Monday, August 05, 2002

August 5-9, 2002

AUGUST 5, 2002

It's pretty easy to find items in the news these days to make you fret about our increasingly litigious society. I shook my head when I read about all the obstetricians and midwives going out of business because malpractice insurance is too expensive to make their businesses viable. I rolled my eyes when I read about the overweight man who is suing fast-food restaurants for serving him unhealthful fare. But on Sunday, I saw a news item that represents a new low, if it's possible to get any lower: A 9-year-old is suing a 10-year-old, and a judge has ruled that he's allowed.

The incident at isssue was a practice swing at a baseball game in Newark, N.J., during which the older boy accidentally hit the younger one in the face with an aluminum bat, causing a broken bone and the loss of front teeth. And you know, my heart goes out to that injured kid. But to his parents and any lawyer who would pursue a lawsuit in this situation, not so much. What sort of settlement are they expecting to get from a 10-year-old, anyway? The proceeds of his lemonade stand? Are they going to seize his allowance every week? And what about a countersuit -- why was that 9-year-old standing close enough to get hit by the bat in the first place? Surely the 10-year-old experienced some emotional distress after hitting his friend.

If we're going to start letting children sue children, I worry where this will end up. Will every "He touched me!" and "She looked at me!" echoing between siblings in the back seat be accompanied by "You'll be hearing from my lawyer!" Will every playground mishap end up in court? Surely kids who are teased or snubbed or picked last for teams suffer at the hands of their classmates; do they have a case? I see personal injury lawyers hovering around the fences of our elementary schools, looking for work. Talk about just saying no; can't we, now?

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AUGUST 6, 2002

We've been having lots of thunderstorms out here on the East Coast this hot and hazy summer, and that's bad news for my thunder-fearing daughter. Something about loud low noises sends her in a panic, whether they're coming from celestial bowling or from, say, the overloud bass at a rock concert. She's become slightly less upset by thunder as the summer progresses, probably just because she's heard so darn much of it, but she still wants someone else in the room with her while it's booming.

I remember feeling embarrassed for her a month ago when she whimpered and cried on the tennis court as a thunderstorm approached, cowering behind me (not an easy feat, since she's about five inches taller than I am) and trying to push me to the car. I wasn't worried about being in an open space with lightning flashing around. But that's a case where her fears were warranted. We've read a little about lightning storms recently, and in fact a big open place is a pretty bad place to be. And then, this past Friday, a lightning strike killed a Boy Scout from our church at a campground in Pennsylvania; he was outside during the storm, getting younger campers to safety, when a bolt hit the ground and traveled right into him. My daughter didn't know the boy, and didn't see the news story. I'm pretty sure, if she did, we would never, ever be able to go out in the rain.

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AUGUST 7, 2002

I've been enjoying the bank advertisements that have been popping up lately touting how friendly and customer-service-oriented their institutions are. Not how much money they'll make you; not how astute they are at money management; not how many nifty options they offer; but how welcome they'll make you feel. I've been enjoying them because they make me realize that I'm not alone in feeling my bank sees me as nothing more than a bag of money to be tossed around, kicked to the back room and left to gather dust. Or stand in line for 45 minutes, whichever comes first.

It's hard to know what's been the worst recent offense of our local banking branch. The time the teller working the drive-through lane sent my husband's cash and driver's license to another car stands out. Then there was the time I waited with my daughter and increasingly noisily impatient son while the teller went from fellow employee to fellow employee, all of us trying to convince her that *YES*, when a person with a passbook savings account makes a transaction, you really do have to enter it in the passbook. I do hold a bit of a grudge, too, at the way the bank president always made a big deal of greeting me when he knew I had some money to invest, and now completely ignores me. Customer service isn't their thing, apparently.

I don't think that sort of impersonal, yeah-we're-inept-so-what approach is particularly new; I remember my father ranting about the same things more than 30 years ago. But advertisments holding out the hope of something better still call to me. I don't actually move my money, mind you, because I know in my cynical heart of hearts that those banks beckoning so friendlily will snub me just as hard once they've got my bucks. I'd rather hold onto the dream of something better than find out it's really worse.

At least until one of those ads says, "And if you have a scoodgy boy with special needs in line with you, we will take you into a special toy-filled waiting room and let him watch Sponge-Bob Square-Pants videos while we personally handle your transaction and give you a nice massage." That might get me.

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AUGUST 8, 2002

My story from Tuesday about the Boy Scout from our church who was killed by lightning last weekend (and how I hoped to keep that information from my daughter, whose fear of thunderstorms would expand exponentially) brought a thoughtful letter from Stephanie Mullins, a mom of 8 from Dripping Springs, Texas. I thought her comments were worth sharing, especially since the thought of my hyperactive FAE son driving fills me with more terror than my daughter's ever felt from thunder. She wrote:

"Unfortunately, I cannot hide the loss of young people in our small community from my emotionally challenged kiddos. They hear about it before me usually, from their peers. Our young drivers die in car wrecks on the highway that runs swiftly through our town past the schools. A Scout Master has died, teachers, friends, and peers are plucked from class seats. They have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Our own family has two teens who were involved in crashes that miraculously let them walk away from a totaled car with only trauma and glass embedded in their skin.

"I do use these horrific times at funerals and memorials to talk to them about ways they can drive safer and more defensively. Teens love to speed. Unfortunately, the ADHD mine all have denies them the cause and effect lessons they need to drive safely. So my job as their driving coach is to hold off on the license as long as possible. Requiring they pay for their own first car and expensive car insurance delays the inevitable naturally."

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AUGUST 9, 2002

My son and I went to the park yesterday with a friend from school and his mom. And what a fashion-forward duo these boys were. Just like any respectable teen-ager or a pair of Calvin Klein underwear models, they couldn't keep their pants up. Inches of undie rode above the tops of their slumping shorts. My nephew, now in his 20s, used to wear his pants like that, but that's because he'd buy his trousers about five sizes too big. For my son and his friend, an utter lack of hips and butt did the trick. Two scrawny 9-year-olds airing their underthings on a sunny day and two moms thinking seriously about belts, that was us.

Now of course, as we all know, fashion isn't easy. My son's buddy disdainfully told him that while it's okay to let your underwear show if you're wearing boxers, as he was, it's uncool to do so if you're wearing briefs, my son's undergarment of choice. And indeed, I have to admit, "cool" is not the word that comes to mind when you're showing quite a lot of stretchy "Hot Wheels"-printed fabric to the world. On the other hand, boxer boy was wearing his undies inside out, and letting tags and seams show when your pants droop ain't exactly the coolest either. Clearly, they both need some work. And maybe suspenders.

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