Safety Dance

This is how I know it’s Spring now that I’m kind of an adult: I’m craving increasingly lighter beers with citrus in them. I know, I’m a girl. Leave it alone.

This is how I knew it was Spring when I was a kid: The smell of smoke from all of the accidental forest fires around town, all of which were set by kids in my neighborhood. And by “kids in my neighborhood,” I mean my two older brothers. It’s not as sinister as it sounds. Every Spring, caterpillars would set up cozy little cocoons in the trees surrounding our house, and every Spring, my brothers, armed with Bic lighters and cans of WD-40, would hunt down the cotton-candy-like cocoons. For those of you who weren’t raised in a house with two cars up on blocks in the front yard: The great thing about WD-40 and a Bic lighter is the blow-torch effect you get when you combine the two. Don’t judge us too harshly: We didn’t have cable, so we came up with our own entertainment. Imagine two middle-school kids in whitewash jeans and RATT tank tops all jacked up on Rambo fantasies heading into the woods with redneck blowtorches, and you’ll get a good image of what I’m talking about here.

The truly disturbing part of this story isn’t the satisfaction that my brothers got from scorching sleeping caterpillars. It’s that my parents were perfectly fine with two children wandering around the neighborhood with homemade bombs.

Can you imagine parents letting their 11-year-old kid loose in the woods with a blowtorch in 2012? Hell no. I don’t even think I’ll let my kids walk to school alone when they’re 11.

But my brothers and I were lucky to be raised during the ‘80s, when kids spent their free time playing elaborate games of “war” armed with air-pump BB guns and Roman Candles.

Safety was a different issue back then. A non-issue, really. Seat belts were for pussies. Bicycle helmet? What bicycle helmet? Quality time with my dad was when he sat me on his lap while he was driving and let me steer the station wagon down the interstate at 80mph. MTV wasn’t allowed in our house, but driving a car at 7? Sure.

Today, there’s a five-point safety checklist I go through before I’ll even start the damned car with my kids in it. If I forget to lather my kids with sun screen for a 30 minute session in the park, I feel like calling DSS on myself. They wear Water Wings for their tubbies and have never even walked outside without hard plastic on their heads. I make the dad in Finding Nemo look laid back.

On the one hand, I feel sorry for my kids and their peers, as they’re being raised during the “Golden Age of Irrational Fears,” where everything is padded, locked, and kid proofed. They will probably never know the joy of playing Bow and Arrow Chicken (two people stand together, one shoots an arrow straight into the air. Last one to move wins. Awesome). If I could figure out a way to wrap my kids in bubble wrap before they played soccer, I’d do it. Life was just more carefree when RATT’s “Round and Round,” was getting heavy radio play. Each morning, kids were simply let loose into the neighborhood with their throwing stars, fireworks, and stolen Hustler magazines, free to reenact scenes from Lord of the Flies as they saw fit.

I couldn’t imagine being raised any other way.

On the other hand, I can’t believe we didn’t blow ourselves up. With all the flammable hairspray bottles lying around our house and almost complete lack of adult supervision, it’s a damned miracle any of us made it out alive.

So while I appreciate the laissez faire approach to parenting that seemed to be the federal mandate in 1983, I’m going to stick with my overprotective micro-management approach. Now, can anyone help me build a prototype of that bubble-wrap suit I keep dreaming about?

Children of Former Decades: What’s the craziest thing your parents let you do? Steering the family car on a road trip is up there for me. Encouraging me to strip antique furniture with industrial grade acids might also make the list.

The Princess Diaries: Volume One

So, here’s something a little strange. My daughter sneaks out of her bed at 2am to “shop” for dresses in her closet. She has lots of dresses. Purple mostly, some pink. She pulls them out, looks them over, tries some on. Sometimes, she falls back asleep in the closet, pulling those dresses over her for warmth.

Cute? Disturbing? I can’t decide.

Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, and she’ll tell you: “I want to be a princess.” Ask her what a princess does at work, and she’ll tell you: “twirl.”

She spends a lot of time twirling. And changing clothes.

The other day, within the same conversation, she said to me, “I just want to wear a little black dress.” WTF? Then she followed up that gem with, “just give me some space, daddy.”

I’m not really sure when it happened. She’s three going on 13.

Meanwhile, Cooper’s hell bent on “shooting” any moving object (with pretend lasers) and “fixing” any stationary object (by bludgeoning it with a plastic hammer). He’s such a stereotypical dude: He likes sticks and hitting things with sticks and occasionally peeing on things.

What’s amazing to me is how easily they’ve both fallen into these classic gender roles. You might think the kids are just imitating what they see from their parents, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Cooper’s never seen me pick up a hammer or fix anything and Addie rarely sees her mom in anything other than hospital scrubs. I do the cooking, my wife mows the lawn. I drive a tiny Jetta, my wife drives a four-wheel drive SUV. And yet my daughter will spend an entire afternoon spinning around in front of a mirror while saying, “I’m so pretty,” and my son is obsessed with monster trucks. Specifically, monster trucks that smash smaller trucks.

That’s not to say Addie is strictly a princess. She’s hell on a climbing wall, sending all kinds of routes with grace. She’s a fast little trail runner, too. And I’ve occasionally caught her smashing shit with a plastic hammer. She also loves chicken wings. I think that’s pretty cool.

Cooper has a soft side too, which I’m doing my best to nurture. Like his sister, he’ll occasionally strap on a skirt and twirl like a princess–a fact that drives certain grandparents crazy, I’m sure. I know some dads might take issue with their son wearing pink skirts and pretending to be a Snow White, but I like to think I’m more open-minded than that. I’m evolved: I’ll love my son if he grows up to wear pretty dresses…as long as he’s still the starting center fielder for the Atlanta Braves. That’s non-negotiable.