Jogging down Tannehill Drive I heard the familiar cranking of a bicycle coming up from behind.
A boy — perhaps 12 years old — was passing by on the other side of the street. I immediately noticed his unstrapped bicycle helmet bobbling back and forth on his head. My first instinct was to shout out to him about the dangers of not buckling the helmet given I’ve broken six over the years in crashes. However, I said nothing.
About a minute later the helmet fell off. He stopped, picked it up, and then strapped it on his head so it wouldn’t fall off and went on his way.
Later that day Keith Hartley became a social media sensation or pariah depending upon your take.
Hartley was the guy who caught the foul ball barehanded at Wrigley Field while tightly holding his 7-month-old son who he was bottle feeding with his other hand.
There are those who are amazed by his feat and others that believe he should be brought up on child endangerment charges. It turns out Hartley reacted out of concern the ball would hit the ledge, bounce, and then hit his son so he made an effort to make first contact and ended up making a perfect catch that will live forever in the bowels of cyberspace.
What has become of us?
There was a time when we set across unchartered oceans for a new life, forged westward in the wilderness, blasted off into the great unknown, and built great marvels such as Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Empire State Building without benefit of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration.
We are now a nation that turns parents into Child Protection Services for letting their 8 year-old and 10-year-old walk a half mile to a neighborhood park unsupervised. We don’t let our kids walk even several blocks on their own for fear an adult version of the bogey man will get them. Just a century ago 10-year-old boys in the summer either labored alongside men in the fields or went off exploring the countryside on their own. They learned how to survive. They learned how to stay safe.
Now they learn to be paranoid.
I look around and see dozens of people in my neighborhood my age or older who miraculously — by today’s standards — aren’t dead. They walked several miles if not more to school by themselves as first graders. They rode in cars without seat belts. They bicycled without helmets. Some learned to drive stick shifts when they were 10 years old. They climbed in trees. They batted in sandlot baseball games without helmets.
Safety equipment and taking precautions are important. They do reduce risk of injury and death. But we can overdo it.
A month ago hiking up Mt. Hoffmann in Yosemite Park I passed two couples laden with backpacking gear with three kids — the youngest perhaps 2 year of age strapped to his dad’s chest facing forward and the oldest 5 years of age if that. We met on a fairly precarious, steep section of the trail up from May Lake.
It wasn’t the place you’d want inattentive kids darting around. As we made small talk for perhaps a minute before we went on our separate ways I thought to myself they must be crazy and a tad irresponsible to bring young kids with them.
Then about a minute later reality hit me. The kids weren’t running all over the place or dancing on the edge of rocks. They weren’t whining about being bored. They didn’t have their noses stuck in cell phones or video games. They weren’t disrespectful to their parents or strangers. They weren’t having a heart attack as they obviously weren’t couch potatoes. And they weren’t in any danger of getting eaten by a bear.
Something told me the kids as they grew up probably weren’t going to need therapists, would never hesitate to tackle challenges, would be healthier than most of their peers, and would understand that fear is a good thing when approached the right way as it allows you to keep dangers in mind as you wade into the unknown.
The kids, by the way, were dressed like any other hiker. No elbow pads and no helmets.
Judging by social media comments made about the dad in Chicago the two couples I encountered on Mt. Hoffmann should have their kids taken away and be given five years for child endangerment.
There is no doubt in my mind that they are teaching kids to be aware of their surroundings and to watch their step but not fear exploring new things.
They also will now how to stay safe without being paranoid.
And who knows, maybe their parents will let them try to catch foul balls at a major league baseball game?
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.