Louis Armstrong sang “What a Wonderful World” in 1967. In that beautiful song he opines and laments, “I think to myself, what a wonderful world”. His world in 1967 was a world that saw a 10,000 person march in San Francisco against the Vietnam War while more than 11,000 American soldiers died. It was the year Jim Garrison claimed a conspiracy theory in the death of President John F. Kennedy. It was the year Fidel Castro absconded all intellectual property in Cuba. Israel was in the midst of a 6-Day War with Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. A prison riot in Florida left 23 dead, and an explosion on the USS Forrestal left 134 dead.
In other words, 1967 was just like every other year in human history. There was fun – Elvis and Priscilla wed in 1967. There was scary – Russia severed diplomatic ties with Israel bringing the threat of nuclear war closer to reality. There was excitement – the AFL and NFL played in the first cross divisional super bowl. And there was history – Thurgood Marshal became the first black Supreme Court justice striking a huge victory for civil and social equality.
There was good but there was also so much bad. So why was Louis Armstrong singing about a wonderful world? There was struggle and death and war. There was scandal and oppression and bigotry. So why was it a wonderful world? And why do we often refer to these old days as days of innocence? Why do so many people long for these simpler times? There are no new sins which mean that bad things have always happened. Bad people have always existed. I think the difference is that today we see and hear about things that never would have made the news in 1967. We have immediate and unfettered access to the daily beauty and the daily horror of our world.
Earlier this week I was watching the news about the Malaysian flight that went missing. Even though there was no discernible hard news to report, the reporting never stopped. There were endless hours of speculation and endless hours of gloom and doom predictions on channel after channel. I was watching one of the news channels’ talking heads theorize about the various causes and rationales for the flight simply disappearing when my youngest daughter walked in and sat down next to me. I wasn’t paying attention to the look on her face as she listened to the tragic story of a missing airliner and the potential of so many lost lives. After a few minutes, she asked me if that could happen to the plane her brother was going to be on when he came home from his spring break trip to Washington DC.
How do I answer that question? September 11, 2001 showed us that even domestic flights are not beyond the reach of zealots who kill in the perversion of belief. But how do I tell a 9 year old that, even though safety cannot be guaranteed, we cannot spend our time fearing the worst and that there is very little chance of something happening to her brother? How do I help her understand that she needs to be vigilant without either breaking down her innocence or else building an impenetrable barrier and completely isolating her?
I ended up talking to Abbie about how the world is full of great people who want to thrive and work to make their lives and the lives of others better. But there are also people who aren’t good. There are people who will hurt others and will take things that aren’t theirs and are just plain mean. We talked about why it is important to be one of the people who helps others and is good and we also talked about how to notice people who are obviously not nice. We talked about kind words versus words that are not nice. We talked about good places to go and places that she should never go. We talked about the importance of always listening to Mom and Dad and never straying from us in public. We talked.
Why am I telling you this? Because according to the Department of Justice, 58,200 children are kidnapped by non-relatives in the United States of America each year. Because 3,400 children die and 17,500 are injured in house fires each year. Because 300 children are hit and killed by cars while playing in the street each year. Because 30 children die due to accidental poisoning while at home.
I am telling you this because I have to ask you if you are prepared and doing everything you can to keep these horrible things from happening to you and your children. Are you making your world as wonderfully safe as possible?
You may be reading this and thinking, “I have fire alarms and my cabinets have kiddie locks and my kids don’t play in the street so I am good”. But fire alarms simply tell you that the problem is there, kiddie locks are easily manipulated or sometimes doors aren’t shut, and kids chase balls into the street. Every year there is a heart wrenching story about a mom or dad who “just turned their head for a second” and their child was gone. Life can come at you hard and fast and if you are not prepared then the worst can happen, even to those who have attempted diligence. Tragedy can come to the prepared but the likelihood increases too much not to do everything you can. Please give some thought to the following:
Have a plan at home:
Make sure your smoke alarms work, but also make sure your kids know what to do when they hear those alarms. Fatal fires most often occur at night when the kids are in a different room than you. Do they know how to get out of the house without you? Do they know where to go once they are outside so that you will know they are safe? Do they know which neighbor they can go to for help? Have you practiced? Schools have fire drills because fires can and do occur. Have you had a fire drill at home? Consider the following:
Show your kids what a fire alarm sounds like by testing it with them standing close by. Explain what the noise is and what it means.
