Wednesday, May 20

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Some years ago, way back when W was the president (lower case p intentional), shortly after 9/11 (don't even get me started on that subject. I mean it.), there was a contest announced on NPR. Actually, I don't really remember if it was on NPR. But since it's almost all I listen to, I'm figuring. I also don't remember if it was a joke or not. I'm thinking now that it must have been, but my recollection is that it wasn't, which is just mind-blowing. Whatever it was, despite the fact that I never do these sorts of things, I entered.

The contest was for a motto for the then-newly-formed Department of Homeland Security, a title that I abhor, by the way. I'm still shaking my head years later that we have a branch of the government that uses the word "homeland" to refer to our country. Did any of these people ever read a history book? I'm quite certain that none of the people who thought this up are Jewish. Or maybe they know all about the allusions, and are just fascist wannabes (or worse). It still makes me bristle.

In any case, they were having a contest for the new agency's motto. You know, to engrave in stone over the entrance of the building in DC, to plaster on the literature (maybe on the back of the dig-a-hole-in-the-ground pamphlet that we're bound to see revived one of these days), to put on the official seal to be made into patches for the arm of the uniform of all those highly efficient security screeners at airports. Like this one at the entrance to the US Supreme Court, which reads "Equal Justice Under Law" (cough cough)

Or like this one, which reads "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"

Okay, so it's not Washington D.C. And it's not even the USPS motto. But it's engraved and grand and motto-ish and all. You get the idea.

Just so you don't sit in nailbiting suspense, I'll tell you the winner. The Department of Homeland Security's motto is:Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America. Riveting.

Or... it might beVigilance. Service. Integrity. Depends who you ask. Also riveting

My idea was so much more to the point. I wrote in and suggested the following:

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I still think it shoulda won. It's clear. It's to the point. It's honest. I don't know what's the matter with these people. Stodgy, all of 'em. Men.

It's okay. I'm over it. They're gonna listen to me one of these days.

As you might have imagined, there actually is a reason that this contest-that-was-never-really-a-contest entered my head on this day, catapulting me into sweet reminiscence about the role of fear in American culture. I bet you didn't imagine that the reason would involve a bathroom stall. Neither did I. But there it is.

Today, I was in the bathroom at the local Stop 'n Shop (just so you can make an accurate entry in your log of where I stop to go to the're welcome), which I've got to say is damn clean for a grocery store bathroom. Some of 'em are downright horrendous. And they are kind enough to have one of those fold-down diaper changing tables that I was very grateful to have back in the day. You know, the ones with the handy little slot for the custom tissue paper covers to protect the little butt from the grossness of the plastic surface--the slot that never, and I mean never, has anything in it. Have you ever seen one that has covers in there? Why do they keep making a slot?

Oops. Sorry. Veered off there. But while I'm off on this side road, has anyone else ever noticed that the sliding locks on many bathroom stall doors are made by a company called "Hiney Hiders" (and engraved as such)? Can you believe there's a company with that name?

Hey! Engravings! I am keeping with the theme!

Screeeeeeech! Okay. Back on track.

So there I was, glancing over at the diapering platform, and among all of its warnings and reminders (damn lawyers), I see the following graphic (and I mean graphic):

Stars and impact zone and everything. Don't you think that's just a little bit over the top? Wouldn't it be sufficient to have it say "Never Leave Baby Unattended"? Or "Falls can Occur: Never Leave Baby Unattended"? Or even just a picture of a baby teetering?

I ask you, what mother out there can tolerate, even for a second, the mental picture of a fall direct onto a tiled floor, much less one which involves the head as the first point of contact, without wincing? I know, that's the point. Scare 'em into being careful. Scare the HELL out of 'em into being careful. I don't even have a baby anymore, and the picture is still bothering me hours later.

I mean, if we're going to do this, maybe we should have similar signs on all other products. How about a little baby drawing like this that is colored blue on all items that might cause choking? How about a little baby drawing with a pool of blood underneath it attached to all bicycle car seats? You think I'm going over the edge here, taking a perfectly good warning to its ridiculous extreme. And I am, but isn't this all a little absurd?

Unfortunately, promoting parental anxiety (not all that different from fear, mind you) seems to be a theme. In browsing the app store for the Iphone in recent days, I find that the hot new apps are tools that you can use to monitor and record exactly how long and at exactly what time your baby nurses, how many peas she ate (because you are counting, aren't you?), her level of Vitamin D exposure (i.e. outside playtime), and endless other record-keeping options clearly designed by people who know a whole lot more about coding and software than they do about babies and parenting. One of them was even listed as one of the Top 10 Apps for Parents by Time Magazine in their recent article. Oy.

I've worked with babies, young children, and families for more than thirty years, and there has not been a moment when I have thought that scaring the hell out of them or sending their anxiety into the stratosphere was the way to ensure good parenting and child safety.

But hey, that's just me.

1 comment:

Anna said...

And how many anxious parents are there as a result of fear-mongering?

I spent two years working with ESL children and their families - their anxiety levels were through the roof, trying to adjust to a new country, new language - signs like that, warnings, that they really don't understand in the first place. And it seems obvious to me (because I've been doing this for way too long - children can sense their parents' anxiety, and respond in kind.