12: Swiss Parenting Style

The scene where moments earlier, we almost participated in a group heart attack.

I raised a boy who has dislocated two joints, did an axe-head split on his elbow joint, sheared bones straight across, used an incisor as a landing device when pitched from his skateboard, received his first set of stitches at around a year old and enjoyed the experience and so kept getting more. If this isn’t a training program in how self-destructive kids can be, I don’t know what is.

Hence, my perpetual terror on the streets of Switzerland where Swiss children cavort inches from speeding traffic and blocks away from their parents. I exaggerate not a bit. We checked this out with our local Swiss friend who confirmed that the Swiss are accustomed to the notion that nothing really bad can happen here, and people are good everywhere, and so why not let a two-year-old wander a city street 40 metres from his parents?

My mother, the mother of all catastrophizers, taught me that a pre-schooler should always be within grabbing reach, because grabbing will be required. This is especially true for children who have not yet reached the age of understanding that they can die or be maimed beyond repair. In the case of my son described in the first paragraph, that age was somewhere around 28. I had no idea it was going to be such a long haul, otherwise, I would have paced myself with more care.

But I drift.

Even these swans know to keep their young within grabbing reach.

As Dave and I stood on a bridge admiring Switzerland’s swans and other waterfowl, we heard a woman shouting. To our left, a woman of about 55-65 years of age was racing toward the steep canal banks, hand stretched out to grab at something. No. Not something, but someone. As my mother would have noted immediately, she had fallen into the folly of letting a child escape the grab-zone. About 10 metres ahead of her was a boy of roughly two years of age. He was a picture of delight as he raced on chubby little legs straight for the canal edge where a direct drop into a concrete slope followed by a bounce into murky water waited for him.

The woman clearly was not going to close the gap. She was pushing an empty stroller as she ran, but as the boy neared the edge with no sign of braking, she abandoned the stroller and proceeded to run in that posture that suggests if she had wings, now is when she would spring into the air.

I was still doing the metrics on the likelihood anyone could intervene, but Dave, a man of action, was already running down the bridge and shouting. It was just enough to startle the boy into stopping, which is about what my  heart was doing at that moment. There was no question that had the boy taken a few more steps, not Dave or the grandmother would have been close enough to do anything about it.

The drop was not terribly deep, but one cranial bang on that concrete would be enough. Dave was prepared to go into the water after the boy, but having retrieved a sinking head-heavy toddler once myself, I know how quickly they plunge, and in fast-moving water that murky, it would be only a prayer that would ensure Dave would find the boy.

But that did not happen.

The grandmother scooped up the boy who was still very happy. It was all good for him, he had a good run and was the centre of attention. We hoped the grandmother, who looked otherwise like a very normal and intelligent woman, had absorbed the grab-zone rule of child-minding.

It brought to mind that old 1960s motto about never trusting someone over 30. Just drop the zero and that number would be just about right.

 

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99: Off to France + Are French Children Really That Well-Behaved?

Bringing Up Bebe is a book I’m not likely to read. I’m still recovering from my two pregnancies (1979 and 1984) that have left me too tired to open another childrearing book, but a friend asked what I’ve noticed about French children, and what with being just a sneeze away from France, I’ve decided to investigate. Today we’re skipping over the border to spend the afternoon in Mulhouse.

I am too lazy to even provide a link to the book itself, but found an articulate blogger who gives a great synopsis, which, by the way, she has not read yet either.

This is something journalists like to do, judge a book by its buzz.

Shocked? I was, too, the first time I saw a veteran journalist review one of Republican-princess Ann Coulter’s books without actually ever having touched the book itself (he saw it on my desk).

I read the book and reviewed it, which, given that I was in a newsroom, was a hearty display of adherence to investigative journalism, balanced reportage and a bold statement that I did not care a fig what any of my cohorts thought of my reading choices.

This was too much for the other veteran journalist who lacquered over Coulter in his own unencumbered-by-fact and emotionally laden flame-throwing review. The dangers of such were evident early in his piece, which had a glaring gaff easily recognized by anyone who had read the dust-jacket.

Ann Coulter. Polemicist with good hair. Dissed, but not discounted. Do not be fooled by her looks; she is everything you would expect from someone who made it through Cornell's law school.

Newspapers don’t often run two reviews on one book, but the editors may have felt that I was leading the readers astray and needed to institute a course correction, however, lacking in information that correction might have been.

For those gasping in shock, I also read Rev. Jerry Falwell’s autobiography and Betty Friedan’s books cover-to-cover.  Judge me however you like.

Betty Friedan, another polemicist whose illustrious career as a feminist was colored by late-life allegations that she had stayed in an abusive marriage for 22 years, making women everywhere say "What?!" Her ex denied the claims and she put out a half-hearted retraction.

But all of that is not my point. My point is to report on the conduct of French children, and to put some real observation into it. Our French-border-hugging side of Switzerland is packed with Frenchesque families, but this is not good enough. I must see real French children supervised by real French parents.

Important Note: The articulate blogger Joanna Goddard openly admits she has not yet read the book and her post about it is thusly neutral and open-ended. This is technically still fair journalism because she has hidden nothing from her readers and will probably write more once she’s had a chance to see the book (which was on order at the time she first wrote about it).

Second Important Note: The “veteran reporter” of whom I speak is actually a witty fellow who covers his regular beat with vigor, intelligence and all the diligence one hopes for in a journalist. In this incident, his brain was short-circuited by his overwhelming hate of all things politically right-of-centre.

Third Important Note: 99 days to go!