Captain Safety

The first time my oldest daughter went skateboarding you could barely see her small 5-year-old self under all the gear she had on. She was wearing ankle pads, kneepads, wrist guards, a helmet and a mouth guard.

"Now you're ready!" My husband James surveyed her proudly.

"Ah-mah-uf-ah," she answered.

It was hard to talk with the mouth guard.

"James!" I looked from her to him. "Where are you taking her to skateboard? On the freeway?"

It turned out they were going to the basketball court at Lincoln School to try out the child-sized skateboard Santa had brought for Christmas.

Although he couldn't cite statistics, James insisted that skateboarding was a dangerous sport, that our daughter was not allowed to do it without all of her gear on, and that an adult should be beside her at all times until she got the hang of it. After all, she could scuff the palms of her hands without the wrist guards, twist her ankle without the ankle guards, scrape her knees without the kneepads, or worse.

I remembered my first skateboard: baby blue with a picture of a long-haired blonde hottie doing a handstand on his four wheels. I got it when we were living in Pasadena for the year and learned to ride it by going up and down our driveway. My mother was too busy at work to make sure I wore a helmet. Besides, it was the '70s. Skateboarding was definitely in. Safety definitely was not. "It doesn't hurt to be safe," James said almost huffily bringing me back to the 21st century.

James is Captain Safety. Captain Safety is always careful. Hands are held crossing the street, sunscreen is worn at all times, helmets (and knee pads and wrist guards) are non negotiable.

And he's especially vigilant about things that could endanger the children. Like skateboarding accidents.

My father likes to say that parenting is really about keeping your children alive. My mother likes to quote a Chinese proverb about happiness: Grandparents die, parents die, children die &

in that order.

When the girls ask if they can walk by themselves to the park with a friend James instantly says no, too dangerous. I stay quiet but I'm of two minds about it. The park is four blocks away. They know how to cross streets. They would be together. We know most of the people in the houses from here to there. When James and I were kids we went to the park by ourselves all the time, walked home from school alone, played outside in packs of just kids until dinner. And don't our kids have to grow up sometime? Don't we have to learn to let them go?

Two weeks ago I got a message that my friend Vicky's son, a likeable affectionate teenager about to head to college, was driving back from his girlfriend's house and skidded off the side of the road, probably to avoid a deer. There was no alcohol or drugs involved, but he was almost certainly driving too fast (what teenage boy doesn't?). His car slammed into a tree and he died instantly. I read that message five times, willing it not to be true. "We were always such nervous Nellies," Vicky said sadly when I called her to say how sorry I was. "And now this."

No matter how conscientious we are, it's not always in our power to keep our children safe. I hug my son for a long time and make him promise not to drive too fast when he's a teenager. He's only three.

I can't know when Death will stop his carriage to take my children, my husband and me. But at least I know they won't get any scrapes from skateboarding.

, a.k.a. Mrs. Safety, is the mother of three children and the author/editor of three books. She spent last year with her family in Niger on a teaching/research Fulbright. She lives in Ashland.

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