An Australian study recently found that playground injuries continue to rise despite safety improvements because the safe new play structures are so boring that kids are taking more risks in order to have fun.
Four 11- and 12-year-old girls stood in front of my open pantry, mouths gaping wide. "Look! Fruit Roll-Ups!" "Oh, my God! Chocolate-chip cookies!" "You have regular potato chips? We only get the soy kind!"
After 14 years and four kids, I thought I’d feel comfortable as a mother. Instead, I’m increasingly aware of a prickly new sensation: that I’m some kind of renegade. Who knew that buying potato chips would become a radical act? Or that letting my daughters walk home from school alone would require administration approval? How did I, a middle-of-the-road mom, become a social deviant?
Fear is the new fuel of the American mom. If it’s not fear of her child becoming obese, it’s the fear of falling behind, missing out on a sports scholarship or winding up with a thin college-rejection envelope.
Apparently I’m not nervous enough. Last summer while I was loafing in front of the TV with my kids, the most benign things morphed into menaces. For example, the sun: long-sleeved, UV-protective swimsuits were all the rage at my neighborhood pool, while I could barely remember to bring the year-old sunscreen. The water wasn’t safe either: at the beach I saw tots dressed in flotation belts and water wings—for shelling along the shore. And goodbye, cotton candy and hot dogs! At a major-league game I saw moms and dads nix the stuff as if they’d never eaten the occasional ballpark treat. As if their children would balloon into juvenile-diabetes statistics if a single swig of sugary soda passed their lips.
Half my kids’ friends—who already make A’s and B’s—had summer tutors in order to "keep it fresh." I thought vacation was for relaxing and recharging. What would our pioneer foremoms think? (You want something to worry about, let me show you frostbite, typhoid and bears!) Heck, what must our own mothers think? (Snap out of it! Go worry about something truly scary, like how you’re going to pay for retirement!)
I thought that once the kids were back in school, things would calm down. Instead, a fresh seasonal crop of anxiety sprouted, this time over corruptive candy fund-raisers and insufficient use of hand sanitizer. I know one mom who wants to change her son’s schedule because he doesn’t know anyone in his classes; she’s worried he’ll be "socially traumatized" all year. Another is afraid of a learning disability she just read about, though her child seems bright and charming to me.