Point out the best exits in every room in your house. You never know where a fire will originate or where it will manifest. Talk about using doors only if they are clear. Give them permission to break out a window if necessary to escape. Point out the things in the room that can be used to break a window if necessary and then talk to them about covering the broken glass with clothes or a towel or curtains so that they are not cut while climbing out.
Designate a meeting place outside. Choose a tree or something easy to remember and easy to see. It needs to be something away from the house for safety. Tell everyone if they hear the fire alarm and they are not with you they have to get to that spot as quickly and safely as possible.
Practice the alarm and exiting the house and meeting at the spot.
Have a plan while away from home:
No one wants to scare their kids and no one wants their kids living in fear. However, there is a fine line between living in fear and living safely. You need to talk to your kids about the importance of not wandering off. Talk to them about the importance of listening to you. Talk to them about who a stranger is and how they can be polite without inviting an unwanted stranger closer than they should be. Consider the following:
Tell your kids that they are not to leave with a stranger, no matter what that stranger says. Give them examples and tell them that you will never send a stranger to pick them up if you are hurt. You will not send a stranger to pick them up for any reason. Explain that even though strangers with candy or puppies are tempting that they cannot under any circumstance go with that stranger. Some of you are probably thinking to yourself that this would scare a child so it should not be done. Please understand, if you do not help them have a healthy fear that produces caution then your child is an easy target to a bad person.
When you are going to a restaurant talk to your kids about how they should behave. Don’t let your kids be the ones that other tables try to avoid. At the same time, talk to your kids about where they can go in the restaurant and where they cannot. Just because a bathroom door is visible does not mean it is safe for a little one. Know who is in there and do not take chances if you do not know.
Grocery stores and shopping malls and clothing stores are among the most dangerous places for kids because there are so many line-of-site obstacles and there are so many people who just don’t stand out, even though they probably would in another environment. This is a hard thing to talk about with your kids but if you have ever seen the video of the little girl in Florida, who was approached by a stranger, listened to him and gently took his hand and walked out with him, and then was found dead the next day, you understand.
Talk very plainly with your kids and tell them that if anyone approaches them they are not to go with them. Period.
But that isn’t enough. You could tell them to pitch a fit and cry if someone tries to take them but have you ever been shopping and heard a kid cry? Were you relieved or concerned when someone finally took that kid outside? Crying simply isn’t enough. If someone tries to take your child practice with them what to do. They should hit and kick and specifically scream “NOT MY MOMMA, NOT MY DADDY, HELP HELP”. Simply crying or yelling for help isn’t enough. They have to convey the message that this is someone who should not be taking them. Have them practice yelling “NOT MY MOMMA, NOT MY DADDY, HELP HELP”. No, this isn’t a fun thing to do but there are people out there who make this level of caution necessary.
Finally, know the dangers at home.
Know where poisons are and don’t trust a $1.25 childproof latch to keep your kids alive. Move poisons to high places behind locked doors. Educate yourself on keeping your children safe if you have a pool, if you have drawstring drapes, if you have a staircase. Each of these claim lives every year. What are you doing to prevent an accidental loss? Do you have the poison control number posted somewhere easy to find? Do your kids know how to dial 911 in case something happens to you?
Luck favors the prepared.
We prepare our cars for a trip by checking the oil. We prepare for retirement by saving money. We prepare for the day by showering and cleaning ourselves. Are you preparing your kids for the world they live in? It truly is a wonderful world. It is a world filled with beauty and opportunity and wonderful people. It is also a world filled with dangerous places and mean people and accidents that can change your life in the blink of an eye. Don’t rely on happenstance or chance. The chances that your child will ever face a house fire or a kidnapper or any of these dangers is small. But if they do, don’t live the rest of your life wondering what you could have done differently.
We live in a wonderful world.
Make sure it is a world your kids understand and live in with a healthy respect. Help them understand that you are there to protect them. Help them understand how to protect themselves. Make sure it is a wonderfully safe world for a long time for your kids.