Several years ago, I read “A Complaint Free World,” by Will Bowen. In it, there’s a challenge to go 21 days without complaining, gossiping, or criticizing. You put a bracelet on, and when you catch yourself in one of the aforementioned activities, you switch wrists, and begin the count again. It wasn’t magical, I didn’t “start enjoying the life I always wanted,” but it was enlightening, to say the least. Now, I don’t think anyone will nominate Mrs Fringe for sainthood, but the exercise left an impression on my brain, if only so I’m aware, and recognize when I’m engaging in these behaviors.
So, I’m quite aware I’m about to be judgmental. Mea Culpa.
The other day I was walking up my block, when I heard, “Hey, hey, HEY STOP!” I looked across the street to where the voice was coming from, and saw a man yelling and running towards a toddler who was running into the street, with a truck coming pretty fast. There was a group of people in front of a building, the little guy was obviously part of that group and had wandered away. Maybe he lost his ball, maybe he was following a pigeon. It was fine, little guy was spotted and safe before the scene was a script for the evening news. It happens. Dad thinks Mom is watching the baby, Mom thinks Auntie is watching the baby, Auntie thinks Grandma is watching the baby, etc. Frightening, but not shocking or cause for judgement.
But then, I was walking along Central Park West and saw a man in a snappy suit, riding his bike. Nice, thanks for saving the environment while getting your workout in. His baby was on the bike with him.
If you aren’t a New Yorker, let me tell you, Central Park West is not part of the park, it’s a big, busy avenue. And it was dusk, when visibility is worst. Aww, look at dad, doing his share. Only one problem, baby wasn’t in a safety seat designed for a bike, she was strapped to Dad’s chest in a soft, front carrier. WTF are you doing, Dad? I see you had a helmet strapped on your own head. This is not safe, can’t possibly be legal.
Suddenly, it all made sense to me. All those ridiculous labels on walkers (which I don’t think exist anymore, “don’t leave baby unattended near stairs”), the danger of bath seats. Heh, imagine, you shouldn’t walk away from your 5 month old in the tub, even if they’re in that nifty seat? There really are adults who can read who need these warning labels.
I can’t say that was a regular sight, but it wasn’t surprising. I don’t get it. New York parents are the most paranoid bunch you’ll ever see. Inside. God forbid their toddler should learn not to touch something. There’s an entire industry, not just comprised of safety products to pad those corners, but of people who are paid to “consult,” come to your apartment and make it safe for baby. The earlier the better, preferably long before baby is born. Because, you never know, baby could slip out of your irritable uterus at 26 weeks, just when you’re standing near an outlet, amniotic fluid spraying into said outlet just as baby flings out his arm in a startle reflex, poking one delicate finger into the open socket. Could happen, right? What a racket.
So in the apartment, all is non toxic, organic, non breakable yet sturdy, soft and yet firm enough not to suffocate, elegant yet flaccid–no wait, that’s Mom’s wine, out of reach, of course.
But outside, on the streets and sidewalks, suddenly a different story. These same parents seem quite vested in proving to the world that even their toddlers are sophisticated New Yorkers, eating edamame at snack time, and intuitively understanding the flow of traffic patterns in New York. Except they don’t. Because even if they did, often they can’t be seen by a driver or bicyclist. So these parents who have spent hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for a baby proofing consultant to divulge the secrets of padded walls and common sense don’t think any of these rules apply outside. Every day I see kids running, scootering, or wheeling their little wooden scooter bikes down the sidewalk on their way to school (of course, morning rush hour when sidewalks and streets are busiest), half a block to a block ahead of the parent, while mom or dad calls out a gentle stop-at-the-corner reminder. Watch and give it a minute, then you see the same mom or dad running to catch the two, three, or four year old who didn’t stop and is now crossing the street by themselves, or forgot they were going past an active parking garage.
And let’s not forget the other pedestrians, who are expected to move out of the way for little Susie and Johnny so they can enjoy their childhoods unfettered, and show their suburban cousins they get just as much time playing outside, and it really is worth paying $3500 a month for a two bedroom apartment.
I get it, to some degree. The same child who will whine about walking seven blocks to school will happily pedal there. It’s nice to give them an opportunity to burn off some energy before they’re indoors and building their SAT vocab skills. Can’t start too early, yanno, competition is fierce.
If you haven’t been to Manhattan, let me tell you, all the horror stories you’ve heard about driving in New York are true. The streets are crowded with cars, buses, taxis, bikers, and pedestrians. Don’t forget the ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars on their way to an emergency. Lots going on, every driver has to be aware of every possibility.
For the most part, I think they do a great job. But with all this going on, so much congestion, parking, double parking, taxis stopping and starting without notice, delivery guys on bikes who don’t watch where they’re going but say a prayer instead, ummm, accidents happen. All the time. People get hurt. Car vs bike, bike loses. Bike vs bike, both lose. Car vs pedestrian, pedestrian loses. Bike vs pedestrian, pedestrian loses.
Parenting is hard, nobody makes the right call all of the time. Parents whose children are diagnosed with epilepsy are cautioned by pediatric neurologists about bathtubs and swimming pools; NY parents are cautioned about bathtubs and the subway. Parenting in NY does carry extra challenges, I’ve made decisions that my suburban counterparts don’t understand. But I can say with a clear conscience that I’ve never sent my kids out to play in traffic.
This has been a Public Service Judgment by Mrs Fringe.