Friday, April 3, 2009

Tiers for Fears: Parenting in the 21st Century

Tiers for Fears: Parenting in the 21st Century

by Pamela Victor

Since becoming a parent, I’ve had different versions of this same conversation dozens of times. Usually, I am huddled among a tight cluster of mothers, sparks of anxiety zapping into the center of the circle like a science fair gone bad. The sharp, verbal exchanges go something like this:

“We’re off conventional produce completely,” the Mom A. opines. “I heard the pesticides on a single apple alone could wipe out a small town.”

“Oh, us too,” Mom B. agrees, raising her chin with superiority. “Plus we’re only buying local produce in order to reduce our carbon footprint. My kids haven’t eaten a peach since 2004.”

“But even organic produce can still carry salmonella!” Mom C. interjects, her frizzy hair flying as she gesticulates wildly. “The entire agri-business industry is doomed, and our kids are paying the price.”

“Absolutely,” Mom A. retorts. “But what about water? We had our water tested, and it contains fifteen different types of heavy metals!”

“We’d feel lucky with only metals in our water!” Mom B. harrumphs. “I just found out my kids have been drinking water laced with Zantax, Prosac, Ritalin, Ambien, and Viagra! My kids are running a drug store in their intestines!”

“We buy our water,” Mom C. crows proudly.

The circle groans collectively. “But bottled water comes in ‘#7’ plastic!” Mom B. cries. “I heard about a boy who drank water from a #7, and by the time he was a pre-teen he was wearing a C-cup and menstruating!”

“It’s not the food and water that I worry about so much as the air we breathe,” Mom A. confesses breathlessly. “Did you know 32 different kinds of toxins have been collected from air samples in our own backyards?”

“So it’s settled,” Mom B. sighs. “We just don’t let our kids eat, drink, or breathe. Besides that, they can have a perfectly normal childhood.”


My fear fires have been stoked by so many of these conversations that my psychic angst space is at capacity. The “No Vacancy” light on Hotel Anxiety is blinking. My personal worry residents have filled all my parental energy, and I simply can’t check in any more visitors. For example, I’d like to be more concerned about the mercury released in the air by local incinerators, but I simply don’t have the psychological room. I’d have to evict global warming if I wanted to start worrying about the chicken pox vaccine. When I threw out all the #7 bottles in my house, I had to give up buying fair-trade chocolate.

Every time I feel like I’ve reached the final stage in awareness of fearful concerns for my kids, I learn about some new worry. I thought I was at the top of Mount Dread when we stopped eating at McDonalds, only to find I was really just at Base Camp when I became aware of the horrors of our country’s meat production industry. Then I thought I was at the pinnacle when we bought our clothes only at local stores to avoid putting money into companies that support child-labor practices and other forms of employee exploitation, not to mention financially supporting my neighbors rather than a corporate giant. But it turned out it was just a plateau when I realized that anything purchased new is yet another item that will eventually wind up in a landfill. Will we ever reach the summit of parental fears?

But what are our options? When it comes to raising our kids, is ignorance bliss? The most aware members of my mother’s generation cut down to one pack and two martinis during their pregnancies. We grew up eating processed luncheon meats and drinking Hi-C. Our idea of a good time was throwing garbage out the window while we drove down the highway (without seatbelts!) Intellectual stimulation meant an appetizer of “Sesame Street” before consuming seven hours of Saturday morning cartoons. We turned out fine, didn’t we? As long as you don’t count the high breast cancer rate, infertility issues, high incidence of thyroid disorders, dangerously soaring occurrences of random and life-threatening food allergies and chemical sensitivities, and the fact that our entire educational system is in the crapper, we all turned out great.

So what is a concerned 21st century parent to do? And will our efforts even make a difference? Ultimately, your choice is very personal. You have to be the parent that makes the most sense to you, feels the safest, and doesn’t land you in the looney bin. As for myself, I have chosen not to build an addition to my Hotel Anxiety. I will reserve certain rooms for the anxieties that feel the most conquerable. If I can do something to protect my family within reasonable limits, I will do it. So I will filter our water, I will buy local, organic meat, and plant a garden. But I also am committed to evicting the worries that I cannot control. So we will not be moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in search of the best air quality in America, nor will we be going to an abundance of healers and shamans to realign our chi in an effort to ward off environmental attackers, and we just can’t live off the grid and create a homestead. Not that I think those things are bad, it’s just that I don’t have the oomph in me right now to climb to the apex of Mount Dread. I think I’ll just hang out here, play with my kids, and hope for the best.

Pamela Victor is a homeschooling mother, improv comedian and the author of “Baj and the Word Launcher: Space Age Asperger Adventures in Communication.” Her blog is

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