“In the photograph I’m shown wearing a diaper and that’s about it. My older sister is topless as well. I’m about two years old and holding a lit Fourth of July sparkler. I vaguely remember burning my hand and having my grandmother stick it in her gin and tonic to cool it down.” – college classmate
The other night in my gender and sexuality class, students were sharing stories about their youth. The gist of the conversation was the Grand Canyon-sized gap between parenting decades ago and now. Today children are bubble-wrapped in safety requirements imposed by government regulations and nervous parents. To illustrate, one person shared that recently her sister freaked out when she realized her child had been given room-temperature milk. “You let her drink that milk? How long had it been sitting out? Do you think we should take her to the hospital?” The person’s point was that her sister had not exactly been engaged with her child until the milk incident, and then suddenly turned into super-tiger mom. The same person related that when she was a child she had a hand full of sparkler, or pop-bottle rocket sticks, in her hand. As she was running around in glee, she tripped and the sticks went up her nose. Her parents were reluctant to leave the Fourth of July festivities, so rather than going to an emergency room they took her to a local IGA grocery store to find something that might stop the bleeding. “All I remember is walking through the aisles with a huge wad of Kleenex pressed against my face and blood dripping everywhere.”
It’s not funny, but it is, because it is so relatable from my childhood upbringing. I remember it as a time when safety was a word used in conjunction to pins, and not children. Car seats for kids? Never heard of such a thing in my day. Depending on the vehicle in use we crawled all over the place. On those “had to behave or a parent was coming back there drives,” my two older brothers kept me locked in place by jamming their elbows into my ribs on a frequent basis. (I was always made to sit between them. As the middle child I hadn’t earned a window seat.)
There are literally times I wonder how we survived childhood intact. We never told our mom when, or where, we were building hay forts. It would have been so easy to get buried under the stacks of bales and not found until ??? Another memory recalls a summer afternoon when my younger brother and I decided to try jousting on our bikes. We each selected a long, fairly thick, tree branch and started riding towards each other. Luckily one of us—I can’t remember who—wasn’t strong enough to hold the branch out in front and pedal on the gravel road at the same time. I shudder to think what would have happened had we managed to reach each other. Call me an alarmist, but something bad probably comes from skewering each other. My mom and dad mostly took a, “Meh. They’ll learn,” approach. In an odd way, their attitude made me stronger. Every little scrape or tumble wasn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t so precious that I needed to be sheltered from any and all possible hurt. In fact, growing up with three brothers meant I did my dog-gone best not to cry if injured. The teasing was worse than the nail stuck in my foot, or the misaimed rock hitting my head. (At least my brothers said they were trying to miss me. Hmmm…)
I’m not exactly slamming today’s isolative climate, but do wonder if we are protecting our children so completely that they won’t know how to handle life’s bumps as they mature. It just occurred to me that early overprotectiveness might be a reason why we have so many lawsuits going. There is an atmosphere of entitlement. We deserve to be free from any pain…even if the pain is self-inflicted…like spilling a cup of hot coffee in one’s lap and then suing because McDonald’s didn’t specifically say hot coffee could cause burns. Really? Really? Give me a break.
If you have any childhood stories about either being over or under-protected, I’d love to hear them. Maybe we’ll learn something, and maybe we’ll just have a good chuckle at ourselves and cultural dictates. Joust, anyone?