Boozy Babies & Other Overhyped Panics

Hi Readers! Here’s my Wall Street Journal oped from last week. Enjoy! (Or whatever.) — L.

Perhaps 2011 will be recalled as the year that a toddler accidentally got served an alcoholic drink at a Michigan Applebee’s. Not the biggest news this year, but the fact that it was a national story at all shows we can’t seem to tell the difference between one stupid accident and a terrifying trend that we must do something about immediately!

.
The Applebee’s saga, back in April, was just this: Some waiter grabbed a mislabeled container and poured the 15-month-old a very potent cup of juice. The parents noticed something was wrong when, the mother reported, the boy started saying “hi” to the walls.
.
Applebee’s went apoplectic with pro-activeness, declaring not only would it retrain its entire wait staff that instant, but from now on it would only use single-serve juices.
.
Which is not an evil response, of course (except environmentally), but it sure is overkill. Applebee’s reacted as if serving toddlers stiff drinks had been company-wide policy.
.
The child’s parents, meanwhile, reacted as if the kid had been deliberately served a plateful of steaming plutonium. Their “emotional distress” was so great that they—this will shock you—sued. Whether the individuals are mirroring corporate hysteria or vice versa, the final score was: Overreaction, 2. Common sense: 0.
.
This collective decision not to distinguish between rare screw-ups and systemic dangers is turning us into neurotic Nellies who worry about, warn against and, finally, outlaw very safe things. My favorite recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission a few years back concerned a chair that had a screw protruding from the underside. While the commission reported that there had been “no reports of injuries to humans,” there had been “one report of a dog’s fur becoming entangled in the screw.”
.
Woof—call my lawyer! When a twisted tuft is enough to prompt a 20,000-chair recall, that’s setting the safety bar pretty high.
.
The bar gets set even higher when a human being is hurt. Consider the fact that this past year a Toronto grammar school outlawed all balls except the soft Nerf kind on its playground, after an adult was hit in the head by an errant soccer ball and suffered a concussion.
.
Concussions are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the idea of kids standing around during recess. You could argue that if kids don’t get the chance to toss a ball around, they themselves are at risk of everything from depression to obesity to Kinetic Fun Deficit Disorder. (Okay, I made that one up.)
.
Play, like life, comes with the possibility that someone may get hurt. When we overreact to that possibility, the only acceptable activity left is to sit on a chair and wait to die. And let’s just hope that chair that doesn’t have a screw protruding underneath.
.
The Toronto school eventually got its balls back, as it were, after parents protested. But there are schools around our country that do not allow running, or tag or playing in the snow, for the same reason: Something terrible once happened to someone doing that somewhere on earth, and that’s enough to spook us.
.
As usual, the media are at least partly to blame, because they are the ones bringing us these awful anomalies and acting as if they’re relevant to our daily lives. The 2011 story that best illustrates this was the case of Carlina White, a 23-year-old woman finally reunited with her birth mom after being abducted as a 19-day-old baby from a New York hospital.
.
Despite the fact that baby abductions are exceedingly rare — CNN reports that last year a single baby was abducted from a health-care facility — that same news network felt compelled to give its viewers tip after tip on how to make sure this does not happen to them. Overreaction or ratings grab? Same thing.
.
“Know who wants to steal your baby,” warned a CNN.com article that went on to explain that most baby-stealers on the maternity ward are women in their mid-20s to mid-30s—as if that doesn’t describe almost every non-baby-stealer there, too.
.
The piece also stated that, “The single most dangerous time is when mom goes to the bathroom,” so “Put your baby in a bassinet and roll it into the bathroom with you.”
.
I’m sorry, but if the chances are literally about one in 4 million that a baby is going to be abducted, the idea that a mother who has just gone through childbirth now has to drag her bassinet into the bathroom to be safe from a nearly nonexistent threat is more than ridiculous. It’s cruel.
.
So if you want to enjoy a happier, healthier 2012, it’s very easy. Just ignore the temptation to overreact to miniscule threats . . . and have a shot of whatever that toddler was drinking. — L.S.

Applebee’s Over-reaction

Hi Readers — The other day, a toddler at an Applebee’s was accidentally served alcohol instead of juice. It’s appalling — the mom said she knew something weird was going on when he started saying “Hi!” to the walls —  but the bottom line is: The child was unharmed and this was  one single incident. In fact, it was an incident so modest and local, it is bizarre that it made the news. It’s not like this was a terrorist attack. It was one stupid mistake. But as a result, Applebee’s went into OMG mode (probably out of fear of lawsuits as well as bad publicity) and from now on, it says, it will re-train all its employees and use only SINGLE SERVE juice drinks.

So now every kiddie drink has to be individually packed.  I think this is ridiculous, not just for ecological reasons, but for common sense reasons, too. If a child gets hot soup spilled on them at Applebee’s — God forbid — should Applebee’s stop serving soup? Or only serve cold (but not TOO cold) gazpacho from now on? Should it ask patrons ordering soup to sign some sort of waiver, or don heat-proof aprons, just in case?

What the alcohol incident (and official reaction) represent is the fact that though sometimes things go wrong, we cannot accept that anymore. We individuals have been trained to over-react, as has corporate America. We treat minor, even one-in-a-million, problems as major affronts. And then we try to “fix” them, even if there’s very little, if anything, to fix. It’s almost as if we have come to believe that if we just plug every pinhole in the universe, we will all be absolutely safe and sound forever more.

This is the same mentality that says we must issue a recall for any product that anyone has ever hurt themselves on, even if the product is basically very safe. A couple of months ago I read the recall of a table that had a screw protruding from the bottom of the table top. A dog had gotten its hair caught in it. Sad, yes. But worthy of a recall? Can we PLEASE accept that there is some risk in the universe? Or at least some risk under a cheaply made table?

So far I have no proof that we are that mature.  And so we spend a lot of time and money (and political air time) saying things CAN be perfect, and looking for someone to blame when — well gollllly — they aren’t.

NEWS FLASH: Life is not perfect. Sometimes things to wrong. When they’re not too terrible, could we please stop acting as if they are? And when they aren’t anyone’s fault, can we please stop pointing fingers? And, by the by, when there’s no one else to blame, can we please stop blaming parents? — L.

Its not like they gave the kid a whole bottle...