't any more dangerous cut up into small non-choking-sized pieces than anything else I give you, but for some reason it is stuck in my brain that giving you even a small amount of hot dog increases the chances that I'll get to practice the Heimlich on you. I found out you had some hot dogs at your grandma's house this weekend and felt every part of my body pucker all at once (not a pleasant feeling, mind you) until I realized that I was being wholly unreasonable.
*Crib bumpers: All of the SIDS groups tell you not to put anything in the crib except the baby and a mattress, if you're lucky. Crib bumpers are akin to putting knives and grenades in the crib with your baby because of the risk of suffocation. We were diligent parents and didn't put the crib bumpers in your crib... right up until we almost broke your arm trying to get it unstuck from however you managed to contort your body to get it stuck in the crib slats in the first place. That night, the bumpers went on! We figured you were aware enough NOT to let yourself get suffocated (which made you about 1,000% smarter than those teenagers I mentioned who play that Choking Game, at the ripe old age of 6 months old). Still, the news reports and SIDS groups have made parents think that their babies are the world's most helpless little creatures until you enroll them in kindergarten that parents are nearly unable to make those decisions for themselves anymore. Logic told us that we KNEW you and we KNEW you were able to move yourself away from any sort of danger in your crib, but parents aren't encouraged to make those decisions for themselves anymore based on their own kid. We're programmed almost immediately to follow every single guideline put forth and how DARE we not follow it to the max!
Now, I am still genuinely terrified of the whole "stranger" thing and for good reason! There are so many nutjobs out there who would have no qualms about hurting you. For that reason we intend on educating the crap out of you about what to do when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation because those things are REAL and PERVASIVE in our society, like they've always been. I'm putting your little butt into some sort of martial arts training as soon as you're old enough to yell "HEE-YAWWWW!!!" We're going to have secret family passwords so you know if someone can be trusted. We're going to talk about how to spot a safe-place if you feel like you're in danger. We're going to teach you that it is absolutely okay to say "NO" to someone if you don't trust them and that we'd never be mad at you for hurting someone if you do so while trying to defend yourself. These are skills you can take with you your entire life.
As far as all of the other insane things go, I just hope that we have a close enough relationship that you feel like you can come to us and tell us if someone is pressuring you to do something you aren't comfortable doing. It might seem like we're all over your life, butting in when you don't want us to, but please know that we will do this because we love you and we don't want to see anything bad happen to you. I won't lie, there are a lot of very dangerous things out there. Some of these dangerous things are known to us and we can teach you how to avoid them. Some of these dangerous things are unknown to us and we will rely on your wisdom, common sense, and faith in us as your parents to help get you through them. Until then, we will do our best to walk that fine line between safety and discovery because we respect your lack of fear when it comes to trying new things, even if it terrifies US a bit!
Oh, and if/when you have a child someday... don't read or watch or listen to the news. It will slowly tear away any hope you have for humanity and it is totally not representative of the world as a whole. Most of the people you will meet will be good folks and not deranged psychopaths. It's our job to teach you how to tell the difference... and how to tear their eyes from their face if they try to do anything to hurt you.