The innocent pleasures of summer are gone forever. When I was a boy, I played in the sun from morning until dusk, my skin burning dutifully on Memorial Day and turning a dark brown by Labor Day. Now, the same sun is an unstable nuclear reactor melting down the soft, pale DNA of my four defenseless kids. After an hour on the beach, I rush my kids into a dark, air-conditioned room like rare mushrooms that are not yet mature.
The traditional summer foods of my childhood-hamburgers and hot dogs, cole slaw and potato salad -- today are biohazards. The July 4th picnic struck me as a terrifying game of Russian roulette, so my kids eat veggie burgers and soy dogs on whole wheat buns. We track E. coli and salmonella outbreaks the way other families follow the Yankees or the Dow Jones.
In the summer I lived on Hi-C and bug juice, Pixie Stix and Sno-Cones, but my kids are rationed to one glass of orange juice and two sugar-free cookies a day.
When I was a kid, I rode off on my bike and returned home 12 hours later, knees bloody, clothes torn, hair thick with burrs and thorns. My kids can't ride their bikes past the lip of the driveway, which I blockade with orange traffic cones. They can't even walk down the block to see their friends -- not with Fox News blaring live kidnapping updates 24 hours a day.
I walked to Little League games alone, a phenomenon my kids will never experience, like drive-ins and disco.
My brother and I wandered off down a local creek bed in search of frogs. My kids can explore the attic. There are no frogs left out there anyway, just walking carnivorous fish.
My brother and I went on impromptu bowling trips, to concerts and on hayrides. Now, any activity that requires adult supervision means investigative services and itchy parental coalitions. The new music teacher is taking the kids to Hollywood Bowl? That's nice. Please provide a cheek swab and urine sample.
We watched TV late at night, unsupervised; my mom knew every show on the dial. Now, we micro-monitor the kids to shield them from deviant sex specials on HBO, pay-per-view blood spectacles and Eminem. Meanwhile, on good old PBS, Muppets are dying of AIDS.
The price of parenthood is eternal vigilance. I'm exhausted; I need a vacation but I'm afraid to fly.
(Stockler's memoir, "I Sleep at Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets," will be published in 2003 by St. Martin's Press.)
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