| Musings |

Playing It Safe 

  “Getting a drink is okay. The fact that you are walking up the stairs wearing roller blades is what’s scaring me”


he clunk didn’t register at first.

I heard it, but I was too busy trying to figure out if the three-day old meatballs should be tossed or saved to give it any real thought. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard it again, clank, clunk, clink.

A quick sniff confirmed that the suspect meatballs smelled okay, and armed with the knowledge that most of us Needlemans possess rock solid stomachs, I decided they were worth saving, at least for another day. Good. Decision made. Now, what was that clunking sound anyway?

I turned and gasped, hands to my heart in the old-style, highly dramatic way that I’ve perfected after 27 years of mommying. I started honing this with Kid #3, and by Kid #5 my performance was flawless. A quick inward breath, a pause, eyes opened wide with shock, the hands to the heart.

“Pinny. Needleman. What do you think you are doing?”

“Getting a drink. I’m thirsty.”

“Getting a drink is okay. The fact that you are walking up the stairs wearing roller blades is what’s scaring me.”

“Oh, Maaa. It’s only eight steps from the garage to the kitchen. Nothing’s gonna happen. I’m careful. I walked up to my bedroom on the top floor, too; that’s probably 22 steps and I was fine.”

I wasn’t impressed. “Pinny,” I said firmly. “Listen to me good. Listen to me well, I mean. Both good and well. We don’t take chances. Going up and down steps with roller blades on is considered dangerous. Don’t do it.”

He made a disgruntled face. “Wish you hadn’t heard me coming up.”

I smirked. “You sounded like eight stomping elephants, kiddo. Kinda hard to miss. If you want me to remain clueless about your pursuits, you rapscallion, you need to learn to tread lightly. Think tiptoeing kittycat as opposed to thundering buffalo.”

If I sounded less than sympathetic to his plight, let it be noted that it wasn’t our first altercation of the day. Just a scant 30 minutes earlier I had found his pencil case filled to the brim with pencil shavings.

“But, why?” I’d wailed, imagining in slow motion those dusty little pieces spilling and gracefully floating off to burrow deep within all sorts of crevices.

He’d reached for the pencil case eagerly.  “I need that. It’s my collection.”

Well, that explained it. I’d thrown up my hands in despair and walked off to do my work, till the clunking stopped me. Kids! Especially, ya know, mine!

They say parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a messy job, especially once you factor in things like 24-hour stomach viruses and diaper changes and all that mud puddle stomping. And it’s a thankless job, at least until your kids are blessed enough to have their own kids and you can practically see a light bulb switch on. Sudden realization dawns. You, too, had to make important decisions on very little sleep, experienced days that felt 25 hours long, tantrums that made no sense. You, too, had retrieved Lego thrown into the toilet and used tweezers to remove coins shoved into heating vents and CD players. (Sometimes you did the above all in the same day.) You, too, were responsible for your child’s safety in a world where black ice and marbles and banana peels and whole grapes lurked menacingly.

Parenting can cause lots of stress on the psyche and emotions, and it’s no picnic. But somehow, it seems like the physical hazards are even more jarring, at least for me. If your kid hasn’t worn his roller blades to go up and down the stairs, hoorah for you. (Hate to break it to you but he probably hasn’t thought of the idea yet. Tomorrow is another day.) Or maybe your prodigy works with a different modus operandi. Maybe he waves his hands ridiculously close to the lit Havdalah candle hoping to impress his older siblings. Perhaps his tricks on the trampoline leave you breathless, or maybe that pint-sized Motorcross wannnabe’s bike stunts frighten you out of your wits. All you want to do is keep him safe, and all he wants to do is test his immortality.

Incidents like these make me wring my hands with helplessness, wondering if some common sense can be knocked into these foolhardy kids.

It’s tricky, wondering how to convince brash children that defining a safe activity is the purview of a wise parent and not a creative, over-courageous nine-year-old son. Can it even be done?

This was my question until I met up with Billy Bob.

A few months ago, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades of Florida. Our guide was aptly named Billy Bob, and he was both knowledgeable and witty, a good combo for a tour guide. He sat behind us, perched on his high seat, not buckled in, deftly maneuvering the airboat and pointing out the old male alligator hidden in the rushes to our right and the mean cantankerous one barely hidden in the foliage to our left.

A young teen timidly spoke up. “Is all this… you sitting up there, us sitting down here, the snakes and alligators, is it all, ya know, safe?”

Billy Bob paused to give this question some consideration. He wiped his brow, took off his worn brown baseball cap, and scratched his head before squinting into the distance.

Finally, he responded. “Weeeeell, ya know what I always say: It’s safe till it ain’t.”

I whipped out my cellphone from my imitation Lululemon belt bag and recorded these brilliant words for prosperity.

It’s safe till it ain’t.

I love this. Oh, how I love this. It’s the perfect response to my kid when he says ridiculous statements like, “Aww, this isn’t dangerous at all. It’s perfectly safe.”

No more arguing about the grayness that lies between safety and dangerous. If my child tries to convince me that, “this isn’t dangerous at all. It’s perfectly safe!” I just pretend to wipe the sweat off my brow, squint into the distance, and drawl, “Weeeeeell, ya know what me and Billy Bob always say: It’s safe till it ain’t.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 895)

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