As Kindergarten approaches for my little boy, and all the five year olds of the land, here in sub-rural-burbia, the time for Safety Town begins. This is a sweet program sponsored by the township and its various men-in-uniform, fire and police, who fill the school gym with squirrely pre-school graduates in order to teach them how to better behave in the face of certain hazards. They set up a wee town, made of waist-high wooden buildings, with a real traffic signal at its center and the kids ride little pedal cars around and try not to make mince meat of basic traffic rules.
The volunteer cops with their real guns teach the kids about gun safety, about how not to touch them if they come across one leaning on their drunken neighbor's La-Z-boy after he's fallen asleep with a fifth on the fourth. Out here, this scenario is not all that unlikely. We have our very own anti-social neighbor who likes to spray the hillside with .22 fire in honor of our nation's heave-ho of British colonialism once a year. So a little precautionary fire arm talk feels relevant and good.
There's a lot of good information handed down through Safety Town. Don't cross the street between cars, stop-drop-and-roll, buckle up, 9-1-1, how to avoid lurky pervs, how to get on the school bus in an orderly fashion and memorize your home phone number. I loves me some Safety Town!
When I grew up in New York City we had Safety Town too. It looked a little different, but its lessons were similar. It went a little something like this:
Here's Dad's credit card. If it isn't over limit or cut off due to divorce maneuverings, go down to Gimbels on 86th street and buy some hamster supplies with it. You can take the bus if you want, or just walk. That bum who hangs out on the subway grate on Lexington, don't talk to him, he's probably a crazy person who likes to hurt children. If you get hungry for lunch you can stop at Papaya King and get a hot dog. If you want to go over to Patrick's house, go ahead. His mom's not home, so you wont be any trouble over there. Don't be a nuisance. Don't ring the elevator buttons too much. You can see a movie, but if its R-rated you'll have to ask an adult to buy your ticket. If you're running late, hop in a cab and be home by 5. 6PM is "grown-up hour" which means you're not allowed to bother the adults with your childish presence or demands for food. Dinner will be ready when its ready, and you'll eat it, or you'll have to wait for breakfast and three bowls of unsupervised Cap-'N-Crunch. Now go, and don't forget your key, we may be out when you get home.
I like our little wooden town with its dangers and hand signals, its coloring pages and graduation t-shirts. I like that I recognize the fire chief and the cop who taught my daughter about stranger danger. I don't kid myself that we're in fact any safer here than I was in latch-key 70's New York City, but I like it that we try.
If things get really out of control, I can always borrow some ammo from my neighbor and shoot the pervs myself.