Thursday, September 22, 2011

Worst Case Scenario

So there was this article last week in the NY Times:

It's about a woman who accidentally wandered into a McDonalds Playplace in search of a bathroom for her children and was STUNNED to find out that the equipment on offer was not, in fact, all that clean. So then she went and got some swabs and further determined that all that yuck could be quantified with names such as "coliform bacteria" and "staphylococcus." It's all pretty Ewwww.

And, I mean, good for her I guess. 

We live in an age of information, which I'm sure has its positive aspects. That being said, I have to admit that my overall reaction to this tenacious mom warrior is:

"Hey, lady, keep it to yourself, would ya?"

Because on rainy days, I want to take my kids to the fastfood  playground.  I want to do so even though I get on some basic level that this means my toddlers will encounter generalized grossness at said location. But does this mean that I appreciate knowing the exact nature of the pathogens they will face as they play contentedly while I gnaw on some nuggets?

Not so much.

It makes me crazy that parents are constantly presented with information about potential threats to our children that doesn't actually tell us anything concrete about the level of danger these threats contain.  The fast food story, for example, provides no information about kids actually getting sick from encountering playplace germies. Instead, it merely reports on their presence and leaves you to ruminate on your failure as a parent should you opt to take your offspring to such a place and expose them to said filth.

It's kind of like the registries that tell you about the exact location of child molesters in your neighborhood. What value is this information adding to our lives?

Do you know there is a statistic (which I would attempt to actually look up and provide to you if I wasn't busy keeping half an eye on my 16-month-old who is currently attempting to climb into the dishwasher) that says that if you've spent over an hour in the ocean you have been within 15 feet of a shark. 

You can hear that factoid and be somewhat ooged out by it, but if someone were to provide you with a map of where those sharks were in relation to your chosen swimming spot you WOULD NEVER GO IN THE WATER AGAIN. And that would be a ridiculous and sucky way to live.

It seems to me that the sole purpose of all this "what's threatening your child today" information is to provide parents with a permanent sense of dread, because I don't believe almost any of is making our kids safer. And I get that it's complicated. We all want to do everything possible to protect our kids from harm. But when it comes to useless yet terrifying information? I'll take a pass.

So to you, doctor with long lists of potential diagnoses that could possibly affect my unborn child due to my charmingly named "Geriatric Pregnancy"  "NO THANK YOU FOR THAT INFORMATION!" 

And to you, producer of the nightly news segment on "The Secret Danger at the Mall that Could Kill Your Child," I say, "PUT A LID ON IT!"

And finally, to you, relative who emails me urban myth-based factoids on the cancer causing agents that may or may not be present in my children's drinkware, I DELETE YOU WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!

Because, as my Aunt Terry likes to say, "It's hard to worry right. You spend your whole life fretting about a heart attack only to get hit by a bus." This is why I'm trying to worry less and enjoy my children's childhoods more, regardless of how much the information age continues to try to frighten the pants off me.

So, while it will always skeeve me out, I now accept the fact that my kids will put cigarette butts in their mouths at the upscale outdoor playground AND eat discarded fries that may or may not have been stepped on at the fast food joint. I understand that they are going to encounter an amazing number of interesting and well-meaning people and a couple of really scary ones. I realize they're going to face an unimaginable myriad of dangers and I commit, along with my husband, to do all I can to keep them safe.

But to those who would attempt chronicle every single one of these potential dangers in advance and then desire share those discoveries with me, I say in conclusion,


Fair warning.


  1. Agreed. Lenore Skenazy (worst mom in America) makes similar points not as hilariously on her blog and in her book Free Range Kids.

  2. I am such a fan of hers - everyone should read her blog - linked on my blog roll!

  3. i'm never going in the water again.

  4. My mum always said 'You eat a peck of dirt before you die.' Amen.

  5. @deb - so did my Grandma. We still say that to our kids. @valena - I am glad you have distilled the true aim of this post. Well done!

  6. Yesterday, as I paid for the concealer that will finally replace the one I've been using since my wedding seven years ago, Anna applied FIVE lipstick testers. By the time I turned around she looked like The Joker - the most recent one. I don't want to be the mom who screams, "OH MAH GAWD GET THAT OFF THINK OF THE GERMS!"

  7. Meg, I have GREAT news. An economist named Bryan Caplan totally agrees with you. He provided lots of data that PROVE children are dramatically safer today than in the idyllic 50's. His thesis is that parents over-worry, manufacturing stress and thus not enjoying their children, causing people to choose not to have more children for the wrong reason... When, as a rational economic decider, we should weigh the value of more kids over the next 60 years, not the first three. His book is called "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids". Some of it is wonkey data crunching you can skip, but the rest ofit is great and will make you feel great about your arguments above!

  8. Hi There,

    This is Epie from Mind2Share.
    Check out our new website about the coolest and easy way of photosharing with family and friends.

    Best Regards,

  9. @myers - I will def. check out that book although if he means 'more kids than three' he can talk to someone else. As an aside, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "But you can't do that THESE DAYS" and I have to stop myself from screaming, "WE ARE SO MUCH SAFER THESE DAYS!!!!" at them like a crazy lunatic.

  10. Best line of the week: " I DELETE YOU WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!" I just fell in love with you a little. And not just because we share the desire to not know every little thing. So my kids eat, lick, and caress germy things and public toilet seats and each other. Meh.

  11. With all the "not recommended" things I've done in my life, it's amazing that I've survived to see 56 years of age! :-)