If you take a look around some of the parenting sites on the interwebs, you see a lot of complaints about “free advice.” It seems everyone and her great-aunt is ready to interject a “Isn’t your baby too warm?” or “His poor cold toes!” or “She’ll develop an overbite if you don’t take that pacifier away.” And that doesn’t even begin to get into the hot button topics of breast/bottle, sleep training, organic/conventional, and cloth/disposable diapers.
Most times, it’s best to just smile and nod and move on. Most times it’s also best to just keep your opinions to yourself – especially to strangers. But sometimes, in cases more immediate than lost socks or a beloved pacifier, we have an obligation to both listen and speak up.
In the last year, I’ve become that annoying person who approaches you and butts in. At least when it comes to one issue: Children in shopping carts.
When I see a squiggly toddler unbuckled or standing up in a shopping cart, I ask the adult to please buckle the child or put them in the seat. And sometimes I see a car seat balanced on top of the cart’s seat - please don’t! My well-intentioned, but perhaps less-than-desired advice is not always received with great joy – but I don’t much care. The seats themselves give us instructions of how to safely use the carts, and even then accidents can occur. To me, it’s worth the cold glares and pursed lips because I don’t want to wonder “what if I had said something” after the fact.
Good friends of ours had a terrifying experience last year, and I’ll admit that it could have easily been my experience. While grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, their shopping cart – with their 18 month old daughter in it – tipped over. Thankfully, their daughter is now a chipper and typically precocious two-year-old. However, that is only after being intubated and spending time in a medically-induced coma and undergoing more than one brain surgery. I still remember the falling rock my stomach turned into when I got the phone call about the accident. It’s not something I want to feel ever again.
Now, I’m not going to get into the details of how it happened because people are far too willing to offer advice (see above) and opinions and explanations. The bottom line is, it happened. And it could have happened to anyone. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (PDF), about twenty thousand children under five are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries involving shopping carts every year. Carts can tip over going over curbs, and the smaller carts popular at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s stores can even tip just going around a corner.
And a cart doesn’t even have to tip over to cause a tragedy. I used to leave my toddler in the cart’s seat to grab green beans or a bag of apples across the aisle all the time. Maneuvering in a crowded grocery store or big box store is awkward and time-consuming, and I was just a few seconds away. But in that time she could have stood up in her seat and fallen, or less tragically, her fingers could have been scrunched and twisted by a passing cart. (That has happened to us before in Costco.) So I tell people with unbuckled children or with children standing up in the basket of the cart to please be vigilant, but it’s not often that the person takes my advice. Still, perhaps next time (when I’m not around) they’ll think twice and buckle the child or keep the child close-by. And if that means a cranky child wearing the seatbelt or a shopping expedition taking an extra five minutes to get the green beans, then so be it.