Back in the late 1990s I had a friend who had a dog who hated Teletubbies – those large, fuzzy creatures that were part of a once-popular kid’s television show. Now, how could a dog hate a Teletubbie, right? But this dog did. It became something of a parlor trick to pop in a video cassette and watch the dog bare his teeth and growl at the screen.
We fancy ourselves more advanced than dogs, but in this case I assure you we’re not. Consider The Dude’s hatred of the rock band the Eagles in the cult film The Big Lebowski. The Eagles laidback blend of folk and rock is the musical equivalent of a Toyota Corolla – maybe you don’t want one, but how can you find them offensive? And yet The Dude did.
Search your own black heart. Maybe it’s the movie La La Land? Car Talk? Delaware? Think hard enough and you’ll come up with something that fits the bill.
I irrationally hate it when people in the media tell me what to do. The people part is key to the animus. When the National Weather Service issues a robotic-sounding declaration telling me to avoid unnecessary travel, I take it in the helpful spirit it was offered. But when a reporter doing a live shot in a snowstorm tells me not to drive anywhere, I look for my keys as a matter of principle. When a food writer editorializes in a mushroom dish recipe to remind readers that wild mushrooms can be deadly so never eat anything you find growing outside, I go looking for a kid to take foraging. Worst of all is when the advice morphs from being an authorial aside into the focal point of the content. Go to the web and you’ll find features on infants and cold weather that boil down to some version of: “once the temperature gets below freezing, you shouldn’t take your baby out, except for quick trips back and forth to the car.” That’s a real quote from fitpregnancy.com that had me slobbering all over the screen and baring my canine teeth.
These people mean well, I know. And my getting worked up over it is a touch ridiculous, I know. This is important to say, because the last thing we need in our hyper-aggrieved culture is another columnist who takes themselves too seriously when they’re acting like a dog. But with that on the table, I do think there’s something legitimately harmful in the nanny culture that should be noted.
The babies and cold thing is a perfect example. If a baby’s room temperature needs to be between 68 and 72, as most websites claim, and space heaters are a fire hazard, as the parent books point out, then ... what? Most rural people don’t live in homes that are precisely temperature controlled. If we see 60 in my baby’s room on a subzero night it’s a victory. The solution is simple, of course. You buy a down sleep sack and the baby sleeps like every baby did in a northern climate for the thousands of years between the advent of quality textiles and the introduction of temperature-controlled central heating. But you won’t learn that in the story because solutions aren’t the point.
As for running the baby to the car anytime it gets cold, we don’t. On New Year’s Day: High: 3 degrees, we had a bonfire, which involved burying the baby in snow like she was lying on a sandy beach. She loved it. That night: Low: -10 degrees, we took a walk through the meadow and the woods behind it, watched her transfix on the supermoon through her frozen little eyelashes. “Isn’t that pretty?” A big, four-tooth grin. I’m not sharing this image with a sense of smugness, I’m sharing it in defiance of the domesticated status quo. Sharing it so that other overmatched parents with a similar love of the outdoors can say: oh good, someone else who does what we do. Solidarity. Safety in numbers.
I guess it’s the domestication part that I see as harmful. We often blame technology for killing our rural ways of life. We switch to oil because we’re seduced by the convenience. Kids don’t want to go outside because they get hooked on video games. But fear, peddled by the media in the guise of being helpful, is another factor. We stop burning wood because some website did a story on particulate matter and asthma in children and we don’t want the ash in our house anymore. The kids turn to technology because we read a story telling us not to let them go outside when it’s cold. Drip, drip, drip, but soon there’s a ravine.
There was a don’t-take-your-baby-outside PSA on my partner’s Facebook page on Thursday, right beneath one from a fire department telling all people, young and old, not to go outside for the entire weekend. But right below them, a post from a young couple who are in Yellowstone, Wyoming, with their eight-month-old. It showed a picture of the three of them – the baby with a big old smile on her chubby face – and it read: “Yellowstone in winter!! #bucket list. #-10degrees.”
It filled me with such joy.