I drank chocolate milk – gallons of it – when I was a kid. The same goes for soda, sugar, potato chips and Twinkies.
I was known to ride around the neighborhood without a bicycle helmet and play down by the creek with other kids without an adult around. We even played hide-n-seek in the neighborhood in the twilight of summer nights. My mom smoked until I was in the third grade.
I even walked alone just over 2.5 miles each way to school in second grade, crossing railroad tracks and a busy highway without the aid of a crossing guard or traffic signal.
If I did those things as a kid today my mom would be arrested on child abuse charges.
There would also BE an expectation fueled by paranoia that long before I reached the age of 63 I should have been either abducted, struck by a car, killed bicycling, developed second-hand cancer, or be in a diabetic coma.
I’m told I grew up in a different world and that times have changed.
Times have indeed changed but not so much specific crime and accident rates as much as our paranoia fueled by all types of media bombarding us 24/7. Today all crime is local. A stranger abduction in a mall in Peoria becomes fodder for 24/7 cable shows, Internet sites, TV, newspapers, and more. Ever turn on a cable news show that spends an entire half hour regurgitating the same small bit of information and doing so in such a manner that they are making it sound like the entire world is collapsing and that it will happen to you or your kids next?
It makes everyone more paranoid and prompts us to demand insane things of the government such as proposing laws such as California did a few years back that would have required helmets on ski slopes.
All of this is at a great sacrifice not only to personal freedom and cost to society for implementing programs to reduce our perceived risks, but it also effectively makes many kids more vulnerable and shortchanges them.
How can you prepare for – or deal with – adversity if you aren’t allowed to experience life and make mistakes? You learn more burning your hand than you do being told not to touch a pan without a cooking glove when the burner is turned on.
My mom was savagely mugged one summer night by two thugs who used a baseball bat on her skull when they weren’t busy slamming her head against the hood of her car. Our washer had broken down and she was taking clothes to a coin laundry at 11 o’clock at night. My mom was working seven days a week at the time, 12 to 14 hours day running a Frostie to support us so it wasn’t unusual for her to be taking care of things she had to when most people were asleep. Back then Lincoln’s crime problem was so low that it makes Ceres today seem like Oakland.
My mom lost most of her teeth, her jaw was broken in four places, and both eyes blackened. I’ll never forget her face mainly because Lincoln Police did not have decent camera equipment so they asked me to shoot photographs for evidence.
My mother’s reaction wasn’t to become paranoid, overly protective or change her life to tailor it to fear. Her only concession was making sure the screen door was hooked when the front door was left open at night during the summer.
That happened to Mom when she was in her early 50s. She lived life on her terms for another 32 years
Mom also took a dim view of the government being worried about her health. She quit a two-pack-a-day habit cold turkey when I was 8 not because Uncle Sam suggested she do so but because she had to save money being a widow with four kids she had to raise.
When cyclamates were declared to cause cancer – which later research by the same government agency reversed – Mom wasn’t about to be forced to switch to a Diet Pepsi product that didn’t have them. She liked the taste and figured it was better than drinking regular Pepsi. So she called the beverage company that supplied The Squirrel Cage – the Frostie she owned – and ordered all of the cases of 16-ounce glass bottles of Diet Pepsi with cyclamates they had. All told, it took Lincoln Ice & Beverage two pick-up trips to deliver 87 cases of Diet Pepsi with 24 bottles per case to our patio.
Mom eventually drank them all and didn’t get cancer like those poor lab rats that were injected directly into their stomachs with 37 times the amount of cyclamates a 180-pound adult would consume if they drank 36 bottles of Diet Pepsi a day for three months straight.
There is a fine line between reasonable regulations and oppressive dictates when government starts managing our daily lives.
Government needs to refrain from becoming an overprotective nanny just as we need to not let fear and paranoia dictate our lives and the lives of our children.
At the same time the Chicken Little echo chamber of the collapsing black hole of reason known as the Internet needs to tone it down – way down.
Conspiracy theories have life spans equivalent to radioactive uranium. They can also be as deadly as radioactive fallout.
One can only imagine what would happen today if an Orson Welles type was able to pull off a convincing modern version of the “War of the Worlds.” We like to think the Internet would squash an adverse reaction that could have deadly consequences but judging from where the Internet has taken us that’s highly doubtful.
In a way, both the push for government overregulating in a bid to eliminate every possible risk to human life and limb – as well as the paranoia that the Internet can spread on the left, on the right, and even in the middle of the political spectrum – is the direct result of people having too much time on their hands.
It gives credence to sayings such as “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
If we didn’t have excess time on our hands would we really be calling the police or child protection services when a parent allows their 6-year-old to walk to school by themselves or if they allowed a 12-year-old to be at home by themselves?
My mom allowed me to do both as much as a way of developing my ability to deal with the world as it was out of necessity.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.