Two scenes from Mexico, where my family just spent a week’s vacation. (Skip the envy. Nice weather, yes, but my husband slipped before we left and spent the whole time on crutches. Meantime, this was the general tenor of our kids’ conversation: “I just saw a stingray.” “No you didn’t.” “I did too!” “You just think you did.” “But I did!” “See?”)
Anyway, that’s not the point — thank God. The point is to contrast two scenes. The first, in town: A Mexican boy of about 8, sweeping his home. Not its floor. Its roof. With no guardrails.
Scene two, at the resort: Our own boys, 10 and 12, renting snorkeling gear: Mask, flippers, life jacket.
Even a few years back, my sister informs me, snorkelers did not wear life jackets. Now these are standard issue, at least for kids.
I was very happy the boys got them, since I am, at heart, a chicken. But if these jackets didn’t automatically come as part of the package, I wouldn’t have missed them, either. Just like most of us would not miss the safety belts that now come standard in toy wagons. Or the arm straps that now come standard in strollers, so you can plaster your kid to the seat as if you’re on your way to a typhoon, rather than the park — where, by the way, there’s a spring under the teeter-totter so no one lands too hard, and the slide is short, so no one falls too far, and the ground is springy, just in case someone does.
Did I mention the fact that the swing chains’ holes have been filled in so no one catches a finger in them? On some playgrounds, that’s the case.
As we pile on the safety precautions and equipment, the expectation of zero danger becomes the norm. What seemed a reasonable risk even a year or two ago now seems foolhardy. Snorkeling without a life vest becomes a quaint memory, on par with putting your baby to sleep in a room without a sound monitor. Sure that seemed fine – until those monitors came along. After that, putting your baby to sleep without one sounded positively rash.
Then along came video monitors. Full color, flat screen ones that let you see and hear everything going on in the crib. At which point, putting your baby to bed with just a sound monitor sounded positively rash. (And don’t even ask about the infra-red cameras.)
Do children really need all this protection? It’s hard to say no, when all around us are the means to prevent our kids from encountering even the least likely catastrophe.
But the parents of the Mexican boy sweeping the railing-free roof are protecting their child another way – protecting him from feeling helpless and timid. Deliberately or not, they are raising a child who is confident in a scary place, or, if not confident, then at least forced to be brave, which is how confidence grows. He also looked pretty cheerful. And he’s good with a broom.
Those happen to be my exact goals for my own sons. So far?
Well, they’ve seen some giant sea turtles. And they’ve lived to tell the tale. But now that we’re back home, it may be time for another brand new experience.
It involves a dust pan.