Thursday, April 22, 2010

Having children

So I was recently around one of Rachel's co-workers who was talking about how she was debating whether to sign her daughter up for a soccer league. Her daughter was already involved in ballet and swimming and some other activity, so she was concerned that it might be too much.*

As you can imagine, this conversation wasn't really my cup of tea. Of course my input wasn't requested but anyone who knows me knows that won't stop me from butting into a conversation I know nothing about. The only thing I could think of was to ask whether kids just ride around their bikes after school any more.

"Oh no," she almost whispered. "You just can't do that anymore."

"Of course," I said, not picking up on the non-joke, "just think of what could happen."

Completely, dead-seriously she said, "I mean, these days you have to worry about getting abducted."

I quickly changed the topic, or allowed the topic to change, I don't remember which, because I knew I was about five seconds away from either having or inducing a nuclear meltdown**.

First of all, I grew up in the Golden Age of Serial Killers. Gasey, Dahmer, and Bundy all had their heydays in the late 1980s and early 1990s. All of those boxy white vans made for abducting people came out around the same time . It seemed like every single day there was a news story about a child murder.

Yet my friends and I were out every afternoon totally unsupervised. I had to tell my mom where I was, but that consisted of telling her I was going to play soccer or football or just out riding my bike and playing in the creek. There was no adults around and nobody seemed to care.

We were told over and over to not talk to or accept rides from strangers. Somehow it worked. Not one of my friends, or friends of friends or friend of friends of friends was ever abducted. Now I'm sure a few of them were molested, but that was probably by a family member or priest or otherwise trusted adult.

The point is that children get abducted or molested regardless of whether we want them to or how much we shelter them. Even children who are kept in their homes can be stolen directly from the home. Remember Polly Klaas?

Did Polly Klaas get abducted because she wasn't sheltered enough or because she rode her bike after school? No. Polly Klaas was murdered because bad shit happens and you can't do much about it more than you can prevent a car accident.

You can teach your children to avoid strangers and be smart, just as you can teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. But if we're teaching them to be so scared of the world that they can't leave their own backyards, then we shouldn't be surprised when they turn out to be helpless, corpulent, and otherwise as useful as tits on a bull.

What a depressing worldview to have when you won't even let your children go outside. I wouldn't even bring a child into this world if I thought letting him outside would just lead to child murder. Now if there's an active serial killer operating in your town, it might be a good idea to keep little Timmy locked up until they find the guy or the abductions slow down. But to just assume there's one in every neighborhood is pretty twisted.

To paraphrase the great Gus McCrae, Life is short. Shorter for some than others. But it's not how you die that's important. It's how you live.

*Great conversation by the way. Meanwhile, I was talking to her gay co-worker about going to concerts and eating good food. If that's not an argument for waiting to have kids or to have none at all, I don't know what is.

**Just remembered this isn't entirely true. I pointed out this recent incest/murder case and suggested that maybe if kids were out riding their bicycles more, they would at least be safe from getting molested by their fathers.


  1. Good job Kendall. I agree 100%. Whatever happened to "come home before the streetlights come on." That's how we did things when I was a kid.

    I heard this lady talk about this very issue on NPR a year or so ago.

  2. sorry for dragging you to the potluck...

  3. Love your blog! I'm sure we tramatized Rachel by constantly warning her about strangers. Ask her about the big sleepover at Brea's when all the girls went out to teepee the neighborhood.

  4. I was just joking about this the other day. I bet you could make a fortune marketing helmets for kids to wear AT ALL TIMES... I mean, you just never know.

  5. Jon, thanks for the heads up. Good to know not all parents think bike riding after school is dangerous.

    Rachel, never apologize for something that inspires me to rant and rave and offend people.

    Nancy, warning children about strangers is exactly what parents should do. Trying to ensure they never even encounter a stranger is not.

    Sam, they have something far more insidious now called the "cell phone." It's like an infinitely long umbilical cord, that is unless you have an iPhone. Then it's just a good projectile to throw in case of Stranger Danger. (topical iPhone zing! yeah!)