Some (Non-Mainstream) Thoughts on the Crib Recall

Hi Readers — I’m going to be blunt: The ban on the sale, resale and manufacture of all drop-side cribs does not make sense. Here’s why:

Over the past nine years, 32 children have died in these cribs. That is tragic. My heart sinks thinking about it.  But — and yes, there IS a but, and this “but” does not make me a heartless bean counter, or a crazed Free-Ranger who laughs in the face of danger (I am, at base, a nervous mom) — we are talking about roughly 3 deaths a year in a country where about 4 million babies are born annually. That is, about one death per million.

That does not prove that the cribs are UNsafe. It proves that the cribs ARE pretty safe. Safer than stairs (1300 deaths/year), safer than eating (about 70 kids under age 10 choke to death on food each year), safer than just sitting there and the next thing you know, you’re bitten by a venomous spider (5 deaths/year).

I realize that these stats are jumbled — they are not the deaths of infants, whose main cause of death is birth defects (5623/year) — but my point is that 3 deaths a year from any cause for any large population is almost something that statisticians call “de minimus.” Not that these deaths don’t count. Of course they do! But when a cause of death is that rare, you can’t base your life on it, or you couldn’t do anything. Go outside? No, there are spiders! Go downstairs? No, you could trip! Eat a sandwich? No, you could choke! (And then would you sue Wonder Bread?)

As for cribs, one reason the drop-side models seem so “dangerous” is because they are so popular. When you have millions of people using anything, no matter how safe, the odds of an accident go up because the odds go up with the numbers. That’s why it’s more likely an American will die in a car accident than a bucking bronco accident. Doesn’t mean that cars are inherently less safe than bucking broncos. The odds also go up because with millions of people assembling these things, some are bound to do it wrong, which seems to have been the case in many of these tragedies.

I don’t want to get into a huge discussion of crib design, but the recall list includes some of the biggest baby-product manufacturers around, like Even Flo and Child Craft. I am sure they tested their cribs because no company deliberately puts dangerous products on the market, if only because they know they could be sued up the wazzoo. And children’s product manufacturers know that better than anyone. Think of all the products recalled for tiny infractions, like a protruding screw.

And yet my own senator, Kristin Gillibrand (D., NY) is quoted in yesterday’sDaily News saying, “These products are deadly, and this critically needed action will prevent further senseless deaths.”

Ah, but what will prevent further, senseless grandstanding? These products are not deadly. There’s a difference between a deadly product (cyanide) and a product that sometimes results in death (a grape). We keep obscuring that difference, and congratulating the folks who act as if it is only a lack of vigilance that allows anyone to die of anything other than old age.

This is the same impossible standard we then go on to apply to parents: The idea that if anything bad EVER happens to ANY child, it is because the parent was “defective.” And what is the result? Helicoptering! Truly, one reason parents today are so obsessive and fearful is that this is society’s norm: Worry about every possible, if extremely unlikely, thing that COULD go wrong and spend your days ACTIVELY trying to prevent them all.

The truth is: I love the idea of the government keeping us safe from dangerous products. It is the definition of “dangerous” that has gone awry. Next the Consumer Product Safety Commission may train its sights on balls because, in their inherent roundness, these sometimes roll into the street, and some kids running out to get them get hit by cars. Moreover, there are millons of balls in Americans’ homes, making balls a far bigger danger than, say, battery-operated guillotines. That is why, if I am ever elected Senator, I will not rest until we redesign the bouncy ball. A slightly boxier one would make our kids safer, would it not?

Elect me and I will make sure our nation has no more balls. – Lenore

Minimize risk? Yes. Eliminate all risk? Impossible.

Two Thoughts

Hi Readers — I got this note the other day and found it very intriguing. You may, too. It’s about two issues that affect how we think about kids and freedom !

Dear Free-Range Kids: These thoughts have been swirling around my mind.

1. Have you noticed that “anything can happen” is the new code phrase for “s/he could be kidnapped” but people don’t like to spell it out? I’ve started pushing people into telling me exactly what they mean and then giving them a lecture on the real risks in life (as non-sarcastically as I can manage, but that’s not always saying much). Today, for example, I ran into the mother of a classmate of my older son’s and she gave me that line when it came out that my son goes to the grocery store — literally at the strip mall three houses away from us — by himself. I very innocently asked, “What, like something falling on his head?” Which, realistically, is far more likely than him being kidnapped. And that forced her to spell it out.  She remained unconvinced that it was safe, but at least I don’t think she’ll be reporting me to the authorities!

2. Something’s been niggling at me for years, since my older boy learned to climb on things and got very good at it, but it took me until recently to put my finger on exactly what it is. I — and my sons directly, which really ticks me off — have had many people from acquaintances to full strangers tell me that what they’re doing (usually something involving climbing and/or balancing) is dangerous and they will fall. Not “might.” “Will.” This is what’s wrong with so much of our society today. Since every risk has become unacceptable, everything that “might” happen has been elevated to a “will” happen, with no determination of actual risk (based on a combination of the activity, the individual’s skill, and the magnitude of the consequences). So, now, balancing on the arm of my living room sofa is equivalent to crossing a busy street without first checking the traffic. Maybe I’m more rational about this because of my strong mathematics background (guess what my degree is in!) but it seems like basic common sense to me.

Thanks for letting me unload. There aren’t a lot of people in real life — other than my husband who thankfully agrees with me — to talk to rationally about this stuff. Keep up the good work.

Controversy of the Day: Pool or Pond?

Hi Readers — Today’s New York Times has a really great piece about a town in New Jersey whose sand-bottomed, spring-water filled swimming hole has been the joy of local kids since 1929. Until, of course, today.

Now half the residents want to fill the pond in and replace it with a standard concrete pool, making it easier to watch their children. The other half say this is helicopter parenting taken to extremes. The pro-pool people cite the death of a 14-year-old last year — the third drowning in 80 years — as proof that the swmming hole is unsafe. Personally, I’m terrified of drowning and feel terrible for this boy and his family, but are 3 deaths in 80 years proof that something is unsafe…or proof that something is actually quite safe: One death every generation?

Anyway, I figured this was something we’d like to discuss. And if you’re off at a Labor Day picnic, splashing in some sweet body of water somewhere, all I can say is: I’m jealous. (And stay safe!)  — Lenore