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Relative Safety

When you become a parent, you learn the real gap between generations doesn't involve music, politics, hair, or fashion. The biggest generational divide is "the safety gap." I'm not sure how any of us survived being raised by a generation whose vocabulary didn't include "choking hazard" or "head trauma."

(If you don't believe me, go home and pull your old toys out of the attic. Ever wonder where the missing button eyes on those stuffed bears went? Consider an MRI.) The fact is, once your baby is born, you will come to see your parents in a new light  -- as people who have never heard of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, childproofing, or warning labels. Yeah, they look like gray-haired conservatives all right, but they are as safety conscious as Harley-riding rock stars.

To my horror, my mother once suggested I strap the lightweight baby carrier into her car instead of using the car seat  -- because, after all, they were the same shape. I almost fainted. I mean, a banana is roughly the same shape as a NASA booster rocket, but you wouldn't want to ride one into space, would you?

Then there was my father's proposed remedy for teething: dipping Elizabeth's pacifier into his scotch, a method he says he often used on me as a baby. (This goes a long way toward explaining spring break my third year of college.)

Not to be outdone, my visiting in-laws never failed to bring a gift bag of Deadly Toys from the Past, complete with small broken parts, sharp edges, and suspicious chipping paint. Do I need to tell you that "Chokey the Clown" and "The Razor Truck" became instant favorites and that by taking them away I caused fits of tears and screaming?

My mother-in-law also wondered why we bothered bringing the Pack 'n Play for my daughter to sleep in when we visited. After all, they could just put her on a bed or couch with blankets piled around her (suffocation, anyone?). Or  -- and I'm not making this up  -- she could sleep in a drawer. Yes, in my mother-in-law's large Italian family, babies, of which there were many, were regularly put down to nap in a dresser drawer. An open one, I hope.

Then there were the suggested remedies for the baby's colds, diaper rash, and tummy troubles. Her grandparents recommended a whole regimen of bizarre treatments, including doctor-forbidden baby aspirin. I am now convinced that all those wacky people who think they were kidnapped by aliens and subjected to weird medical experiments were just experiencing vague memories of a 1960s or '70s babyhood.

My reaction to these incidents quickly convinced the older generation that motherhood had turned me into an agoraphobic, germaphobic, paranoid hysteric who could use a scotch pacifier herself. My folks would look puzzled when I'd run around their house sticking plastic plugs in outlets, slapping rubber corners on kitchen counters, and putting kid locks on cupboards of cleaning stuff. (Okay, maybe I should have said hello first.) And there is a slight possibility that reciting death and injury statistics from the CDC, in what my loving husband describes as a "strident" voice, was not the best way to communicate my concerns to his parents.

My safety paranoia became such a joke that my father staged a photo of himself heading up a hill on his riding mower with Elizabeth in his lap, both of them gleefully waving their hands in the air. (The mower was off, but they had to scrape me off the ceiling before letting me in on the prank.)

Bridging the generation (safety) gap

Sometimes, as I discovered, less is more. A little diplomacy can keep a baby out of peril (and out of the scotch!) without offending Grandpa and Grandma. A simple comment like "Let's take our car; the baby seat is already strapped in and you can sit right next to her!" or "What a great toy  -- I'll put it up on her shelf so it doesn't get broken," works like a charm. After all, there's no reason our parents would be up on the latest baby-safety info, and it never hurts to acknowledge that they did manage the considerable feat of keeping us out of harm's way without the aid of baby monitors or car seats.

Oh, and there's one more good reason to tread softly. I know that in a couple of decades, when I arrive to see my new grandchild with my daughter's treasured stuffed Barney in hand, the last thing I'll want to hear is, "Don't get that nasty purple and green thing near the baby  -- it's probably full of toxic dyes!"

Tales of terror!

"My mother never used sunscreen on me or my sister. And she doesn't understand why my kids need it when they visit, because she lives in Illinois. She thinks they only need to use it when they're home in Florida."
 -- Ami, Clermont, FL

"My worst fear is that my children will be eaten by an alligator. I know that sounds ridiculous, but my mother-in-law lives next to a lake with a serious alligator problem. Seeing that she has no qualms about letting my boys into the pool without supervision, I am terrified to visit."
 -- Carrie, Melbourne, FL

"Once my mother was over and watching the baby in the other room. She walked in to where I was working on the computer and waited for me to finish typing my sentence. Then she said, 'The baby is choking on something.'"
 -- Celeste, Vero Beach, FL

"We left our 6-week-old son in my mother-in-law's care for a night, and she put him to sleep on his stomach  -- even though I told her it wasn't safe. My God, it was even printed on his newborn diapers! Apparently, she decided she knows better than me, the baby's doctor, the rest of the doctors in the world, and the American Academy of Pediatrics."
 -- Lisa, San Diego, CA

"My mother-in-law likes to play 'bumper coasters' with my 10-month-old. This involves crashing antique glass coasters into each other."
 -- Meagan, New Haven, MI

"Our greatest concern is my parents, who leave their loaded BB gun propped in a corner of the powder room when we visit. They usually have to call us when we get home to find out where I've hidden it."
 -- Stacy, Plano, TX

"My in-laws are notorious for leaving food in the fridge way, way, way too long. I once had to stop my nephew from drinking apple juice that my mother-in-law poured for him. I had noticed that the expiration date was from a year ago!"
 -- Dawn, Warwick, RI

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