rare steaks and safety gear
Sometimes I wonder if we are too safety conscious. Have we taken all the spontaneity and thrill out of living? It seems the more the government wants to babysit us, the more frightened we become to do anything.
While all this fear - especially fear of litigation - has spawned a million warning labels that read as parody (see here for some good examples), that's not the real problem. Warning us to not take hair dryers into the bathtub or to not ingest cleaning fluids is just a way to keep people from going all Darwin on us. The real problem exists not in warnings that get stamped on a label which then get stamped on a bottle of bleach, but in the warnings that come out of memos, rules, regulations and studies and are usually announced to the public by a serious looking newscaster on the 6:00 show during sweeps week.
When I was a child - this would be the 60's - my mother engaged in behavior that would today cause men in white coats from the Center for Disease Control to come barging in the door with arrest warrants.
She cut chicken and vegetables with the same knife, on the same cutting board. She didn't scrub apples before giving them to us. She cooked steaks and burgers in such a way that they almost mooed when prodded with a fork. She packed her children, the neighbor's children and most of our cousins into her brown station wagon, all sitting on laps and squished up against the back window and none of us wore seat belts. My infant sister sat on my lap - in the front seat - very often. Sure, that almost killed her once when the door flew open as we rounded a turn, but the point is, it didn't kill her.
Now, before you start throwing statistics at me let it be known that I am a seat belt advocate. My car does not move from its spot unless everyone is buckled up. It's the whole of the subject, all those safety rules bunched together in one alarming package, that frighten me more than any warning label ever could.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of the summer we spent riding our bikes to Wantagh to a pedestrian walkway that spanned the Wantagh Parkway. The walkway was concrete and sloped all the way down into (I think, my memory is a little fuzzy these days) a school parking lot. We rode to the top of the walkway (two to a bike, which you rarely see these days) and took turns riding down the steep slope, pedaling until we were at a break-the-sound-barrier pace (kids tend to be hyperbolic, you know) and once we reached top speed, do a no arms, no legs maneuver so we were coasting down the walkway without thinking about breaking or steering. At the end was a small bump, which was enough to make your bike do a little wheelie, which more often than not left you flat on your back, your bike underneath you, wheels still spinning. We did this with no helmets, no knee pads, no shin pads. It would be the greatest thrill any of us would have until we discovered sex many years later. Many years later.
And we survived. We survived that and we survived not being buckled in and we survived roller coasters and Ferris Wheels that had no safety bars. We made it even though we jumped off of bridges into the ocean and ate sugared cereal every morning and spent a lot of time on playgrounds that were made of metal and steel and not the plastic crap they use today. When was the last time you saw a merry-go-round? Monkey bars? See saws? It's all gone, all existing just as memories of days when we weren't afraid of our own shadows, when kids didn't have to be dressed up in body armor to play a game of kickball, when our parents let us watch scary movies and tv shows that featured lots of guns. We used to be able to have snowball fights on the school grounds, play dodge ball with all the enthusiasm of warriors and gladiators, call a kid a "stupid head" without being suspended, carry pocket knives and take aspirins in school.
I know, I know. The safety rules are there for a reason. The ratings system and the censor board exist because we've created a society where they have to exist. We've lived, we've learned and we've adjusted the gameplay accordingly. I just wonder if we're not raising a generation of wimps who, later in life, won't be able to do anything without consulting a Big Book of Warnings. Maybe humans will evolve to such a point that babies will come out of the womb with helmets and elbow pads on. And I wonder what these kids will do when they are the adults running the world and are faced with enemies who don't care about the rules, regulations and warning labels. After all, you can't fight your enemy if all the guns and swords and dangerous items have been put under lock and key for your own good.
My motto? Let them eat meat. Really. Let them eat a medium-to-rare steak once in a while. Figuratively speaking, of course. I think tonight we'll all gather around the tv and watch Terminator 3 together. Watching a gratuitously violent chase scene is no match for coasting down a steep hill with no helmet on, but it's as close as we can get without being called irresponsible parents.