Looking back on his own childhood, Tim Hoch wonders if our children are too vaccinated, too protected or too informed.
When I was 10 years old my best friend Ricky Meador rode his bike over to my house.
“Let’s go see the monkey.”
I knew immediately that he meant the Lipe’s monkey. Lipe’s was a kids clothing boutique in Oklahoma City. It was about a mile from my house and just a few blocks from the 7-11 store where we stopped briefly to pilfer a couple of Pixie Stix- the paper tubes with the colored sugar.
We rode to Lipe’s and walked straight to the cage in back where an albino faced capuchin monkey took up residence. It was tiny and violent with sharp claws that could reach through the thin screen. Ricky was the monkey’s junkie. Every Saturday Ricky would bring the monkey a primate’s equivalent of meth-pure unadulterated Pixie Stix sugar.
When the monkey saw us round the corner it would screech and claw and bare its decaying teeth. Ricky would tease the monkey and make it perform tricks for the sugar. He even put the sugar on his lips and pressed his face to the screen while the monkey licked the confection from Ricky’s mouth, leaving deep scratches on Ricky’s cheeks in the process.
As far as I know, Lipe’s was never pinpointed as ground zero for some large scale zoonosis epidemic. I do, however, harbor this vague notion that the monkey developed debilitating diabetes and had to be put down.
My daily routine as a kid didn’t always involve heavy petting with a monkey but rest assured there was often a fair amount of danger, at least by today’s standards. Our neighborhood had a notorious gambling house and two or three suspected pedophiles. We rode our bikes without knee pads or helmets, smoked grapevine, drank from garden hoses, had cactus fights and played in poison ivy.
When something needed to be warned about (i.e. a lice outbreak or sleepovers at the band director’s house), a note was pinned to our shirt. With a dearth of available means to communicate, the note had to be important, brief and easy to respond to. Not so much anymore.
With my youngest daughter about to start high school, my e-mail inbox is filled with pre-enrollment bullshit: Concussion release forms, Flu mist vaccine requirements, HPV notices, warnings about standing water and West Nile, fire ant prevention guidelines and a peanut allergy policy. It seems there’s a vaccine for everything.
Sometimes I wonder whether we communicate more frequently only because we can. This doesn’t make the quality of information any better. And I wonder whether it makes us safer…or healthier. Or are we over protected and over vaccinated?
My daughter recently told us about a friend who is going “gluten free.” At age 14.
“Glue free?” asked my wife.
“No not glue free. That doesn’t even make sense. Gluten free.”
It seemed like a nonsensical mistake until my wife explained that in her fourth grade class, her teacher put Randy Wood on a glue moratorium. Seems he was eating it…lots of it…and daring his classmates to do the same….which, looking back, explains a great deal about Randy Wood.
Asbestos and lead paint was likely all of the inoculation Randy needed to survive a heaping ingestion of Elmer’s. And don’t get me started on concussions. If you ask me, kids today are mollycoddled. I mean, what’s the harm in an occasional knock on the noggin’?
Rather than prevent concussions, my third grade teacher, Mr. Hoops, likely caused a fair number. His red, unruly afro added about 3 inches to his mammoth 6′ 7″ frame. He hated us. Every day he would blow his top over some innocuous shenanigan and mete out his own corporal punishment. He frequently and indiscriminately flung chalk board erasers and rulers. But his favorite weapon was his class ring. He would approach us from behind and rap us on the back of the head without warning. The school nurse, who just happened to be dating Mr. Hoops, considered the first blow to be your neurological “baseline” and offered little sympathy.
Hoops was a Class A prick. One day in Health and Physical Education class we watched an emotional movie about Lou Gehrig. After the movie, one of my friends raised his hand.
“How do you get that disease?”
“You mean Lou Gehrig’s disease?” asked Hoops.
“Yeah. That one.”
“Is your name Lou Gehrig?”
“Then don’t worry about it.”
As you can probably tell, Hoops wasn’t very good at the “Health” part of his curriculum.
But I survived. And now look at me. A healthy, well-adjusted adult with only a few minor ticks (like an inability to focus and filter). I’ve lost touch with Ricky Meador but I’m sure he’s fine as well. In spite of being a frequent target of Mr. Hoops, Ricky never displayed any symptoms of a concussion. Except…well…he did like to make out with a monkey.
Of course, truth is, if I caught a Mr. Hoops striking my daughter in the back of the head, I’d probably bring back the Lipe’s monkey and sprinkle some pixie sugar in a very uncomfortable place.
—first appeared in another form on Tim Hoch’s blog
—photo by laszlo photo/Flickr