Posted by: Court | August 14, 2008

Childhood safety

I was just reading a blog where a woman was talking about turning her back for a second to pay for some ice cream in a store that was empty, save for an old woman. The old woman scolded her for turning her back and basically made her feel like a bad mom.

She then goes on to say, “Those of us who grew up in the eighties spent way too much time learning about ‘stranger danger’ and perverts driving around in vans looking for unsuspecting children. As parents now, we still remember the warnings about men who asked us to help find their missing puppy, the fingerprinting festivals, the code words our parents gave us. (Mine was “peaches and cream.” If a stranger ever tried to pick me up from school, he had to say the words “peaches and cream” so I’d know my mom had given him clearance. Shockingly, that stranger never showed up and those words were never put to the test.) ”

This just cracked me up because I remembered our code word: canteloupe. I committed it to memory and was convinced that I’d have to use it at least once in my childhood. I pictured two scenarios of strangers coming up to me at the mall, soccer practice or school. Here’s how they played out in my mind:

Scenario one:

Stranger: Your mom said you need to come with me. I’ll take you home.

Me: What’s the code word?

Stranger: Uhhh…

Me: running, shrieking, creating a general ruckus so the clueless stranger would leave and/or get caught.

Scenario two:

Stranger: Your mom said you need to come with me. I’ll take you home.

Me: What’s the code word?

Stranger: Canteloupe.

Me: Uhh…ok. (Wondering who this person is that knows the code word) Honestly, if my mom was going to send someone to come get me, wouldn’t it be someone I already knew? Though I’m sure as a parent I will do the same thing for my children.

The other thing I was very concerned about was fire safety. They drilled all of that into our little heads in elementary school: stop, drop and roll, feeling the door with the back of your hand, Smokey the Bear, etc. I was absolutely positive that at some point, I would a) catch fire and/or b) be stuck in my room, smoke pouring under the door, with the flame burning just outside.

My brother and I had stickers on our windows to tell the firefighters which rooms were ours. The teachers talked about having safety ladders to hook onto our windows and climb down to safety. I remember asking my mom if we could get a ladder for my room, and I think I remember her saying we would…but we never did. I guessed that meant that I would die inside our burning house. The way the teachers talked about fire safety, they instilled fear into my seven-year-old heart. I was under the impression that fires were extremely common – that people frequently walked around lighting houses on fire just for kicks. And that if you struck a match and held it up to the brick house, it would immediately become engulfed in flames.

Tim thinks this story is hilarious. And it kind of is, in hindsight. But if my children want a fire ladder, by golly, they’ll get one. In fact, I may be proactive and purchase them in advance. That way they’ll feel safe from all those crazed arsonists roaming the streets.

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