Morning Story: Parenting in a climate of fear

By Mark Story


My first memories of pulling on a rugby jersey are chilling.

Early mornings in Waipukurau our junior grounds were frequently frosted.

And given the grade played bare-footed, it was tough. We were effectively engaging the national game on a poorly groomed ice rink. Two 20-minute halves of insane discomfort.

Tears, in the circumstances, were common. I can't remember exactly, but I presume I was one of the many bawlers.

Because it meant we had to stop moving, every peep of the ref's whistle met with collective heartbreak. The sidelines were flush with well-wrapped parents chuckling at our misfortune. At half time they'd pick us up, rub our feet, and do what that generation did - encourage and scold simultaneously. "C'mon. You're not that cold. Just 20 minutes to go".

Watching my kids playing now clad in socks, boots and beanies, I'm wondering if I shouldn't be grateful for those frost-bitten beginnings.

That's because everywhere I turn today I see reminders of how we're handling our children with increasing fragility.

Look no further than the trampoline.

If there's ever a symbol of how supple our parenting hands have become, it's the evolution of the 80s fun machine.

When the iron-clad phenomenon leapt into our backyards (about the same time Duran Duran were singing Hungry Like the Wolf), it was like the new kid at school - novel fun but with hidden dangers.

In the short course of a few years, we introduced padding. Then, owners and parks began digging cavities to embed their trampolines at a safer ground level.

In hot pursuit of recreational immunity, the next step was to introduce a flexi fish-net cage, the walls of which are now bouncier than the mat.

You could, if you were inclined, heave a modern trampoline from the Sky Tower and pose no risk to public safety.

My many and wonderful memories of being double-bounced into oblivion by bigger kids become more precious each time I lay eyes on the muted contemporary models.

To boot, my childhood frame of fun was for years stationed on our concrete driveway. Not only did it not faze my parents that our tramp was uncaged and unpadded, neither was the inflexible landing cause for concern.

Who knows what sort of contraption my grandchildren will bound on?

I can only assume tramp safety will become a component of ante-natal classes, before a flurry of fat lips sparks a nationwide ban.

To think too that many of my grandparents' generation spent hours trudging to school on horseback. Today most kids arrive by car, SPF15 smeared over exposed flesh, all major food groups in the lunchbox and a triathlete-sized water bottle.

Truth be told I suspect parents have been expressing this fear since Adam.

Adam junior: "Dad, can I eat that apple?"

Adam: "Wash your hands first."

Adam [laughing, whispers to Eve]: "We never washed our hands."

Eve: "We never asked."

It's telling now that our kids like to show off their scars. Compared with mine, they are all but unnoticeable, and far fewer.

We all hope our young ones steer themselves from harm's way. The intent behind a safer community is a noble one.

And I'm no different. Every day after waving goodbye to my kids on their bikes, helmeted and with a good slap of SPF15, I worry about my own complicity in raising the least durable generation in the history of humankind.

I'm wary, and weary, of trying to parent in this prohibitive climate of fear.

Mark Story is deputy editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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