When is A Bumbo Seat Safe Enough?

Hi Folks! Just read about this warning regarding Bumbo Seats — little seats that look even safer than normal seats because there’s a big, hmmm, I guess “bumbo” in front of the crotch, wedging the child in. (See below.) About 4 million — that’s 4,000,000 — have been sold. And now they are being recalled for retooling — basically adding a safety belt — after reports of 2 baby skull fractures. (Two, that is, while the seat was on the ground. Another 19 occurred when the seat was on a raised surface and presumably the child fell out or off.)

Now, look, nobody wants a baby’s skull fractured. (Do they?) But listen to this quote in USA Today:

“Too many children were injured while using this product,” says Consumer Federation of America product safety director Rachel Weintraub. “The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant.”

It is INDEED significant, in that it indicates that any manufacturer can be coerced into a product recall if someone insinuates that without it, the manufacturer DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROKEN BABY SKULLS. The specter of a lawsuit, or boycott, or just a glaring TV talk show host is enough to make any company quake in its booties.

But when something is safe 99.999% of the time (I’m sure one of you will do the actual math), is that not SAFE ENOUGH? As the reader who sent me notice of the recall said, “Why don’t we recall laps, while we’re at it?”

Well? Why DON’T we? After all, laps are non-standard, germy, and once in a while there’s a cat vying for the same space. Unsafe! Unclean! Unfair! Let us officially recommend parents come in for an emergency lap repair kit allowing a neighborhood surgeon to graft a restraining belt onto all adult tummies.

Oh — not willing to have a belt grafted on? I guess you don’t CARE about babies’ skulls. – L.

 photo

Wow does that seat look extremely unsafe.

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

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.

Outrage of the Morning: Chuck E.’s Cheesy Recall — Join In!

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest from the world that wants to keep you safe. Very safe. Safer than safer. Safer than SANE:

RECALL NOTICE: Chuck E. Cheese’s is voluntarily recalling its Light-Up Ring and Star Glasses. The ring comes in blue, green, purple, yellow, and pink colors, and the glasses come in a red color. The Light-Up Ring was either sold as part of a promotional treasure chest cup from August 2009 through June 25, 2010 or distributed, at no cost, during several Parent-Teacher Association conventions in April 2009, July 2009 and March 2010 through May 2010. The Star Glasses were distributed as part of our Birthday Star package beginning April 2010 through August 2010.

If crushed or pulled apart, the plastic casing on these products may break and possibly expose the batteries, which could pose an ingestion hazard to children.

And while we’re at it, I’d like to voluntarily recall every milk carton in America. If slashed with a knife and cut into little pieces, or blown up with a homemade nuclear device, these “carton bits” could, if ingested,  lodge in children’s throats, posing a choking hazard.

And I invite you to come up with a recall of your own!

Guest Post: Is EVERYTHING Too Dangerous?

Hi Folks! I was reading this blog post about product-recall-mania today and nodded along with so much of it, I asked the writer, Julie Colwell, if I could post it and she said sure. So here it is, slightly edited:

Micromanaging Moms 101, by Julie Colwell, from her blog, “The Mother Load.”

So, in my inbox today, I got an email that was a collection of all the baby and child recalls this year.  At first I thought it was a joke since there were literally millions of recalls.  Apparently absolutely everything you’ve ever bought is dangerous, including sweatshirts (your kid might hang himself on the drawstring), foam board books (he might chew on them), and plastic fork and spoon sets (if your 6-year-old is using them, he could bite off a prong or two).  Just about anything might cause your child to lose a finger, fall down, or choke.  And if they do, you should sue the manufacturer for millions of dollars, because every accident is actually someone’s fault.

I wish mellow moms, friends and, well, I would speak up: We are tired of listening to how dangerous it is to be alive, and how careless we are with our kids.  We are used to pinch-hitting with whatever we have on hand, even if it is a contraband second-hand car seat that has been in a fender bender, or a stroller with a finger-chopping hinge.  Any mom of more than two kids knows that any stroller can work as a triple stroller in a pinch.

