Xploding Unicorn: Sorry I almost killed my kids — again
(Originally posted on the IndyStar website by James Breakwell.)
“I’m not calling you a bad parent, but you’re literally about to kill your children.”
That was the gist of about a hundred angry messages I received after I shared a “controversial” picture of my kids on the Internet. The image? My four daughters and our pet pig sitting happily in our van on our way to Grandma’s house. But my kids were buckled in while wearing their puffy winter coats, and these days that’s a death sentence.
The picture didn’t cause much of a stir on Twitter, where my 1 million followers know to expect less from me, or on Instagram, where only a few people politely told me that my children were about to die. But on Facebook, it kicked open a hornet’s nest. Not only were my kids wearing coats in their car seats, but my 2-year-old should have been facing backward. And all of their straps were too loose (which you can totally tell from one wide-angle shot). And the pig shouldn’t have been in the van at all. And we shouldn’t have left the house in the first place because the world is scary and dangerous and the night is dark and full of terrors. Somebody call CPS.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been warned by strangers that my children were about to die. According to random people on the Internet, my fatal mistakes include:
- Feeding my kids grapes, which are a choking hazard.
- Feeding my kids corn dogs, which are poison.
- Owning a pet pig, which will grow to be 600 pounds and destroy my house and eat my children.
- Posting pictures of my kids on the Internet, which will get them kidnapped and murdered.
- Having too many kids in the first place, which will overtax the earth’s limited resources and doom mankind.
I must admit coat-shaming was a new one for me. I’m not sure if bulky winter jackets recently became more dangerous or if they’ve always been a threat and the Internet’s safety police just noticed. Nobody mentioned it to me before this winter, so maybe all the other, bigger threats —war, poverty — are finally taken care of.
The idea behind the no-coats-in-car-seats movement is simple enough. In a crash, a kid in a puffy coat will shoot out of their car seat straps like toothpaste out of a tube. There’s even a scary viral video to back it up, so it must be true.
The video I saw was set up like the first part of an infomercial. You know the style: A guy tries to open a bag of chips, but he pulls too hard and the bag explodes. Then in the next scene he’s wearing an eye patch. If only he bought the Automatic Chip Bag Opener for three easy payments of $29.99.
The scary car seat crash video exhibits a similar level of incompetence. While the crash test dummy’s coat might make the crash more dangerous, it’s obvious the dummy isn’t strapped in right in the first place. The straps are loose, they aren’t sitting correctly on the dummy’s shoulders, and the chest clip either isn’t there or is too low to do any good. When my wife watched the video, she just rolled her eyes. No Automatic Chip Bag Opener for us.
I have four kids in car seats and no garage. It’s a miracle I ever get their coats on them in the first place. Every day is a battle. Maybe a zipper won’t work. Maybe a kid will refuse to wear the coat she always wears because it’s the wrong shade of purple. Maybe a child will refuse to wear clothes at all. There’s no way I’m going through all of that just to tell my kids to take their coats back off after they walk the 10 steps from the house to the van. And no, my kids won’t sprint from the house to the van without coats on when it’s dark and 10 below zero, especially when the vehicle they’re running to is equally freezing. I realize in a perfect world, I would already have the van warmed up. But I don’t live in a perfect world. I have kids.
All of those excuses meant nothing to the super moms on Facebook. (And, yes, all the parents who criticized me were moms. Facebook dads don’t care if my kids live or die). Those perfect parents told me how they climbed through six-foot snow drifts and fought off a yeti to strap in their kid buck-naked, lest a single fiber of clothing interfere with the skin-to-car-seat bond. I think it’s awesome that they’re so good at raising their kids that they have time to raise mine, too. But that doesn’t mean I need their advice.
The crazy thing is, before this controversy, I thought of myself as a stickler for safety. When I was a kid, the bad mom in the neighborhood was the one who let her son ride around on the hood of her car. Only in the winter, though. I guess she figured his puffy coat would break his fall.
I might not ever be as good as the Facebook super moms, but compared to the people I grew up around, I think I’m doing OK. Until the law says I have to change what I’m doing, I’ll keep strapping my kids in with their winter coats on. Trust me, their straps are plenty tight. You can see my kids in that picture, but you can’t hear their whining. Yes, dear, I know you’re trapped. That’s the point.
As a general rule, if you ever think you have to write an angry Facebook post to save a life, take a deep breath and go do literally anything else. The world is full of hobbies that don’t involve telling other people how to raise their kids.
But what do I know? I’m just the guy with four surviving children.