Monday, September 17, 2012

The Unavoidable Looming Calamity

Me: Please don't poke me in the eye
Daughter: I'm not - I'm poking you in the cheek.

My kids ae very word-specific with a few things. I can't reprimand them with "I wouldn't do that if I were you," because both of them genuinely think that's just me commenting that although they would, I personally wouldn't. When I do accidentally say that my daughter - in particular - will respond about how wimpy I am compared to her then, because she definitely would and is doing it right now. Another example would be if I tell them not to do something along the lines of hitting or kicking. So the statement, "please don't hit your sister" actually is interpreted as, "feel free to kick, headbutt, bite, elbow-drop and piss all over your sister as nobody has any problem with you doing that or they would have said so."

The thing is they aren't even trying to be a smart-arse about it either. Neither of them is quite old enough to understand that level of malicious wankishness. And by that I mean those infuriating situations where one sibling doesn't actually touch the other one, but invades their personal space and reminds them, "I'm not actually touching you so technically you can't be annoyed." No - this is all rather a failure of language on my part. Last night in the bath I reminded my son, "please don't pour bubbles on my head." So I only had myself to blame when he started pouring cups of water over my head repeatedly, before then realizing I hadn't mentioned anything at all about feeding bubbles directly into my eyes. And it happens so often I should have learned myself by now to make statements as if I was drafting a patent. So I should be all-inclusive and overly vague so as to cover everything in one fell swoop.

I have no idea why but these past few weeks I've been oddly interested in Public Service Announcements on Youtube. Truth be told I'm a little jazzed about any and all levels of ridiculous warning. Of course when I didn't have children I didn't for one minute think about how a child would view them. But now I have kids some of them are so mental I am too frightened to let them see - even though the subject in hand has no bearing on them in any way. First off though I should mention that my own fascination with this sort of thing really took off shortly after meeting my in-laws. I visited the old family camp in the Adirondacks and there - right on one of the bedrom doors - was a massive poster warning about the danger of rabies. The house it was in is so homely and cozy - and very old fashioned with lots of early 20th century mountain gear adorning the walls - that I was completely thrown off by the gargantuan poster about how sad it would be if your dog got rabies and died. It was almost as if I'd just discovered that one of the family had the same level of insane illogical fan-worship behavior of those nutters do for Twilight or Michael Jackson. Except in this case for rabies. I sort of hoped at least it was for the Stephen King book Cujo so that it wouldn't just be that my new family felt it was important to have this poster up in a child's bedroom. But no. It's not the one below - which is quite friendly and sanitized - but it's a flavor of the sort of thing I mean.

Anyhoo - the point of this is I've been watching a whole bunch of the terrifying old British ones. Mostly I've been trying to figure out if there really was a massive wave of child-related death due to kids playing near electrical substations or powerlines during the late 70s to late 80s. Because there are LOADS of those. then they suddenly cease being made. Either something amazing happened and kids stopped dicking around with powerlines or the authorities decided that the kinds of people licking power generators or climbing pylons don't need saving. The one I remembered most was this one because the notion of one death wasn't enough - they had to have two.

Which in itself was an homage of sorts to this one from the late 70s. Which features that intercom/radio speaker broadcasted English accent that sounds like the faceless Big Brother authoritarian voice in every grim movie about the totalitarian nightmare that people on each wing of the political spectrum believe we are veering towards. More than that though - you'll hear that girl screaming "JIMMY!!!" for weeks now whenever your eyes close.

Seriously though - there are loads of these and they're all the same. Apparently kite flying was the 1980s equivalent of bath salts because there's this one and this one. Not to mention the almost unavoidable death lurking around the corner due to any body of water. Certainly don't go swimming in the river . And what kind of parent leaves their kids wander about so that they go falling in what looks like a tiny puddle (but which is evidently a Puddle Of Death)? Death himself is there giddy at the idea you'll fall in.

In the end I started to get confused because the relentless battering of YOU MIGHT DIE FROM ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING even managed to address careless women who polish the floor thereby creating a "man trap" (again - a Man Trap OF DEATH).

At some point I started wondering what this would mean if a kid saw them. My daughter was somewhat interested in the weirdness that I was watching (mostly because of the endless cacophony of children screaming-whilst-dying) so I sat her down and showed her a couple - careful to watch how she reacted to them. I was not going to show her the truly horrible ones. Like this or this. Those are heart-achingly painful to watch. Obviously i wanted it to be one of the absurd ones - so I picked the horrifying prospect of the entire family being killed in a road accident due to a milk spill. She thought it was silly (although she did freak out last night after knocking a glass of milk over at dinner - presumably expecting a Skoda Octavia to come smashing through wall and killing at least one of us. But when I asked her she was cheery still so I figured I'd show her something else. Obviously at this point I remembered her mother's constant addressing of how an old fridge may look like a box, but it's really a BOX OF DEATH. That might sound sensible if we had ever actually seen a fridge on the side of the road - let alone in our back yard yawning wide-open for the kids to come play inside it. But we never ever have. Bringing it up all the time seems oddly threatening to be honest. Handily there was a video for that too. That had no effect either because as soon as it was over my daughter asked if she could play games on the computer instead.

I told her to go to the bathroom before she could play and started clicking around on some of the newer ones. She walked back in to catch the end of the one below. Which seems like an LSD fueled Halloween nightmare.

So now I've traveled completely out the other side and realized what na idiot I've been. Because if there's anything I dislike about parenting it's unwarranted alarmism. I used to watch the Today show on and off many, many years ago and every other day they'd try and promote a panic about the latest threat to your kids. I've mentioned skittling and how that stuck in my mind. And I can't count the number of times they did bits about how people are probably going to break into your house while you're at work today, or how everyone else on Facebook is actually a 55 year old creep preying on your children.

I hate that crap. It sloshes together with an attitude some parents have that practically everything around a child can be used as an implement OF DEATH. A fine example being this past weekend my wife visited the National Museum of Play in Rochester. NY. At which she witnessed a parent become indignantly incensed that the play kitchens had tiny, blunt plastic cutlery in them. This parent felt the need to ask the parents around her (in that way that it isn't a question at all - but a firm statement that if disagreed with proves what a morally-devoid barbarian you are) how the museum could allow what is effectively torture weaponry around innocent little babies. I wasn't there but having encountered many of these people it's a safe bet that the parent's only memory of that visit was that their kid could have been killed just like that gut-wrenching scene in The Firm with Gary Oldman. And yet here I was like an idiot watching short video after short video of different awful ways your child may be scarred, killed or disturbed during their life. I felt a compelling desire to protect my children from something at that very moment. I had a strong throbbing need to make changes to esnure safety was at its maximum. And while I obviously note the altruism and good-intentions behind those last two PSAs in particular - they are made by people who are experts at scaring the living shit out of people.

Which is why me and the boy put on a coat, a hat (it's cold!) and are off to take the kite out. What can go wrong?

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