One of my first memories is a hazy one. Not hazy as in “I barely remember,” more like hazy as in “the air was filled with cigarette smoke.” I couldn’t have been more than three and had somehow found my way up on to the kitchen counter, grabbed a stray butcher’s knife and was negotiating myself a slice of cheddar. Now keep in mind, it was the seventies (you know, the days before car seats and bike helmets) – but even by those lax standards, I probably should have had a little more supervision. To be fair, the woman in charge of my well-being, along with her crew of coffee-swilling moms, was sitting mere feet away at the kitchen table, and she managed to notice (through the smoke) that I was in imminent danger of losing a digit just in time. But my point here is that “overprotective” was definitely not part of my parents’ vocabulary, and yet I lived to tell the tale.
So my question is, when exactly did childhood become such a minefield? My mom and dad left the maternity ward with a can of formula, a box of cigars and a “good luck.” Fast forward to 2012: we endured a 45-minute car seat inspection, and our parenting starter kit included no less than 100 pamphlets, dozens of ounces of frozen donor breast milk and a two-year supply of Purell. When I was little, you weren’t living if you hadn’t broken a bone falling off the monkey bars onto pavement – none of this soft mulch or recycled car tire ground cover bullshit. It was a rite of passage. And I’m fairly certain my mom invented the five-second rule. I ate dirt probably daily and I still, several decades later, almost never get sick. Maybe I’m aging myself here (#geriatricmom) but we actually used to leave the house after breakfast, cross a busy street to the playground and not be expected home until the street lights came on at dusk. These days, parents get arrested for letting their 10-year-olds walk two blocks home from school in broad daylight.
Now, before you draft your hate mail, please understand that I’m all for safety and agree that some of these modern parenting rules are helpful, even straight-up life-saving. I get that a newborn in a moses basket on the station wagon floor isn’t ideal. And smoking is never a good look, especially around tiny beings with tiny lungs. But I don’t know what a childhood ride to school looks like without a daily wrestling match (or at the very least, a thumb war) to determine which kid gets the front seat (airbags notwithstanding, obvs). And the parents at the playground, arms hovering mere inches from their kids like they’re spotting a weightlifter – I don’t know, it seems a little overkill. What, did you run out of bubble wrap?
I remember going over to a new friend’s house for a play date in about third grade. She was an only child (I was #3 of four, so maybe my parents were too tired to care by then…) and her mom gave us each a jawbreaker (gobstopper? Are they even legal these days? God, I’m old…) But rather than suck on them like regular kids, she had us hold them between our tiny thumbs and index fingers and lick them. I’d almost be at the gum by now if I hadn’t given up and tossed mine into her rose garden 5 minutes into the ridiculous joy-killing exercise. But this woman, with her everlasting gobstopper, was ahead of her time. Like I said, I’m sure they’ve been outlawed in a shitload of states by now, those sweet and slippery little wind-pipe-sized choking hazards, but somehow I managed to grow up without losing a single peer to a gobstopper accident.
At the rate these safety rules are cropping up, will my kids still be in car seats when they get their driver’s licenses? Maybe I’m too relaxed about the whole thing. Or maybe I’m just realistic. I do my best, but every once in a while, my kid might test the 5-second rule or even help herself to a slice of cheese. And I’m okay with that.