Please don't call child protection services.
By Kelley Cunningham
I always wonder what tone of voice I should use to stave off potential suspicion. Laugh-It-Off-Seasoned mom, Contrite-Worried mom, or Giggling-Nervously-I-Swear-I-Donít-Have-Munchausen-By-Proxy-Syndrome mom.
Thereís an accident-prone child in every family, but lucky me, I have three. When I brought my oldest in for his first dental check-up at age two, the dentist noticed the huge scratch across his cheek and eyed me suspiciously. ďWhere did he get THAT?Ē It was my first introduction to the current neo-fascist over parenting trend.
I was so taken aback that Iím sure I stammered something mildly self-incriminating. Naturally I thought of a better response later. Something along the lines of, say, ďWell, he got it from me. You see, I gouged his cheek on purpose before I brought him in for a preventative dental check-up. Next time Iíll wait until after the appointment to abuse him.Ē
Maybe it has something to do with having boys. I think Mothers Of Only Daughters (MOODies) are slightly horrified when my rag-tag bunch shows up bruised, battered, bouncing all over the place and smashing their trucks together. THEIR darling daughters are sitting nicely making cupcakes out of play-doh for their tea party, or whatever it is little girls do before they turn to tormenting their peers over weight issues. Go ahead girl-moms, be smug. I may be on a first name basis with the triage nurse in the ER, but at least I get to avoid like the plague the Pepto-pink aisle at Toys 'R' Us.
My point is that there is a whole new level of suspicion about child abuse than there was when we were kids. Mostly this is a good thing, of course. But the fall-out is that new moms have to awkwardly apologize for every bruise, zit or bee sting. You canít win. If you donít mention it, you look guilty. If you do bring it up, you look guilty.
Much well meant suspicion is misdirected. Real child abuse often goes unreported while moms of toddlers everywhere are dressing their kids in leggings and parkas for a day at the beach just to avoid scrutiny.
A friend of mine was court-martialed by the kindergarten teacher and school principal. Her child was supposed to be picked up by a neighbor for a playdate, but the neighbor forgot and my friend rushed over to school to get her son. But while he waited the little darling had an entire hour to talk to the school authorities about the horrible things his mom does. Leaves him alone with his toddler sister (she was talking to a neighbor outside), dancing with naked men (she went to a Broadway show with her husband), sending her daughter to school with no breakfast (sheís two and just refused to eat that morning). The poor thing is now forced to pick up her children wearing a headscarf and Jackie-O glasses.
How about the zero-tolerance policies at schools? Suspending a kindergartner for saying bang bang when pointing his finger? Good thing the zero-tolerance thing doesnít extend to adults with anger issues, like me. I mean, whatís the fun of driving if you canít flip off people driving yellow Hummers?
Are we being too careful? Jeez, take a look at playgrounds now. Well-meaning, yes, but padded, plastic, lawsuit-proof and completely boring.
Playgrounds used to be a place to push your limits, get scraped up and find your place in the social pecking order. Asphalt, steel and splintered wood used to be the materials of choice. Every summer scores of kids faced Bactine, tweezers, and those tell-tale orange disinfectant stains that took weeks to fade. Plaster casts with friendsí signatures were the trophies of the day. I never see kids with broken arms anymore. Thatís a good thing, right?
How are our kids going to know how far they can push their limits? We have protected them so much that perhaps they are not developing their own instincts and survival skills. Ten bucks someone will figure this out and sell us an interactive program so our kids can practice their survival skills in a safe, supervised and climate-controlled environment. Some software with questions like:
If Johnny jumps off that tree limb, will he break his leg or just sprain an ankle?
Itís getting dark. Whoís hiding behind that shrub? Is it the newly-released sex offender or your puppy, Dingleberry?
Only a generation ago our moms used to let us go out with our bikes and tell us to come home when it gets dark. Is it really that much more dangerous now?
How about that time when you stayed out a little too long on your bike and faced a dark, scary ride home? You knew it was your own fault, and you had to make it home alone. But you did it, felt infinitely stronger for it, and you knew not to do it again. How will our kids learn those lessons? Thatís not something you can teach at Sylvan.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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