Thursday: Playground safety
I was watching the news at lunch on Thursday, and there was a feature on “playground safety”. A very serious and sincere woman was instructing parents on how to “inspect” their local playground to make sure it was safe for their children. Her following gems of wisdom made me realize how much the lives of children have changed since I was a kid:
1) “Make sure the playground equipment is on a soft surface such as sand or wood chips.” This is so that, in case of a fall from the monkey bars, it’s less likely that the child will suffer a broken bone. Well, in my day, we didn’t have “playground equipment”. There were swings and slides, and they were usually on concrete pads, and if you happened to fall off, it was no skin off anyone’s knee but your own. The best piece of playground equipment from my childhood had to be the giant metal rocket at Churchill Park. You had to climb into it via a metal ladder that went all the way up through very tight openings to platforms at different heights. The whole structure was on a slight angle and the top platform was probably 20 feet off the ground, which made it all a little disorienting, but you were encased in a metal cage (picture a rocket-shaped Wicker Man), so it was perfectly safe unless you lost your footing and slipped off the ladder. But see, all this taught us to be CAREFUL. It was like when hockey players used to play without helmets—they thought twice before trying to block a slap shot with their heads. Now, it’s just a free-for-all, with pucks flying everywhere, and kids leaping from platform to platform or swinging maniacally off stuff without a care in the world. Really though, in my day, we had better things to do than be all supervised on a playground. The best playground in the world when I was a kid was a construction site. I remember the good old days, racing around among the nails, concrete blocks, and roof trusses, then a gang of us would swing down into the basement through an open window, and play tag. Was it dangerous? F*ck yes, it was dangerous. One time when I was too small to get in and out by myself, the neighbourhood kids swung me in, then forgot about me later when it was time to go home. After a couple of hours, my mom started to get worried and, eventually a search party found me. Sure, it was scary being down there by myself, screaming for help and whatnot, and sure, I have an intense fear of climbing through tight spaces like windows or holes in metal platforms, but it made me TOUGH. Not like these babies today.
2) “Thoroughly inspect the equipment to ensure there are no damaged areas or sharp edges.” This is good advice for today’s playgrounds, which are all made out of plastic and easily broken or vandalised. But that was the great thing about the slides and swings of my youth. They were sturdy and iron and medieval-looking and held together with giant bolts and chain ropes. You couldn’t damage them if you tried. You would literally need a gang of kids wielding sledgehammers to even dent the slide in my neighbourhood. Was the bottom edge sharp? Sure. Was it rusty? I would certainly hope so. Otherwise, what was the point of getting a f*cking tetanus shot?
3) “Teach your children about the ‘zone of safe passage’.” What the playground safety expert meant by this was that parents need to assist kids in observing other kids swinging and running, and figure out how far away they need to be from them to not get kicked or knocked down. When I was a kid, no one taught you that sh*t—you learned via the school of hard knocks, pardon the pun. In other words, if you ran by someone on the swing set and got a foot in the face, you very quickly learned the “zone of safe passage” on your own. There were no adults screaming, “Veer left, Tommy! Veer Left!! Remember the zone of safe pass—Oooh!” Our parents taught us one rule, and it was the most important rule of all: “Never chase a ball onto the road. But if you’re already playing on the road, move when you see a car coming.” That was their wisdom, and it saved my life many a time. Actually, both of my parents saved my life at one time or another. Mom saved my life at a baseball game. It was before the age of netting to protect the spectators, and a fly ball was coming straight for my head. She stuck out her hand and deflected it away. The bruise on her hand later was a very good indication of what might have happened to my skull if she hadn’t been so quick-thinking. She also saved my brother from drowning on more than one occasion. My dad saved my life one day when he happened to look out a bedroom window and saw me dangling by the collar from the branch of a pear tree in our backyard, slowly choking. I’ve never seen him run so fast. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping me survive to adulthood.
