Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bizarre Parenting News Stories from the Past 10 Days: Killer Coffee Tables, No Coats & Minivans are ‘Cool’?

While I was laying in bed over the past week recovering from the (swine?) flu, I came across a series of bizarre parenting stories that I feel compelled to share with you, my kind readers:

Killer Coffee Tables

Who knew that coffee tables were killers, lying in wait in living rooms and family rooms across America. Seriously. The New York Times dedicated a huge chunk of the front page of its Home section to the notion that for babies and toddlers who are learning to walk, coffee tables are a hazardous menace.

When my kids were learning to walk and started scaling furniture, The Spouse and I temporarily removed the coffee table from our living room until the kids were stable walkers and no longer climbed on top of furniture. No biggie. No expert warnings were necessary for us to figure out what we needed to do. When we brought the young ones to other people’s homes in which there were coffee tables, either The Spouse or I would bey at our toddler’s side watching them and removing stuff like crystal candy dishes or open candle flames from their reach. We used common sense until the kids were older.

Did this mean that our children were protected from never banging their heads and getting goose eggs? Absolutely not. Life's hard and bumpy and there's nothing we could do about it.

The Youngest Boy once walked straight into a pole at a grocery store when he was 3 years old, leading with his forehead, and he sustained a huge, ugly bump which, for some reason, he named “Edward.” One day The Girl was dancing in the family room and accidentally kicked her twin brother in the face; he got a big bruise on his head. When The Eldest Boy was a toddler who’d mastered the art of climbing stairs, he tripped down the three stairs leading to our front breezeway in our old house, landing on his head. (I was videotaping him at the time too.)

"Do not be fooled. The coffee table means your children harm. And when it attacks, results can be ugly.

Last year, 143,070 children age 5 and younger visited emergency rooms after table accidents, according to estimates from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Coffee tables, in particular, turn up in more than a quarter of the accident reports, in the commission’s sample count."

My question: Why single out the coffee table as the chief menace to toddlers’ heads? When babies and toddlers interact with the world, they’re going to fall, no matter how much you don’t want them to, or how much you want to prevent it. That's life. Sending new parents into a frenzy and making them fearful of furniture -- I remember experts terrifying me about almost everything in my home when my twins were small – seems unnecessarily over the top.

No Coats

When I drove my kids to school this morning – The Youngest Boy had to be there early for school band practice – the temperature on my dashboard read 21 degrees.

I was bundled up in fuzzy boots, a warm winter coat, a cap, a long scarf wrapped around my neck and toasty leather gloves. And I was in the heated car absolutely loving the perk of heated seats. (They bring me an unreasonable degree of joy.)

As I dropped off The Youngest Boy at his school then drove The Girl and The Eldest Boy to their middle school, I noticed kid after kid – all boys – in shorts and many of them without coats.

This, sadly, did not shock me. I spent most of the fall arguing with my 9-year-old son over the fact that he’d fallen in with kids who insist on wearing shorts and no wearing coats when low temperature clearly call for outerwear and long pants. The principal of his school has sent numerous e-mails to us parents, pleading with us to please make sure our children are dressed for the weather. Yet even when I showed these e-mails to my son hoping that perhaps the admonitions of his principal would prove persuasive, I'd still get into an argument with him on many a morning about the fact that, regardless of his street cred, I was irrationally making him wear a coat. And yes, I was aware that he removed the coat the moment he thought he was out of eye shot.

So it was with interest that I read this Associated Press story by Beth Harpaz about the phenomenon of young people who reject winter coats and, in some cases, opt for shorts during cold weather. Harpaz’s story began:

“Among the great spectacles of winter, along with the northern lights and frozen lakes, are coatless kids.

No coat, no gloves? No prob!

These teens and tweens are chillin’ out, literally and figuratively, in their sweatshirts and kicks. Maybe a boy will accessorize with a baseball cap, and a girl might choose stylish boots – but nothing weatherproof, please! Some boys even wear shorts year-round, and many parents say they’ve given up the fight.”

The bottom line of the article: If you live in Alaska and frostbite is a real possibility, you probably should make the kids wear appropriate clothing. If not, an ER doctor told Harpaz that, "If teens are 'going off to school in 30 or 40 degree (above zero) weather with less than ideal coverings, they're probably okay, as long as they do not find themselves stuck outside  for a long time at those temperatures.'" I'm going to choose NOT to share that particular quote with The Youngest Boy.

Minivans, Cool?

I once wrote a column about my reluctant journey from being a sedan-driving mom of two, to a minivan-driving mom of three kids under the age of 4. Though I knew that driving a minivan would designate me as a vanilla mom with a sub-zero hip factor, the minivan was a blessing in terms of affording my family space when we were out and about, giving me a safe, comfortable place to change my baby’s diapers and nurse him while my 3-year-old twins played. The stroller and other baby accouterments fit well in the back, even alongside bags and bags of groceries. However I was thrilled to ditch our minivan a few years ago when the Picket Fence Post family made the transition from a minivan family to an SUV family.

But I read with a skeptical eye, this piece in the New York Times which asserted that minivan makers are trying to market the family behemoths as the opposite of what they really are: Cool.

“In marketing campaigns featuring heavy-metal theme songs, rapping parents, secret agents in cat masks, pyrotechnics and even Godzilla, minivan makers are trying to recast the much-ridiculed mom-mobile as something that parents can be proud — or at least unashamed — of driving,” the Times reported. “Toyota led the effort early last spring with a campaign for its Sienna model that features a self-indulgent couple rapping about rolling through the cul-de-sacs with their posse of kids in their ‘Swagger Wagon.’”

Sorry, but I’m not buyin’ it. Are you?

Image credit: Andrea Levy/New York Times.

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