Be Careful!

There is something seriously amiss with the ratio of crosswalks to crossing guards anywhere within three blocks of the World Trade Center. True, there are a lot of tourists, but you would think that the stoplights deal with them efficiently, without the use of manpower. But someone, somewhere determined that we need about 7 crossing guards for each big intersection.

“Crossing guard” is actually an inaccurate term. They’re from the NYPD.

A word comes to mind: unnecessary.

So every time I pass by Zuccotti Park on my way to the grocery store, I dodge tourist sharks trying to press on me information about double-decker bus tours and I field comments from the police officers such as, “You! With the baby! Be careful.”

… You know, until you said that I was planning on jumping in front of this speeding vehicle with my small child, but now that you mention, yeah. I will be careful. That’s a good idea.

To be fair, it can’t have been fun to go through the police academy only to get saddled with traffic duty, forever condemned to give directions to tourists for the rest of your life. I bet telling me to “be careful” is the greatest sense of meaning that their work day can now provide.

But seriously. “Be careful”? Why? Why do we say things this incredibly stupid? Why are we so completely compelled to state and restate the obvious?

Police officers on traffic duty aren’t even the worst. It’s parents.

“Sweetie, be careful! Oh, you be careful now! Be careful with that!”

Either your child is allowed to do a thing or he isn’t. What’s with all the intermediate meddling? Just as I have no motivation to unnecessarily endanger my child, nor do your children have any motivation to unnecessarily endanger themselves. Anytime you spend your precious breath on warnings such as these, you are getting tuned out as background noise and that problem will only increase. I know because I, too, was once a child.

And then people say to me, “But he might hurt himself!”

Yes. Yes, this is true. Tragically, and unavoidably, your kids will get hurt– regardless of how many times you say those magic words, “Be careful!” It’s simple. If a particular activity puts a child at an unreasonable risk of injury– I mean really unreasonable– you don’t allow them to do that particular thing. Beyond that, let them be kids.

I let Zoe run wild and free on the Subway. For some strange reason, the kid really likes it. She runs back and forth across the Subway car, sometimes holding onto the poles, sometimes the seats, and sometimes just Subway surfing. The other day a woman angrily glanced up from her compact mirror and spat, “She’s going to fall down.”

You could practically see the venom dripping down the side of her lipstick.

Um. Yes. Yes, she very probably might. And? Moving trains and small, unbalanced children… yep, I think I can put two and two together. (It’s five, right?)

Zoe has fallen a number of times on the train. The world has yet to end. She falls on her butt, sometimes picks herself right up, sometimes fusses and asks me to rescue her. Whatever. She’s a kid. Worse things will happen to her in her lifetime.

It’s so irresistible to control children that we frequently don’t even stop to ask ourselves what we hope to accomplish. In the large, large majority of cases, controlling another human being will not be worth the cost. To offer ourselves a brief rush of power, we build up resentment that will inevitably bubble over before our kids leave the house. Is it really worth it?


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