A while back, a number of readers left comments admonishing me to put a helmet on Sean when he is riding his bike. While I understand where they are coming from and I appreciate their concern, and even agree with them for the most part, I don’t completely agree. (Hey I could run for office!)
On one hand, I think helmets are a prudent safety precaution. Of course I want to protect my child. Of course I’m aware of stories of children with head injuries. We have many friends in the medical community who have seen the trauma of head injuries first hand and their stories make a compelling case for helmets.
Yet, I am somewhat resistant to the helmet. Why? What would a reasonably intelligent person have against helmets?
One component of my resistance is nostalgia. I have sweet memories of riding my bike all over the neighborhood with the wind flowing through my hair, freedom flowing through my veins and streamers flowing from the handle bars. And I want that for Sean. It is exhilarating and there’s nothing like it. However, I’m not likely to let him go off riding his bike alone as I did, or jump his bike off a homemade ramp made out of cinder blocks and an old sheet of plywood either, as I did.
The other component of this argument is that I tend to be a little defiant. There is a contingent of miltant moms out there who want to guilt you/shame you/goad you into politically correct parenting according to their world view and I’m stiff-necked when it comes to that kind of thing. I’m not real good at being told what to do.
Aside from that, in trying to sift out the nostalgic and the irrational and self-indulgent defiance, I decided that it’s not helmets that I’m against, because clearly helmets are shown to save lives and reduce head injury, no question — it’s that helmets represent to me this place we’ve come to in our society where we want to put a fence around the Grand Canyon to keep everyone safe.
My generation has gone overboard in wrapping our kids in bubble wrap to keep them safe from every possible hurt. The world is a dangerous place, life is risky. I want Sean to learn how to negotiate it – whether it’s learning to ride a bike or learning how to ride the subway.
I want to inoculate him to the dangers of the world, not isolate him from it. Inoculation is the process of introducing a tolerable amount of an offending substance into the body in a controlled manner so that the body creates immunity to it – the body learns how to deal with it and thwart it and is then stronger for it. When you live in isolation of pain and unpleasantness, you learn nothing and you are the weaker for it.
As Sean learns how to ride a bike, he’s going to need to learn how to fall in such a way that he doesn’t injure himself (too badly). He must learn to put his feet down and lay his bike down when he senses he is losing his balance. That will no doubt mean tears and maybe even a little blood. Or a scar. But more than anything else, I realize just now that I really don’t want Sean to come to the end of his life unscarred. A life well lived is a life with a few scars to prove it.
I know that I’m in the minority in this point of view, but at least I’m in good company.