Am I an Irresponsible Parent? Some Lady Thinks So.

January 13, 2011

In which your Humble Correspondent is Excoriated for Dereliction of Parental Duty, Remonstrates, and Later, as is his Custom, Doubts Himself in Particular, and the Human Condition in General

As you may have heard, the Nor’east of these Uni’ed Sta’es was hit with a rather formidable Nor’easter yes’erday, which tempest deposited some two feet of snow in my neighborhood. Today being Reuben’s second day at his new pre-school in the center of our town (a mile from our house), I was presented with the dilemma of how to convey him, given the polar conditions. Although the local authorities and their sundry hired hands have done yeoman’s work in clearing the streets, the fact is that my automobile, a small pickup truck of the rear-wheel-drive variety, is uniquely ill-suited to the sludgy, icy conditions now prevalent, and prone to go careering about, to the risk of both passengers and passersby. My ordinary two-wheeled conveyance is treacherous in like measure, in that bicycles have a tendency to tumble in snow, a consequence that would be both more likely and more calamitous if I were conveying a three-year-old. Naturally, then, I settled on my beloved cargo bicycle, upon which I have previously remarked.

The cargo bike, equipped with two wheels in the front and one in the back, and benefiting from pedal brakes and generous weight, is a perfect mobile for modest trips in snowy conditions: it is stable, it is slow, and it is highly visible, owing to its size and its tendency to be piloted by a large man in a black wool coat. Not surprisingly, then, the trip to the pre-school was uneventful. Reuben was happy to be out in the world, and we chatted on the matters that tend to come easily to the mind of an idle three-year-old (flying cars, principally, and whether there exists a spider capable of eating a rabbit).

Then, within three blocks of our destination, we found ourselves waiting at a light behind a Jeep, or better put, a Jeep brand S.U.V., for it was larger and fancier than the army vehicles of old or their direct progeny. Upon stopping, the driver of this mobile got out of her car and walked to me with determination, announcing that she felt it was very dangerous for me to be conveying my son in the manner already described. Summoning every ounce of civility in my basically pugnacious being, I avoided deploying the sort of colorful rhetorical flourishes that would befit the exchange had it taken place in the Brooklyn of my youth, and instead asked my interlocutor what the problem was, given that my child was secured in both helmet and seat belt. She responded that some driver might slide out of control and hit us. I parried, pointing out that the only other alternative was a rear-wheel drive vehicle that would expose not only me and the boy, but others nearby, to significant danger on snowy roads, which explanation she deemed “not good enough.” Having pronounced judgment thus, she climbed back into her vehicle and absconded, leaving behind a palpable cloud of indignation.

After delivering the perplexed youngster to pre-school, having explained that this lady was a knucklehead, I devoted the next few minutes to two trains of thought, between which I alternated periodically. First, that she was a damn busybody who should mind her own fucking business and worry more about the fact that her stupid S.U.V. would cause more damage to other cars in a crash than a mere sedan; and second, that I should have given her my card, recited to her the number of the DCF child abuse hotline, and told her to call it in.

Later, though, I began to wonder: Am I, in fact, an irresponsible parent? Certainly, there is some truth in Jeep lady’s assertions: I could shield my children from some danger if I avoided carting them in the bicycle on days when road conditions are suboptimal. Would it kill me (so to speak) just to take the damn truck once in a while? There are, I am told, people who think that any ferrying of young children by bicycle is unreasonably dangerous.

On the other hand, it’s hard to draw a sensible line. Is it irresponsible to drive my children around in a station wagon, knowing that a vehicle so low to the ground exposes them to a greater risk of injury than if they were in an S.U.V.? Is it irresponsible for me to commute by bicycle and expose myself to (arguably) higher risk of injury or death, since I would then deprive my children of a father and my family of an income (the latter concern being less pressing, since my life insurance policy would likely stand my children in far better stead than my public servant salary)?

Separate and apart from that, I wonder what it is about things that are different that causes people to take umbrage at them. What I mean is, my carting Reuben on a snowy day is assuredly not the most dangerous thing that lady will see someone do today, but it quite likely is the only one that will move her to scold a stranger. She will not, I imagine (although I’d love to be proved wrong on this point) honk her horn angrily at motorists who talk on their cell phones while driving, wag an angry finger, and shout, “Connecticut General Statutes Section 14-296aa!” Nor would she feel comfortable (I wager) chiding other motorists for smoking with their kids in the car, or for transporting children in vehicles with suboptimal performance in side-impact safety tests, or for getting dinner at the McDonald’s drive-through – because those are dangerous (or less-than-ideal, anyway) activities we see with such frequency that we have placed them in the mental file for life’s necessary evils, while carrying children on bicycles is a (slightly, maybe) dangerous activity that busybodies in West Hartford, Connecticut, apparently never see.

All of which is to say, people are weird and inscrutable. I will continue to take Reuben to school by bike. I think the lady who scolded me is a dope. But there is also a prosecutor who works in the same court where I work who thinks it’s appropriate to go to court wearing moss green Uggs, matching jeans, and some sort of plush housecoat that looks like it was made from a bathmat. That’s dangerous.


5 Responses to “Am I an Irresponsible Parent? Some Lady Thinks So.”

  1. Chris said

    Responsible citizens and shouldn’t have to avoid the roads for fear of people who can’t competently operate motor vehicles. People who can’t drive properly shouldn’t drive, and it should be easier to keep them off the roads until they can. People who can’t ride a bike competently should also stay off the roads until such time that they learn to do so. There are places and methods for all of the aforementioned to gain the requisite skills before they have everyone else’s safety in their hands.

    This woman was irresponsibly exacerbating Greater Hartford’s woefully high childhood asthma rate, especially if her SUV was a single-occupant vehicle, which, given what you’ve shared of her personality, wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. Chris said

    Please disregard the bonus “and” that is word #3 in my previous comment.

  3. Heather B said

    I don’t see how it’s any safer to ride any kind of bike, regardless of the cargo situation, with a kid on board, with the jeep lady’s concerns in mind. Going by her logic, it is also highly unsafe to walk on the sidewalk, because someone could slide and hit you there, too. Pieces of satellite might plummet, burning through the atmosphere, as well, and pulverize you there on the spot. Danger abounds. …especially while driving!

  4. Kerri said

    You shoulda told her to fuck off. I know, I know…but my non-Brooklyn inner youth would’ve really liked that.

    The compromise? Point out how many Iraqi children her gas guzzler is responsible for killing, compliments of the “War on Terror.” Tell her how its exhaust is contributing to air pollutants that cause and aggravate asthma in children. And throw a “go fuck yourself” in there for good measure.

  5. 2whls3spds said

    I am not from Brooklyn…and don’t recall ever having been there, but I would have told her in no uncertain terms to mind her own damned business. It would probably be a waste of breath to point out that many, many more children are killed in automobile accidents than in the care of their parents on a cargo bike.


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