Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Watching the Kids

Keep your eyes wide open, all the time

By Walter Jowers

JUNE 5, 2000:  A while back, a man asked me if he should get somebody to test his 40-year-old house for lead paint. He knew that lead paint has poisoned children, and he was worried about his kids.

I gave my usual lead-paint speech, which goes something like this "You can test if you want. But it'll cost you a pile, and I'd bet my car that the test is going to turn up positive. Lead poisoning is rare, but kids don't just get it from paint at their house. They can get it from the city water, old water fountains, tableware, toys, and lots of other sources. I think it's smart to get your pediatrician to run a blood test. It's cheap, and it'll tell you whether or not your child contains lead. That's way better than knowing whether or not your house contains lead." As always, I finished the speech with this little reminder, "Y'know, as far as the paint is concerned, all you have to do is keep your kids from eating the stuff."

Just then, the daddy turned his head sideways, like Nipper the RCA dog, and said to me, "And how do I do that?" Right then and there, I got all swimmy-headed. Here I was, eyeball to eyeball with an educated, accomplished, professional man, a husband and father in the prime of his life, asking me how he could keep his own kids from gnawing paint off the woodwork in his very own house.

I thought to myself, "This country is going straight to hell. Time to look at Iceland, New Zealand, Costa Rica...." But in my best professional voice, I said, "I'll leave that up to you."

Last week, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that government-certified labs had found asbestos in crayons, including the ever-popular Crayola brand. Crayola's initial response was, essentially, "That's not asbestos, that's talc."

Apparently, talc and asbestos look a lot alike under a microscope. This makes me wonder if there's any big difference between getting asbestos or talc in your lungs. I'm not the only one who wonders. There have been anti-talc squads for years, warning against baby powder, makeup, crayons, and who knows what else.

Anyhow, back to the current crayon controversy: As far as I know, asbestos can hurt a person only if that person inhales it or eats it. Even if crayons do contain asbestos, I suspect that the fibers wouldn't get airborne, seeing as how they're embedded in the crayon wax. As for kids eating crayons, well, we grown-ups just need to snatch the crayons away from the crayon-eaters with the same passion that we snatch the baseboard-chewers up by the scruff of the neck. It's for their own good, for cryin' out loud.

A few weeks back, the good folks at Channel 4 ran a series entitled "Who's Coaching Your Kids?" While the story did eventually get around to explaining that youth-sports coaches are generally an OK bunch, it focused on a few pervert coaches, who had done serious harm to kids. I don't know the particulars of those incidents, and I'm not second-guessing what any of the victimsor their parentsdid.

But I can tell you this: I've done some youth-sports coaching myself. More than once, parents have dropped off their daughters at practice and sped away. More than once, I've had one or more girls stuck with me at an abandoned ballyard, after dark. These parents don't know me. For all they know, I'm fresh out of the nervous hospital, I'm off my medication, and I'm up to no good. Lucky thing for these neglectful parents, I've been a full-grown, straight-as-can-be, responsible man ever since I was 12, and unlike some parents, I wouldn't leave a 10-year-old girl in the middle of an empty park at 10 o'clock at night.

If you want to protect your kids from pervert coaches, here's what you do: Show up. Stay put. Watch what goes on. If you've got work to do, bring it with you. Don't wait for the league to start pervert screenings, don't wait for youth-sports associations to demand sensitivity training. Just show up. I guarantee you, even if you end up in a league that has an all-pervert coaching staff, your kid will be safe as long as you keep an eye on her. If your kid's team travels, go along as a chaperone. Keep your kid with you, or sleep in an adjoining room with the door open. I'm amazed that I have to explain this.

So at the risk of riling up some folks, let me be really clear: If you can't figure out how to keep your own kid from eating paint and crayons, if you don't understand that the best way to protect your kids is to show up and keep an eye on 'em, then just get used to the notion that you're relying on a 20-year run of amazingly good luck. No offense to the people who make that choice, but I couldn't live with those odds.


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