Friday, April 22, 2011

Kitted out like little Evil Kneevil

One Step Ahead, those catalog purveyors of baby toys and gear ranging from the fun to the ridiculous, have outdone themselves.

Amongst the monogrammed swim diapers, whimsical dress up clothes, and cheep and cheerful bath toys, I found this gem in their April catalog: a baby/toddler CRASH HELMET. No, it's not a bike helmet. Nor is it one of those orthopedic prescription helmets (available in a variety of delightful patterns) worn to correct flat head.

This beige monstrosity features "light and breathable" foam. It's sized for little skulls aged "8 to 20 months" and promises to protect your newly mobile baby from the myriad dangers of existing in a (presumably already baby proofed) house.

The baby in the picture looks like a crash test dummy. Or perhaps like the littlest member of some obscure, second rate circus family. Unless you plan to shoot your baby from a cannon, I fail to see why you would buy such a product.

I'd love to see the sales figures on the baby crash helmet. Somehow I doubt they're abysmal. Products like the infant crash helmet probably appeal to that subset of crazy parents who clamp all their toilets shut, but fail to install a fence around their swimming pool.

But it's not just the outliers buying into the bubble wrapped baby craze. An entire industry has sprung up to exploit the unfounded anxiety so rampant among the current generation of helicopter parents.

I'm all for reasonable safety measures. I don't let the Grape guzzle bleach, play in the knife drawer or dig around in the cat box. I'll probably make him wear a bike helmet, even though I never wore one as a kid. (I rode my bike on a country road that saw roughly three cars and a tractor per day; the Grape lives in the city.) Though I allow him to Skype with the sitter, he's not plugging into any social media network anytime before the end of this decade.

The One Step Ahead crash helmet is one (literally) ugly reminder that my generation of parents has endangered much of childhood as we knew it. How many of the Grape's contemporaries will never get to do previously ordinary kid things like climb trees, jump off high flying swings, traverse the top of monkey bars, ride bikes to each other's houses, play in the surf, or even dig in the dirt for that matter? (Let alone run amok in the local woods - an activity that kept my brother, our friends and me entertained for countless hours. If I allowed the Grape such freedoms as a first grader, I'm sure some busybody bystander would call the cops.)

But seriously: What kind of message are we sending our kids if they're taught from toddlerhood that the house is too dangerous to face without kitting oneself out for a rugby match?

Put differently, if you're too scared to let your kid crawl around the living room bare headed, but under direct parental supervision, I think you need to consider seeking professional help.

Kids pick up on parental fears, even before they cannot articulate them. If I teach the Grape that everything is dangerous and scary, I'm afraid he'll fail to distinguish a real threat when faced with something truly perilous later in childhood.

We can't protect kids from everything. Nor should we want them to live in a constant state of lock down, because that chips away at their inherent sense of wonder. To some degree, I also subscribe to the out of vogue notion that the things that don't kill you make you stronger.

So we'll pass on the helmet (incidentally the most hideous item ever made in Italy).

But I would like to thank the former occupants of our apartment for today's material. Since moving in November, we've received a daily deluge of catalogs in the mail. I've spent hours online trying to cancel them, to no avail. Evidently the previous occupants of our unit single handedly kept hundreds of retailers in the black. As evidence, I offer our crestfallen UPS man, who upon seeing me for the first time, stammered sadly, "But what happened to K?"

Me: "They moved to the suburbs."

UPS man: "Really."

Me: "I'm afraid so."

UPS man: "Where in the suburbs?"

Me: "No idea. Sorry."

UPS: "So you live here now? K. moved out?"

Me: (suppressing bitchy urge to ask whether UPS man was dropped on his head as an infant) "Yes. K. moved out. I live here now."

UPS man: (wistful, but with an undertone of panic) "But I used to come here, like three or four times a day. I saw K. every day."

Me: "Uh, I'm sorry for your loss, but can I please have my package now?"

Because I was frazzled and sleep deprived, I closed the door on this encounter actually feeling guilty about my lack of initiative in the mail order department. Is my high level of resistance to catalog sales pitches going to put the poor UPS driver out of his job?

It just might, if the catalogs keep trying to sell us atrocities like the baby crash helmet:


  1. Scraped knees, bruised shins, and the occasional bonk to the forehead are all part of growing up. How else would our children learn to navigate safely in the big bad world if not for the sometime dust-up?

    And, clearly K didn't feel the same way toward the UPS guy if she didn't inform him of her move and say good-bye. Dude should get over it.

  2. Exactly. That's why I didn't tell him where they moved. Even though I might have known more details.