Unsafe at Any Speed

More notes from the Elder Care Underground—

The other day when I was driving my mother to the grocery store, I was mentally trying to hold my hands over my ears and go “la, la, la,” so I wouldn’t have to hear her latest story about the nice young couple across the street. 

She watches them like a hawk from the big window in her living room and observes all their comings and goings like some kind of neighborhood air traffic controller.  Nothing gets under her radar.

But since I wouldn’t allow her to go into her usual litany of complaints about the husband doing all the child care (he carries the baby out to the car–OMG!), she decided to tell me once more that she wished she still had her car so she could drive herself to the store.

It doesn’t matter that a.) she’s 91 years-old and b.) she’s essentially blind in one eye.  Technically she still could drive if she had a car because the state of Texas, in its infinite wisdom, issued her a driver’s license renewal through the mail four years ago. 

Her license is good until she’s 92–with no vision test–nada, zip, bupkus.

Besides being glad that she’s not on the road with other unsuspecting motorists, I was ecstatic when she sold her car because I hated that thing. 

It was a Saturn.  They don’t make them any more, so that tells you something right there.

It was one of the most irritating vehicles I’ve ever driven–and I’ve driven everything from a Ford Falcon with a perpetually primered fender to a Porsche 912, so I know. 

Imagine sitting in a bathtub as you drove down the street.  It was a lot like being in a Cialis commercial, but without the four hour erections.

Then I got to thinking about all the vehicles my parents had owned throughout their marriage.  I think my folks were lemon magnets, to be honest with you. 

When I was in high school the family car was a Corvair.  Yes, a Corvair!  The very car that Ralph Nader had warned us about in his book “Unsafe at Any Speed.”  Among it’s many attributes he noted that the Corvair’s single-piece steering column could impale the driver in a front collision. 

Now there’s a lovely thought to contemplate on your Sunday drive. 

Just taking the car out of “park” carried as much risk as Evel Knievel jumping over the Snake River on a motorcycle.

Later on they bought a Ford Pinto station wagon.  You know, the one where if you happened to be rear-ended by another car, the gas tank would explode–incinerating the Pinto’s occupants in a gigantic ball of flame. 

That Pinto.

So I’m very grateful that my mother isn’t driving any longer.

Although, not being able to drive hasn’t left her immune to a different kind of traffic accident. 

A couple of years ago a woman lost control of her motorized scooter at the supermarket and ran into my mother’s heels while she was weighing some fruit in the produce section. 

Personally, I think there should be an inquiry into the safety of those scooters.

Where’s Ralph Nader when you really need him?



Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Consider this tidbit from the Associated Press this morning:

Within 15 years more than one in five licensed drivers will be 65 or older, the safety board said. Their number will nearly double, from 30 million today to about 57 million in 2030, according to the Government Accountability Office. 

Older drivers who are healthy aren’t necessarily any less safe than younger drivers. But many older drivers are likely to have age-related medical conditions that can affect their driving.

Perhaps this ATC may help us “boomers” look on the bright side!


The Case for a Little Benign Neglect

By today’s standards for parenting, my entire generation shouldn’t have made it to adulthood.

lg_27helicoptersThe other day my daughter attended a “meet and greet” with the teachers at the private school my grand-kids attend.  She figured it would be the usual get-together where the teacher expounds upon the lesson plan for the year, the parent listens while politely munching on a cookie provided by the room mother, and then the teacher fields a few questions on mundane topics such as “can little Herkimer wear his orthodontic headgear in class.”

Instead, my daughter was taken aback by the grilling some of the mothers gave my grandson’s second grade teacher, Miss F., a young single gal with a bookish demeanor but, apparently, nerves of steel. 

The intensity and depth of the questioning were quite surprising. 

Sarah Palin was given more leeway by Katie Couric than the young Miss F. received from her inquisitors.

The climax of the interrogation arrived when one of the mothers said she wanted to personally deliver a Subway sandwich to her daughter every day for snack time.  (I will interject here that the kids in kindergarten through second grade get out of school at 12:15, so there is no actual lunch period.) 

Our Miss F. maintained her cool while informing the mother that this was not an option.  She explained if the children want a snack, they must bring it with them from home.  Anything out of the norm would be disruptive to the class and interfere with the egalitarian atmosphere that the school was trying to project.

The mother wasn’t listening.  She pressed on by asking if she could just “hang it on the classroom doorknob” so as not to disturb anyone.  Miss F. wasn’t buying this either, but apparently it took some discussion before the case was closed.

When my daughter related this conversation to me, I raised my hands to shoulder level and made little fluttering motions with my fingers. 

“What is that?” she asked.

“Helicopter parents” I said, to clarify that I wasn’t having a stroke or something. 

She hadn’t heard that before, so I went on to explain the concept of parents who continuously hover over their kids, anticipating their every need.  These are parents who have completely invested themselves in their children, possibly setting up their kids for a rude awakening at some point when they discover the universe is not centered around them.

In the days since hearing of Miss F.’s inquisition, I’ve been reflecting upon my own upbringing.  Certainly my mother worried about things like me putting my eye out if I ran with scissors, but there wasn’t a lot of concern about many of the things that are taken for granted with child raising today. 

We rode bikes everyday and didn’t wear protective helmets.  We wandered around the neighborhood and beyond all day and into the dusk, only returning home after hearing my father’s loud whistle from the front yard. 

My mother used to put big gobs of Vicks Vapor Rub up our noses when we had colds.  If you actually read the directions, it emphatically says not to use it anywhere internally, only on the chest.  I should be dead right now.  But, if my mother had her way, she would have found a way to cure cancer with Vicks, she loved it so much.

My parents had a baby-blue Oldsmobile.  There were no seatbelts and the dashboard was solid metal.  We kids used to rattle around in the backseat and very often I would ride in what we called “the way back”, that spot that was sort of a ledge behind the backseat and below the rear window.  If there had been a quick deceleration, I would have been a projectile object.  No one gave it any thought.

I practiced a form of benign neglect with my own kids.  Yes, they wore seat belts, always.  (By that time we did have them, thankfully.)  But when it came to overseeing every little detail of their day, that I didn’t do. 

Maybe this attitude of “live and let live” was a result of my mother always wanting to know what I was thinking.  It wasn’t out of concern for my well-being.  She just wanted to know what was going on in my little head at all times.  So perhaps allowing my kids to have some independence from the Thought Police resulted in my being more of a laissez-faire parent overall.

Yes, things have changed in this country since the 50’s and 60’s and not in good ways.  There are a lot more threats out there to children than there used to be.  But kids need room to grow into individuals and they can’t do it with Mom and Dad always fluttering overhead. 

Be like my mother.  Send the kid to school with a warm tuna sandwich. 

Now, that’s living dangerously.