Adorable “Build-a-Choking Hazard”?

Hi Folks! As a reader named Michele wrote to me last week, “2011 wouldn’t quite be complete without wrapping up the year with another recall for the safety of our children!”

She was referring to the recall of a mere 300,000 “Colorful Hearts Teddy” Build-a-Bears because the material they’re made of is “sub standard,” and hence COULD rip, and if it did, the eyes COULD fall out, and these, in turn, COULD pose a choking hazard. That’s a lot of “coulds,” and the Consumer Product Safety Commission notes on its website that it has heard of no incidents or injuries.

Which is why I am always going crazy.

Yes, it is good to be safe. Yes, it is good to try to keep choking hazards away from small children. But if “something bad COULD happen” is the standard by which we deem things safe or unsafe, first of all we would have to get rid of all pocket change, because a kid could choke. Next? All buttons on all garments, because these could (and demonstrably have in the past) fall off. Just don’t keep a thimble around the house to fix ’em because…well, you know about thimbles. Meantime, we’d have to get rid of cardboard, because a piece could be torn off and choke someone, as could a piece of food — best to empty the fridge, or at least puree all its contents.

I know this recall is probably prompted by a fear of lawsuits on Build-a-Bear’s part: Warn now and deflect any potential suit later. But when 300,000 items are destined for the trash on the basis of no problems whatsoever, I keep thinking we just have to get a grip.

To make a society completely risk-free is not only a fool’s errand, it is wasteful. It’s like the time one of my kids was in the E.R. and the nurse cut a bandage and then threw the scissors away. I’m sure it’s because the standard practice there is to avoid all infections by simply tossing out anything that ever touched anything. But when are we allowed to give a little thought to the flip side? The side that says maybe there’s something lost when we keep tossing out perfectly good stuff rather than figuring out how to safely live with it?

So goodbye, you threatening little plush toy with the incredibly leaden name. (“Colorful Hearts Teddy”? That’s about as imaginative as, “Printed Fabric Friend.”) See you in the junk yard, next to a whole lot of other perfectly good stuff. — L.S.
Picture of recalled Teddy Bear

Surely You Must Be Choking!

Hi Readers — Thanks to all of you who sent in this AP story today, about the American Academy of Pediatrics wanting companies to start labeling hotdogs, carrots, grapes and other foods as choking hazards.

Which, admittedly, they are. And sidewalks are tripping hazards, and puddles are slipping hazards, and trees are bumping-int0 hazards. The minute you decide to get up off the floor and sit on a chair (falling hazard) or couch (fire hazard) or go out the door (big, wide world-hazard) you are taking your life into your hands.

It is very sad — really — that in 2006, 61 children died choking on food. I can’t imagine their parents’ anguish. But to put that number in perspective, in 2005, 1,335 children died as car passengers.

Which is to say: Every day we engage in activities that hold some danger, however slight, and that is as it should be. Otherwise we’d be paralyzed with fear.

Should we try to be safe? Yes. Can we ever be totally safe? No.

I believe in car seats and safety belts. And I guess I believe in cutting up food until children are really good at chewing it themselves. I cut up some grapes in my day. What is unnerving about the idea of slapping a warning label on everyday foods is that we are now defining something as “unsafe” that is actually very safe —  just not absolutely, perfectly safe. The story ran on MSNBC under the subhead, “Pediatricians Seek to Protect Kids from High-Risk Items.” To me a “high risk” item is a leaky beaker of plutonium.

So what we’re talking about is a new way of looking at safety — and risk. When something that is safe 99.99% of the time is defined as “high risk,” the world looks like a death trap. It also changes the way we are expected to parent, demanding, as it does, hypervigilance, hyper-involvement in everything our kids do/eat/touch/try, and hyper-criticism if e’er we flag.

As if those of us who give our kids hotdogs weren’t already in society’s crosshairs! — Lenore

When kid bites dog, that's news! PHOTO: jetalone. http://bit.ly/9IDazT