Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Parenting outside the bubble

In an Op Ed in the New York Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan writes "We want to shield our children, but it's the worst thing we can do." She talks about her sons exchange trip in his senior year to Cape Town, of allowing him to bungee jump and sky dive, and knowing that in allowing our children to take calculated risks we build resilience, "the courage they need when those perils arise."

In the same newspaper, just a few pages earlier, Monica Davies reports here on Chicago school children whose parents have no say in the sorts of risks they face on a daily basis:

"The first day of school in one neighborhood on this city's far South Side brought a parade of security workers in neon vests, police officers on patrol, an idling city fire truck and, briefly, a police helicopter hovering above. All this to make sure that students from a shuttered elementary school could make it safely past abandoned lots, boarded-up houses and perhaps gang lines to get to their new school less than a half-mile away."

The cost of Safe Passage is $15.7 million, money that could otherwise be spent on stocking libraries with books, on teachers and counselors, and on funding the sort of after school activities that middle class kids take for granted. But in this part of Chicago, rather than being the worst thing we can do, shielding children - in this case  from violence, including gunfire - is the thing that must be done.

I am grateful, no matter how much I rail against it, my children exist in a bubble. And it is that bubble that makes it possible for my children to experience a degree of freedom - and along with that the sort of calculated risks that Finney Boylan references - that under different circumstances would be unthinkable. It has nothing to do with my being an evolved parent that I let my children ride their bikes to school or hang out downtown without supervision, and everything to do with my knowledge that this is about as safe a community as I am ever likely to live in.

What looks like evolved parenting from inside the bubble looks far more like a luxury from the outside, a luxury that is not available to the parents of children whose route to school is literally lined with police cars on the ground and helicopters above.

We need to be mindful that when we grapple with how to provide our kids with opportunities to experience calculated risk, or debate the merits of free range versus helicopter parenting or any number of other parenting issues, that what we are often talking about is less a problem than a product of our privilege.

It is not that the issues facing well-to-do children don't matter, but too often parenting issues are discussed as if we all lived inside the same bubble. I worry that this makes the lives of children who grow up without the safety net, outside the bubble, invisible.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

People for the ethical treatment of ... humans

I was going to ask about the eggs at the grocers today:

I see they are organic, and it says they are cage free
But are they free range? Certified?

And then I stopped myself.

I had just had a conversation with the butcher, who told me that today he had worked a split shift, meaning he had come in for three hours, gone home and had to return for a second shift on the same day. Clearly the new grocery shop in town, the one that I have fallen a little bit in love with, is not a unionized workplace.

So instead of asking the man packing the fridge section about the living conditions of the hens who laid the eggs I kept quiet. I bought the eggs that seemed the most likely to have been produced ethically; but I did not bother a man who was likely working for minimum wage without health care or union protection with my egg question.

If you have the means it is not so hard to purchase ethically raised food. It costs a little, sometimes a lot more, but that doesn't seem to bother the consumers at Whole Foods and any number of other gourmet grocers.

These are careful consumers who pride themselves on caring about their own health, the environment and the humane treatment of animals.

If this care does not extend to the humane treatment of the actual humans standing in front of you then it all starts to look a little hollow.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Shopping with kids

Three children under five sat in the super size cart, the weight of the extra seating making it impossible to steer or navigate through crowded aisles. The cart was pushed by a woman who could as easily been 25 as 35, her dirty blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail without the aid of a brush or mirror.

No she said that is not an everyday toy. Put it back.

The reasonableness of her words was undermined by the desperate tone. She sounded tired, her voice raspy - like a jazz singer's minus the glamour and sex appeal - as if she hadn't had a solid nights sleep in years, as if she had yelled at the kids so loudly and often that her vocal chords would never quite recover.

It was all so familiar. How often I had said the exact same words in the same weary tone . . .

No, put it back. It's too expensive. Put it on your birthday list.

. . . and then redirected my child to something cheap, the sort of throwaway toy that would be Exhibit A in Earth's case against the human race. A toy that would be forgotten within 24-hours, joining hundreds of others just like it in the ubiquitous cube storage bins that line the walls of children's bedrooms and play areas across the world.   

I passed through bedding, my own cart filled with stuff rather than children. And there she was again, still negotiating with the most intractable of her three. I was reminded of that tired line that I have been known to trot out myself when a child has been going through a particularly difficult phase.

This boy is headed straight to Washington. A career in lobbying is clearly in his future.

And perhaps it is, but such sentiments offer little comfort when stuck in aisle 9 with a screaming child and the narrowed eyes of fellow shoppers boring into you, judging you almost as harshly as a parent as you judge yourself.