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July 10, 2009  Tarrant County Child Support Office essay

I’m figuring out pages and links still. This is an essay in the Social Topics strand of topics on my blog.


The Deep End of the Grocery Store

By Maggie Dwyer, permalink
If I spot a child in an unsafe situation, should I speak up or should I walk on
by? Sounds like a silly question—of course protect the child, by all means. Yet
when dealing with that unique hazard, the grocery store shopping cart, three out
of four times, no matter how politely I say it, I face the anger of an insulted

Most stores today are built on concrete slabs with overlaid vinyl flooring. Many
parents load the kids into the cart as if they were a boxed appliance or sack of
potatoes. They’re loose cannons, with gravity as their primary means of
propulsion. Out and down onto concrete. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimated that more than 20,700 children under the age of five years were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2005 (latest statistics) for this kind of injury. But point that out, and people feel like
you’re infringing on their rights.

There are safety gray areas in our society. Here in Texas if you want to be so
stupid as to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, that is your right. But I
didn’t ask these adults to put on helmets, I asked them to guard their children
from head injuries in a grocery store. Like the bare-headed riders, these adults
are apparently incapable of seeing the hazard.

Recently in Big Lots I turned a corner and was face to face with woman standing
beyond a shopping cart, out of arms reach and talking with a friend, while two
toddlers stood loose inside. The older child was probably not yet three years
old, and was tall enough that the edge of the cart was below her waist, so she
was top heavy. The younger could stand, but was not particularly stable. Simply
turning or stopping too fast or a collision could result in one or both of these
children hitting the floor.

An early U.S. Forest Service career of firefighting and mountain rescue, plus
teaching first aid and teaching mountaineering classes have left me with 24/7
safety radar. Seeing this domestic hazard, I very politely spoke to the mother. “This
floor is concrete. Your children need to be seated and fastened in that cart, a
fall here can injure or kill a child.”

The conversation that followed was not pretty. The mother was rude and

“They know what they’re doing.”

“They’re tiny children! They don’t know anything. You’re the adult, you need to
protect them.”

“These kids are fine. You raise your own children,” she glared.

“My children survived their childhood, you need to protect yours.”

She said some more, all rude, as I walked off. I wish now that I had
administered the conversation stopper I sometimes use:  “If your child is injured
while I am in this store, I will testify against you in court. You were warned
about that danger to your child. You could do jail time.” I’ve had to use this
to get some of these idiotic indignant mothers to shut up, when their sense of
personal offense far outstrips their maternal ability to recognize danger in
relation to their children.

How often does this happen? I find myself having to decide to say something (or
not) on average every couple of weeks. I raised my children with a Puerto Rican
father, so though I don’t speak Spanish, I have a few words and phrases that are
useful in my usual grocery store that has a lot of Mexican shoppers. On more than
one occasion I’ve commanded ¡Siéntese! (sit down!) to small children unattended
and climbing on carts.

I wonder if this is simply land-based? I have pulled small children from under
water in public pools, not waiting to see if the lifeguard noticed that they
went under, and no one scolded me. Parents, if they were around, were grateful.
Yet I am somehow offensive if I feel compelled to point out potentially fatal
hazards in a store, where there is no lifeguard, just the rules that are posted
in every shopping cart in America. Seat your child, use the restraint. Don’t let
them stand in the basket or stand on the seat. If a parent can’t control their
children’s behavior and isn’t able to make them stay safely in the cart, then
the children are in charge—but that’s another topic.

Anger isn’t always the response. I’ve lunged to catch children before they hit
the floor. It happened a few weeks ago in Kroger—the Dad turned for just a
moment to pick up something in a cooler and his towhead had unfastened the belt
and was clambering toward the cart edge. My warning was something guttural, like
“whoa!” as I moved in his direction to catch him, just as his father heard and
was able to grab a leg before the boy toppled completely out. Dad was visibly
shaken and grateful that someone had his son’s interests at heart. And all
things considered, this should be the natural reaction between the both of us.
Someone in The Village was looking out for his child. That Someone wasn’t doing
this to challenge the authority of the parent, she simply wanted to protect the
child. Yet many of these angry parents will go out of their way to try to make
me feel that I’m in the wrong if I speak up. That’s where the conversation
stopper comes in. I’ve yet to threaten or use the nuclear option—call 911.

What can one say about parents who are so busy feeling personally insulted that
they take a kindly offered warning as a personal affront? As part of the ME
generation, they aren’t giving a thought to their children in this. This malady
cuts across ethnic and income lines, though it is not an indictment against all
parents of young children—I see a similar cross-section doing a good job of
parenting, but they seem to be outnumbered these days.

A Brief Segue Into Cell Phones and Child Rearing

Cart safety is just that–a safety issue. Cell phone courtesy is a pet peeve.
I wonder about families in this highly technical age. Parents who are busy
talking on the cell phone and ignoring the child accompanying them teach these
children that “the cell phone is more important than I am.” During these
formative years, children are sponges and acquire language and ideas through
what you say to them. So hang up the phone and talk to your kids. You’re not
just ignoring your children, you’re setting an example for how they’ll treat
their children.

Yes, my children survived their childhood. They were always fastened in carts if
they had to ride in one. I’ve owned a cell phone for years, but it stays
politely tucked away when I’m with others, including children. And I remember
wonderful one-on-one conversations with my kids as we rolled through grocery
stores. Talk and laugh and learn—the store is as good a place as any. And what a
reward when the magic happens—the unaffected gurgling laughter of a small
child—every adult head turns to listen and smile.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Shopping Cart-Related Injuries to Children

An estimated 24,200 children younger than 15 years, 20,700 (85%) of whom were
younger than 5 years, were treated in US hospital emergency departments in 2005
for shopping cart–related injuries. Approximately 4% of shopping cart–related
injuries to children younger than 15 years require admission to the hospital.
Injuries to the head and neck represent three fourths of all injuries. Fractures
account for 45% of all hospitalizations. Deaths have occurred from falls from
shopping carts and cart tip-overs.
Consumer Product Safety Alert: Shipping Cart Safety Alert

CPSC staff estimates that an annual average of about 17,300 children ages five
and under are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for falls from shopping
carts. Injuries range from minor abrasions to concussions.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2009 6:15 am

    Do you have a twitter account so I can follow your tweets?

    • Maggie Dwyer permalink*
      December 30, 2009 9:49 am

      I tried to send an email, but it didn’t go through. Look over to the side and you’ll find a link to my Twitter account. Thanks for your interest.


  1. The Deep End of the Grocery Store « A woman of many parts

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