Dear Father Who Told His Daughter, "Be careful, honey, you're holding a stick."
I saw you at a party a while ago. Kids were running around, what people in the pre-Internet Age used to call "playing." Your seven-year-old daughter picked up a small branch. It was pine with soft needles. She stuck her arm up as high as she could and twirled around as she clutched the branch. It was cute. A good example of what people in the pre-iPad Age used to call "childhood."
Then you said, "Be careful, honey, you're holding a stick."
Like the pine branch was made of highly combustible plastic explosives or was possessed by an evil spirit. So she put it down. Then she sat down and did nothing. Crisis averted.
It was a typical example of a generation that those who raised their kids in the pre-Wireless Age dub the "most over-protective parents in the history of the world." You see these moms and dads at the playground warning their children about the inherent dangers of slides. This Halloween, they will be sure their children stay safely on the sidewalk. I'm not judging. I've been known to obsess now and then.
But here's the reason I'm writing you – Father Who Told His Daughter, "Be careful, honey, you're holding a stick" – at the playground, on the sidewalk, in the backyard, you're as alert for danger as a Navy Seal on a top-secret mission. Why is it then, that when I'm driving home, I see you holding your little dear one's hand, jaywalking across four lanes of traffic at dusk when there is a crosswalk 10 feet away from you?
Are you getting the inconsistency? Do you see the hole in the logic?
Sure, your kid might break a leg on the jungle gym. That's not fun, but it won't be fatal. However, if a car hits your kid, the consequences will be far worse. Yet you seem happy to teach her this high-risk behaviour.
When your seven-year-old sees you jaywalk through traffic, she figures it's okay (until age 14 your kids look up to you, as teenagers they "like know" you're an idiot). So, when your kids are older and you are not around, they'll imitate the behaviour. You may consider yourself the Gretzky of jaywalking. Your kid may not be so lucky. He or she will jaywalk and he or she may suffer dearly.
Right now, Father Who Told His Daughter, "Be careful, honey, you're holding a stick," you're saying – what about the drivers? Shouldn't they be alert? Isn't it their responsibility to look out for pedestrians? Yes, absolutely. It is. But they don't.
Here's the thing: you know that weird misplaced paranoia you have about twigs and insects and schoolyards? Good news! When it comes to drivers, you are absolutely right. Don't trust them. You must accept the fact that they are all idiots, every last one of them. Give them no credit. That being said, jaywalking because you feel people should drive more carefully is like refusing to wear sunscreen because people should be doing more about climate change. Theoretically you have a point, but practically you are doomed.
There are different styles of parental jaywalking. There's the "dasher" who grabs his kid's hand and bolts into traffic. This stunt is anchored in frustration. The kid's been whining, it's been a long day, the parent wants relief and can't imagine a world where he can make it to the lights without losing his mind. So off he goes. Other parent jaywalkers model themselves on the 1980s video game Frogger. A mom will creep out into the road with her kids. Stop. Freeze. Realize how stupid she is being, and after a few minutes spent stranded in the middle of the road, Frogger their way to the other side. They're different but they're all dangerous.
I'd like to extend my observation to mothers who jaywalk while pushing strollers. I realize that the design and mobility of strollers has advanced considerably. Some now cost thousands of dollars. I have yet, however, to find a stroller that is crash proof. Please, please, do not push yours out into traffic. Cross at the lights. It's a better plan and that way there are far more people's feet you can roll your stroller over.
Look, Father Who Told His Daughter, "Be careful, honey, you're holding a stick," I don't mean to be so hard on you. I'm not asking you to stop being over-protective. I'm just suggesting that, if you're going to be hyper-vigilant, you may as well be hyper-vigilant about something that is potentially dangerous (jaywalking) and not be hyper-vigilant about something that is not dangerous (most twigs).
The world is indeed a scary place. It always has been. Don't make it scarier by teaching your kids to jaywalk.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy