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Jewish World Review July 25, 2000 / 22 Tamuz, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Everything is protective: the parents, the gear, the age -- MY HUSBAND and I finally decided it was time for our six-year-old son to learn to ride a real bike. So in the tradition of modern parents everywhere, we suited him up.

Helmet, check. Elbow pads, check. Knee pads, check. Gloves, check. He looked like the Gladiator on a nice safe driveway, check.

Off we went. Over the course of two days my husband progressed from holding both ends of the bike while he ran alongside him, to holding only the seat, to holding the seat with just a few fingers, to ... Well, we may need another day or so to fully launch him off, which has nothing to do with my son. It has to do with his protective parents.

How different things were when his dad and I were kids. I was the youngest of five in a typical Chicago suburb. One day, when I was even younger than my son is now, my older sister just put me on a two wheeler on a neighborhood street, ran beside me for a few moments, and launched me off at full speed.

Now, she may have actually been trying to kill me, but of course it didn't work. The bike riding lesson did -- in about 2-3 minutes not 2-3 days. Back then, helmets were unheard of and any kid wearing elbow and knee pads would have been laughed out of the neighborhood. In fact, as I remember, it was "uncool" to use handle bars. One quickly learned to balance and ride without them, which is not so easy when going around corners.

It was just a different time then I guess. I mean, my mother used to tell me to go play in the street. Literally. My friends and I would play four-square or hopscotch, right out there in the middle of our little neighborhood road. We would get out of the way when cars came through, then resume our game until the next one came along. Now I live on quiet cul de sac -- and I get nervous when my kids get within 20 feet of it.

Though I practically live in the country it's only recently that I became comfortable letting our kids play outside without my constant supervision. Yet when I was just a little older than my son is now, I was freely roaming my neighborhood with my little friends. Oh, there were certain streets we couldn't cross, unless we wanted to be struck dead by our parents, forget the cars. But within those boundaries our moms just kind of figured we were safe and would show up again after a few hours. Then again, maybe that's why parents in those days had lots of kids. That way, they probably figured, if just most of their kids came back they'd still have a bunch.

There just seemed to be an attitude of benign-neglect back then when it came to children. I guess I think it was both healthier, and more dangerous, than today's protective parenting.

It was a time when trips to the doctor were for near-death experiences only.

Cars? Forget it. I remember countless cross-country treks with all of us bouncing around in the back of the station wagon. Or maybe I'd sit on my mother's lap in the front seat -- inches from the steel dashboard. (Seat belts were almost as unheard of as children's car seats.)

I remember my father pulling the toboggan behind that wagon on snowy winter nights while all the neighborhood kids piled on, or tried to pile on as he sped up.

And what toys we had! My twin brothers' favorite, when they were about 10, was a kit where they melted lead in a pot over a Bunsen burner and poured the molten stuff into molds to make little toy soldiers, guns and all. I think my parents violated about 10 different rules of political correctness -- not to mention fire prevention and health codes -- with that one toy alone.

Yes, it was a different and more dangerous and more care-free world then. Sigh. I had an absolute blast as a kid. Still I confess -- though with a bit of regret -- that now that I'm a mom I'm very thankful for bicycle helmets and everything else that comes with them.

And once their dad and I finally, however carefully, do launch our kids off on their bikes, I sure as heck had better never catch them riding without their hands squarely on the handlebars.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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07/06/00: Accounting for your health
06/21/00: It's a bad time to be a boy in America
06/13/00: The state of our unions
06/02/00: Federalizing care of kids
05/17/00: The natural food threat
05/09/00: To stop gun violence, keep families intact
05/03/00: Pass the fat, please
04/25/00: Something just for boys
04/18/00: When toleration goes too far
04/10/00: Women warriors
04/05/00: Confessions of a soccer mom
03/30/00: Getting an education about schools
03/22/00: If you're a parent, act like one!
03/14/00: Not child advocates, but self-advocates
03/06/00: McCain not what he seemed at first
02/29/00: An effective answer to social problems
02/22/00: The feminists' newest target: Toys
02/06/00: Harassing the harassers
01/31/00: It doesn't take a village to raise a child --- it takes a scheduler
01/25/00: Psuedo science and global warming
01/18/00: Socially responsible nonsense
01/10/00: Monica may be onto something
12/27/99: Sometimes it matters quite a lot what government thinks
12/17/99: Teens have no inherent 'right to privacy'
12/10/99: Buying a minivan and tossing the SUV
12/03/99: On the mommy track
11/05/99:The waste of recycling
11/01/99: Welcome to Harvard pre-school
10/22/99: No disaster for women that Dole is out
10/19/99: 'Humanitarian' hypocrites
10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service