Jersey City Dad: Captain Safety

We were walking the other day with a neighbor who has two older kids of her own. Dash was running down the sidewalk with the 11-year-old and the mother yelled to her daughter to be careful with Dash, who was running along with his arms and legs flailing in four different directions as he screamed with glee. Enjoying the beauty of the moment, I was less concerned about the imminent dangers of tripping than she was, pointing out that it seems that not a day goes by without some new bruise or scrape. She was cool with that, but added that the only emergency room visits her kids had were on her ex-husband’s watch.

I’m comfortable with this more laid back approach — the joke is that as long as his graduation pictures don’t reveal any massive scars, we did okay. So far that’s been the case, but I’m sure that the stakes go up as kids get faster and stronger. That said, I don’t have any interest in micromanaging Dash’s life as he walks up and down stairs, falls off his bike, hangs from trees and climbs on stuff.

I’m adamant about not endangering Dash in any way that has serious repercussions. Crossing the street is only done in the stroller or while holding hands with an adult. Safety belts are to be used in the car at all times. Playing in water demands complete parental vigilance. Sharp objects are not to be played with, period. There are other things as well.

Sometimes I have little fights with myself because certain things make me uneasy. I’m still leery about the chain ladder at the playground. I’m not happy about the fact that Dash likes to walk on the outside ledge of the Van Vorst Park gazebo railing — the drop is about four feet. Climbing into a chair is something he insists on doing himself, but I wish he’d just let me lift him up.

Overall I’m letting Dash’s behavior dictate how cautious I need to be. It seems to be working because he is generally well aware of his limitations, and he’ll even comment on it if he’s in a precarious situation (where I’m spotting him). Unlike some kids, he doesn’t fling himself off of stuff — so I’m generally not worried that he will climb on top of the TV and jump to a nearby chair or whatever. Perhaps (not to pat myself on the back too loudly) because we’ve allowed him to figure out what he can and cannot do he’s learned his boundaries.

My dad wasn’t really around for the day-to-day stuff growing up and my mom wasn’t the cautious type. It worked out pretty well for me — I didn’t break my first bone until a bike accident in my mid-30s (both elbows). While I guess I’m continuing on this tradition, Kathy is a bit more cautious, but she’s that way by nature. I don’t think I’ll ever get the label “Captain Safety,” but you can only tell a kid so much. They have to figure stuff out on their own.

a freelance writer based in Jersey City who has covered music of all genres as well as literature, the arts, food and real estate. His work has appeared in such publications as Elle, the Financial Times, the Star-Ledger, JazzTimes,,, Relix, Time Out New York, the Village Voice and Global Rhythm, where he was also editor-in-chief from 2006-2008.