Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Law of Unintended Consequences

For those of you not familiar with this concept, the Law of Unintended Consequences is basically that every action has a result that was unforseen or unintentional. It's used commonly in reference to governmental legislation, which had one result in mind, but ended up also causing additional results, may or may not be positive.

For example, I had no idea that when I cut the drawstring off this particular pair of maternity pants in order to give my waist a little more room that the pants would end up so big that I'm constantly yanking them up. Clipping on an ipod makes for an almost embarrassing situation. That was a bad idea, in retrospect. If pants have a drawstring, I'm guessing it's there for a reason.

Anyhow, here are two unintended consequences that have vexed me this week. And trust me, you don't want to vex an 8-months pregnant woman.

The Swingset Saga Continues

So, as you probably know, we made the choice to get rid of our trampoline, primarily for the reason that it seemed like a matter of time before someone seriously injured themselves on it. Since it was used by so many little kids in the neighborhood (including my own of course) I thought the liability was too great, and we gave it away. The tramp was replaced by a gigantic wooden swingset, which are very, very common around here. Within the first 24 hours of owning the swingset, two children ended up with bloody injuries, including the twin from next door who ended up getting staples in his head.

There have been no more major injuries on the swingset, thank goodness. Boy #3 can spend 30 minutes at a time, just swinging away, and since he can swing by himself and doesn't need a push to get started, the swingset is starting to be worth the money, time, and effort spent on the darn thing. He has, however, found a new place to get hurt.

Two houses up from ours is a neighbor whose youngest child is Boy #1's age, turning 10 this summer. They are great people, as are all of our neighbors - we are lucky to live around such terrific people while raising our kids. Their backyard has a fence around one side, but a cement retaining wall/garden area in one corner, that can be reached from an adjoining yard. They have a dog in the backyard, a gentle, big old dog that needs to stay fenced in.

Lately, Boy #3's friends have taken to climbing over the cement retaining wall, shimmying across the cement against a fence, and then jumping down into the yard. #3 is two years younger than his friends (a set of 4 year old twin from next door) and follows them blindly. He'd follow them off a cliff, and that is more literal than I'd like it to be, because while he is able to jump off the cement wall into the yard, it is too high for him to get back up.

So daily he jumps into the yard, and then when everyone else leaves, screams and cries until I go to rescue him. Several times (four, in fact) he has attempted to climb up the wall like the bigger boys, but can't make it, and ended up with massive scrapes all over his body. His arms and stomach both were scraped up, the arms pretty badly, and three skinned knees. It looks as if he's been dragged along the ground for a while.

Making the situation worse, I think the boys take the opportunity to do things they might not do if a parent was watching them. Many times #3 comes back with an accusation of what one kid or another did to him. I don't take this at face value - he'll wake up in the middle of the night crying and saying that Boy #2 hurt him - who of course is asleep in the next room. But it's just not a good idea to put a pile of moderately aggressive kids in an enclosed backyard where the youngest kid has no chance of escape.

I try very hard to keep my kids out of that backyard, but I am fighting a losing battle. Where the other kids go, #3 follows. The other kids have similarly been given prohibitions against going in that yard unless the yard owner is home, but the other kids' mom has absolutely no desire to enforce the rule, so there's a lot of yelling which gets ignored, and then giving up. So it's up to me to keep #3 out of the yard, which means that he can't play with his friends, and that is always a fight. Or I give in, and end up bandaging yet another knee with Curious George band-aids. (Where that kid gets so many knees to scrape is beyond me!)

Now you know the situation, here's where the unintended consequence comes in. The other day when I trudged over there to rescue #3 from the yard yet again (it was the third time that morning) all of the pieces fell into place - why the kids started going back there all of a sudden, why they like it so much. It's because that yard has a trampoline in it!!! We got rid of our trampoline so that kids wouldn't get hurt, so they migrated to a trampoline that is still available. Which in turn has caused my child to get hurt four times already, which is four times as many injuries as when the trampoline was in our own yard. I realize that the trampoline itself is not causing the injuries directly, but I can't help but think that getting rid of our trampoline was the most dangerous thing we could have done for our children.

Adventures in Baby-Sitting

Yesterday, DH and I decided that we'd take advantage of his moderately flexible work schedule to go see Spiderman 3 which opened last weekend to hordes of crazy fans. We prefer seeing our films horde-less, so a Tuesday 4pm showing seemed perfect for us. Boy #2 requested a particular babysitter, who happens to live next door (the other side, not the twins' house). Again, great family, great kid coming over to watch our kids, theoretically no problems. We'd get a weekday date, the girl would make a few bucks, and as a bonus, we'd be home in time to put the kids to bed ourselves so not even so much work for the sitter.