When did “safety first” creep into the top spot on the priority list of our national parenting consciousness? If you’re a parent now, chances are your parents left you in the car while they ran into the post office, and you babysat three or four neighbor kids by the time you were twelve.  Most moms today wouldn’t think of leaving infants or toddlers with seventh graders, even though THEY were seventh graders 20 years ago who managed not to maim the little ones in their care.  Is it because we didn’t “know” how dangerous all those activities were, we didn’t think twice about doing them?

A friend of mine went to a water park in Honduras.  There were no rules and people (after waiting their turn) splashed down the slides forwards, backwards, upside down, holding babies, holding each other… any way they liked.  She said it was fantastic, fun, and liberating.  That would never happen here.  In the U.S. today, you won’t even find diving boards in most pools.  They’ve all been taken out because they are such a liability.  If they’re there, they are accompanied by so many rules that they’re not much fun if you’re older than five… and then you may not be allowed in the deep end without a parent “within a hug’s reach.”

How did we get to be so paranoid?  And why is safety more important than community or honesty or compassion?  All these crazy recalls drive up the costs of stuff we actually do need.  They increase the already rampant litigiousness of our society, and they imply that everything that happens could be avoided… a delusion of control that we -– and our kids — would be better without.

There’s a movie coming out soon called Babies.  It’s a documentary about four babies born to different families around the world.  I am hopeful that watching a baby take a bath in a bucket with a goat nearby it will reset the standard American moms’ expectations on what is safe and normal.  There’s always hope. — Julie

Do We Need to Recall 50 MILLION Blinds?

Hi Readers – As of yesterday, 50 million sets of blinds and shades are being recalled — “virtually every Roman blind and roller shade on the market,” according to this report on Good Morning America, following the deaths of five children.

I cannot imagine how sad the parents of those five children must be. It’s horrible. But to frantically recall 50 million blinds — one of the largest recalls in history — strikes me as overkill. The advice given on the Good Morning America  site seems to be all the information parents really need:

Do not place cribs, beds and furniture close to the windows. Do not give children a chance to climb on them and gain access to the cords.

Make loose cords inaccessible to children.

If the window shade has looped bead chains or nylon cords, you can install tension devices to keep the cord taut.

Five deaths are tragic. But it is impossible to create a world in which even the most remote risk has been eliminated, and it’s not even a good idea to try. When we do, we foster the idea that absolute safety is an achievable goal,  which inevitably means blaming someone anytime anyone ever  gets hurt. This not only leads to crazy lawsuits, it leads to incredible guilt on the part of parents whose kids do hurt themselves, as kids have throughout history, despite the efforts of loving, caring  parents.

Besides, to make sure no one ever died at home again, we’d have to outlaw stairs, chairs, bathtubs, showers, doors, pets, and whatever it is that is making my refrigerator smell like  toxic stuffed cabbage. (Could it be that yummy stuffed cabbage from just six weeks ago? Hmm.) We’d have to outlaw humans, too. Because once  once you throw them into the mix, nothing is safe.   — Lenore

Some Parents Aren’t Ditching Their Maclarens — Despite Recall

Oh do I love this piece, Recall Rebels: Moms Fess Up to Using Recalled Maclaren Strollers, on ParentDish. (And not just because I’m about to start writing a weekly post for that site. Yay!)

The piece is all about parents who, strangely enough, managed to keep some perspective after Maclaren recalled about a million trillion strollers because, sadly, some kids’ fingers got severed in them over the years. Best quotes that the reporter dug up:

“I’m not trying to pooh-pooh it,” he says of the stroller recall, “but it’s not something you need to cease using your Maclaren over. These things are opened millions of times a day, all over the world, and most kids are fine.

And:

“These incidents are called ‘accidents’ for a reason. To me, the logistics of what kids would have to be doing to get injured is not very likely. Granted, we all want to make sure that our children are as safe as can be, and we want to protect them as much as possible, but we all know that nothing and no one is perfect. A kid could choke on a penny, but are we going to recall money? No.”

And finally:

“It just goes to show that buying the trendiest baby gear isn’t always the way to go.”

This is a great, rare piece because it presents the other side of a YOUR BABY IS IN TERRIBLE RISK! story  — the side that is not going nuts with worry (to coin a phrase). The side that says it’s true that nothing is perfectly safe and it’s time adults realized that.

Oh wait. I’m veering off into tort reform. Let’s just stick with a kudos and call it a day. — Lenore