4) “Smoking is now banned on playgrounds, so be vigilant and remind those who might not be aware.” NO SMOKING?! What? I’m sorry, but the only reason that I’m only slightly asthmatic is because my lungs were toughened up by years of second hand smoke (and first-hand as well, of course—it WAS the seventies). It’s funny how attitudes change over the years. When I was a kid, ANYONE could buy cigarettes. I still remember my mom giving me a note and a couple of dollars, and sending me to the local store to buy her a pack of Rothmans. I’d stand there in line with the other 6 year-olds, shooting the sh*t about the latest Barbie outfits, or what construction site or vacant lot we’d be meeting at later, or what vacationing family had left their milk door unlocked, then we’d spend the change from the cigarettes on sugar candy. (Milk door, in case you’re wondering, was a tiny door next to the actual door. The milkman would open it from the outside, put the milk in, then the family could open a second door on the inside and get the milk. If you went on vacation and forgot to lock the milk door, you were an open target for the neighbourhood kids. The smallest one, usually me, would squeeze through the opening and let the others in. So if you came back from a trip and all your cookies and cigarettes were gone, you knew you’d forgotten to lock the milk door.) But people back when I was young were not as knowledgeable about the dangers of smoking. In fact, my mom, like many women, smoked through both her pregnancies. Of course, she’ll tell you she’s glad she did, because otherwise, my brother, who has a Ph.D., and I would be “insufferable” and much taller than his 6’1” and my 5’6”. Now, of course, women are so paranoid that they won’t eat peanut butter if they’re pregnant because it “might cause allergies”. Me, I say expose ‘em early and often—it’s the best way to toughen them up. I remember once being told off by a colleague when I was pregnant with Kate for drinking a Pepsi. No, not because it wasn’t a Coke—she said, “Don’t you know what the caffeine might do to the baby?” I was like “Hopefully keep her awake all day so she doesn’t kick the sh*t out of my stomach tonight when we should both be sleeping.” I feel terrible though—she might have gotten MORE scholarships to university if I’d gone with Pepsi Free.
Overall, I just think that monitoring your child’s every move is counterproductive to childhood. And of course, I’m exaggerating about my own youth—my parents took very good care of me and my brother, but not in that “in your face” kind of way. My dad calls it “Carefully supervised neglect,” which to me, means that you let your kid be a kid, but you’re always there to stop the baseball or the hanging, as the case may be. Personally, I’ve tried to embrace that saying, but I get that it’s not always easy. The world seems to have become a more scary place than it was 40 years ago, or maybe as an adult, I’m just more aware of it now than I was when I was young. All I know is that the first time Kate wanted to go to the store by herself (it’s just around the corner and she was 10), I had to stifle every protective instinct I had. She was gone about 30 seconds when I broke down and begged Ken to act like a stealth ninja and follow her at a safe distance so Kate wouldn’t know he was there. Ken, of course, obliged, and came back to report that she was fine—that she had made it safely through the four-way stop and was on her way home with some sugar candy and a pack of smokes.
Saturday: Titus, the sensitive dog
Since I’ve been home in recovery mode, I’ve had a chance to spend more time with Titus, and I’ve come to realize that he’s a very sensitive dog. That is to say, he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. I know this because he likes to jump up on the bed and cuddle, but after a while, he gets bored and wants his own space, but the way he does it is very interesting:
Me: You’re so sweet. Who’s a good boy?
Titus: Is that rhetorical? Because obviously me.
Me: That’s right. You ARE a good boy. You’re so snuggly.
Titus: Yeah, this snuggling is great. Wait—what was that?
Titus: That noise? Didn’t you hear it?
Me: No—where are you going?
Titus: Hang on a second. I’m just going to look out the window.
Me: Do you see anything?
Titus: No. Wait—I think it’s coming from downstairs. I’ll be right back.
Then off he goes. Half an hour later, I’ll go down, and he’s lying on the couch in the family room.
Me: What are you doing? I thought you were coming back.
Titus: Oh…I, uh…I wanted to keep watch down here in case there was a burglar or something.
Me: Or is it because there’s more room on the couch and the TV is turned to your favourite show?
Titus: Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that it’s cooler down here, and I know how much you hate the Weather Channel.
Me: Sigh. Will you come back later?
Titus: Got cookies?
Me: Yes. I’ve got cookies.
Titus: OK. As soon as the local forecast is finished.