Therein lies the rub. We've never actually gotten a babysitter for a weekday date like this, nor have we really gotten one that has been during the day. Our schedule is generally to have the sitter come at 5:30 or 6, feed the kids a frozen pizza, watch a movie or something, and then put them to bed at 8. Yesterday, though, the sitter had the kids from 3:30 until about 8:15 or so - five hours smack in the middle of the day in beautiful weather. It did not go well.

I had mentioned that if we were later than 8pm to go ahead and put #2 to bed, but we'd be home in time to put #1 and #3 (who napped) to bed later. So I was initially impressed to come home just barely after 8 and find #2 in bed. Turns out that he, apparently, had thrown a massive tantrum about something they (Boy #1 and babysitter) couldn't pinpoint, and so she put him to bed a few minutes before 8, as either a punishment or to get him to calm down. When I went upstairs to say goodnight to him, he explained that he was mad because the babysitter was riding his bike and his scooter without asking. Seriously? This 15 year old girl who I pay a respectable $5 an hour to watch my kids actually caused this tantrum? I was disturbed.

Next I noticed that the family room, which had been a holy mess before I left, was completely picked up. Okay, I thought, that's redeeming - I absolutely love when a babysitter cleans up, especially when it wasn't her mess. So I mention this to Boy #1, thanking him for cleaning the family room. Oh no, he said, they didn't clean it on purpose. (Don't you hate cleaning accidentally? Happens to me all the time. Just kidding.) The reason the room was picked up was because Boy #3 was mad about something and was throwing things at them. So the babysitter put him in his room in time-out and while he was in there, they decided to pick up all the toys and stuff on the floor, so he wouldn't have as much ammunition to throw at them when he gets out. So that's two of my kids that were punished while we were gone, and since #3 can't really talk all that well, there was no way to know the cause of his outrage. This is getting worse.

I then notice that #3's new t-shirt had red stains all over the front of it. That's not a big deal, happens all the time, but I ask what red thing did he eat to make such a mess? Well, it turns out that Boy #1 decided to have a Kool-Aid stand and sell Kool-Aid in the neighborhood, which is absolutely against the rules, and he knows it. Lest you think that I'm an anti-business hippie or something like that, the no-selling rules stems from the fact that my kid would sell everything in our house for 10 cents each if he could get away with it. And most of the "sales" end up being to adult neighbors who are kind, generous, and loving, and reward him with a dollar for a cup of watery Kool-Aid. I dislike adults being hit up for money that way because it is so intentional - he knows which houses to hit and where he's going to score. In the past he's tried to sell Kool-Aid, popsicles, Pokemon cards (just to kids though, not door to door), coloring books, cleaning services such as sweeping garages, comic books he made himself, and various arts and crafts, including origami cats and dogs and creatures made out of pom-poms and googly eyes. I approve of the comic books and the crafts, as long as he only targets kids, the rest is just basically walking from door to door asking for money, as far as I'm concerned. But I digress.

So he has taken advantage of me not being home during an afternoon to do something I have specifically and in no uncertain terms told him he could not do. I could have killed him. I asked him why he would do that when he knows he's not allowed, and his genius answer was "I didn't know I couldn't!!" Really. But it was a dumb question to ask - there was really no acceptable answer other than, "Well, I didn't think you'd find out so that's why I did something I'm not allowed to." And I don't think any kid is really going to say that, so to ask the question is really just to make my kid lie to me. Third strike, I'm out.

The problem is that, had we gone out to dinner and a movie at a normal time like normal working people, we would have gotten home at 10 and been told that Boy #2 went to sleep a few minutes early, the other two kids were great, and look, I cleaned the family room for you! I would have been thrilled with the whole evening, thought the world of the babysitter, and if I found the dirty t-shirt or the pitcher of Kool-Aid I probably wouldn't have thought to ask about it, so Boy #1 would have made a clean get-away. And I wouldn't have to deal with the unintended consequence of knowing the truth about what this particular experience with this babysitter was like. I would have remained in ignorant bliss. Darn it, I'm a big fan of ignorant bliss too.

So I guess my wise counsel to all of you is to gird yourself for the unintended consequences. Hopefully they won't be as vexing to you as these particular incidents, maybe just annoying like pants that keep falling down, but regardless, be prepared. You are no longer living in ignorant bliss about the potential dangers here.

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