25 April 2011

Contraband





O.K., admittedly I am an overprotective parent. I have previously confessed to being a huge worrier.  Nonetheless I’ve always prided myself on being a law-abiding citizen. Until recently. Last week’s trip to NY shattered all illusions.

I just smuggled contraband items over an international border. Items that I’ve previously and willingly supplied to my own sons.  (No, I did not attempt to import new Abercrombie clothing without declaring it, for anyone who read my post on recent efforts to aid the U.S. economy.) My crime was committed innocently and unwittingly as I re-entered the United States.

I brought gifts for cousins we were visiting. Easter Eggs - the same eggs that have brought my own boys considerable pleasure and many non-nutritive calories over the years. While it crossed my mind the gift wasn’t the healthiest, never did it occur to me it was illegal.

I am talking about Kinder Eggs. Chocolate eggs, which are among the most popular and best selling candy items globally. Inside is a brightly colored plastic shell that contains a toy, often with small parts needing assembly. Ubiquitous in Europe, kids just love them and have fun putting the prize together.  True, the parts could present a choking hazard for children under three.  Which is why every egg is clearly labeled ‘not for children under three.’

I honestly had not the slightest idea these eggs were banned in America nor that Customs & Border Patrol had confiscated more than 25,000 of them. My two eggs were intended for recipients ages 7 and 11 and entered the country and ultimately the cousins’ tummies without choking or incident. But banned they are, because of a law dating back to 1938, regarding ‘embedding non food items without a functional value inside food items.’ (Hence, you can get away with a stick for a lollipop because it keeps your hands from getting sticky and thus serves a useful and obvious purpose.)

Since giving birth in Europe, I’ve watched my sons grow up and gradually pass the myriad dangers of childhood only now to face those of young adulthood. Preparing them for those dangers is my responsibility as a parent. Just as I supervised my toddlers to protect them from choking, so will I supervise my teens from risks they will surely encounter.  I do not, however, expect some government entity to insure their safety in matters that are clearly my concern. My kids, my job.

My point is that America’s protective measures are hugely inconsistent. Like most of our current lawmakers, I am a Cracker Jack child. I survived my youth despite consuming treats of honey-coated popcorn, in a box that – horror of horrors, contained a plastic toy (one since replaced by paper jokes). But I didn’t eat the toy because my parents most likely watched me the first few times I tried to taste it and confirmed that I’d be better off sticking with the popcorn.  And yes, I could have choked on the popcorn. Young children have tiny windpipes and are easily distracted; so it’s always a good idea to watch over them when they eat. But do we need our nation to ban a chocolate egg that millions of children the world over ingest without harm? Just how much protection is necessary? Because it sounds a lot to me like we’re throwing up our hands and trying to pass the buck.

And lastly, if we really are that worried about plastic toys and protecting our kids, we might just want to continue our efforts when they get a bit older. The dangers only get worse. We might, for example, want to look at some other laws - like those allowing concealed weapons on college campuses. 

It’s just a thought.


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