Friday, September 12, 2008

Parents and Paranoia

All the recent talk about how today's parents are obsessed with safety ("In my day we didn't wear helmets to ride bikes") finds me occasionally agreeing with the old people who "had to walk a mile to school in the snow" and had to "lay their infants on the front seat, putting out a hand at stoplights so the infant wouldn't roll onto the floor." The occasion for my disagreement is the proposals to raise the driving age. Where does all this parental safety stuff stop? Are we going to wrap all our children in bubble wrap until the age of 18, when they'll have to be pried out of our protective hands and shipped off to college?

When I took my kids to the beach and let them swim in the ocean this summer, I admitted to them that it's a fairly dangerous thing they still get to do. My daughter is paranoid about sharks. I don't mean just a little, I mean won't-go-in-the-water-above-the-ankles paranoid. None of my talk about the greater dangers of highway driving, or the statistical unlikelihood of shark attack or anything else I've said in her entire lifetime makes a difference. This is how she sees the ocean, as Edward Field wrote about it in his poem "Toothy Lurkers":

The shores are patrolled by sharks,
east coast and west alike,
Don't look, they're there all right--

better squeeze shut your eyes
as you dunk yourself
in the sharky sea.

Right now my greatest fear
is to wake up and find myself
floating with bare toes.

How do surfers dare
go so far out
with those toothy lurkers in the waves?

"How true!" says Eleanor, upon reading this poem.


Shana said...

Hi, there!

I linked through from J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Love the title of your blog and the story behind it.

I'm afraid of sharks, too. And jellyfish.

lemming said...

When I was nine we went to the beach at Cape Cod and it was all crabs, every square inch of it. It took me years to get over that and I still have the occasional nightmare.

Jeanne said...

A friend of mine just sent me a link to an article that relates to the topic of parental paranoia:
The complete article can be viewed at:,0,4797253.story