Thank goodness, son's a country boy

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Something I did not understand in my youth was the abject daily terror that is part and parcel of having a child. Nearly three years after the birth of my son, I am beginning to understand.

Recently, for example, my wife and I were given a bunk bed for our son's bedroom. He's nearly 3, going on 16, and it was time to upgrade. The bed is red, made of metal tubing and already spends most of its new life as a jungle-gym.

My wife and I spend our time catching our son as he leaps off the bunk bed. We're trying to teach him "ready or not" is only for hide-and-seek.

We also spend a lot of time discussing whether it's safer for him to sleep on the top bunk where he could possibly fall off in the night, or on the bottom bunk where he could get trapped between the wall and the mattress and suffocate.

These are important discussions because the only thing that would prevent either of us from leaping in front of a transit bus full of angry grizzly bears to protect our son is the other one getting there first.

Our parents find this all very amusing and keep referring cryptically to the "Teenage Driving Years."

My wife and I have learned how to ignore this because a) it only encourages our parents if we appear to be listening; and b) we're too tired from losing sleep over this new bunk bed and every other possible threat to our child's well being.

For example, a rule proposed last year, and then re-proposed in February this year, by the U.S. Department of Labor would (further) restrict children from working on farms nationwide due to the health risks, including severe injury.

At first I was upset. As a poor, dumb farm kid I grew up working on my parents' small farm. We had chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, horses and an enormous garden. One of my many jobs was applying animal waste products to the garden at regular intervals. (I got pretty good at it, and unfortunately old habits are hard to break, but I digress.)

I also had the job of milking the cow. The proposed new rules would restrict children from working with livestock, and I wish it had been in place back then. Our cow took a sadistic joy in torturing me.

The fun began when I attempted to catch The Cow each day. I would hold the grain bucket out toward her and she would saunter over casually to inspect it, stopping just out of arms reach.

I would then extend the bucket, leaning out toward her to avoid actually stepping into her pen, where a person could sink in "muck" up to their mid-thigh.

The Cow would nibble some grain, and I would clip the lead rope to her halter. At the very moment the clasp clicked shut, The Cow would wheel away, usually pulling me off my feet into the odorous slop.

The Cow had other tricks, too, including stepping into the milk bucket, pooping on my feet and whipping me in the head with a muck-caked tail. This is why I prefer beef to nearly every other meat product, including lobster.

Of course, in those days I just thought my father was forcing me to do hard labor to keep me from my various hobbies, including canoeing miles of river, building rickety tree forts and hiking up steep mountainsides to pee off the top of cliffs.

I didn't realize that farm labor was so dangerous that it was prompting our government officials (i.e. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis) to propose strict, no-farm-work-for-children rules.

Obviously I felt pretty lucky to be alive, and immediately began digging up statistics I could use to guilt my parents into babysitting my son more often.

According to the journal Pediatrics, roughly 84 children die each year on farms, but only 17 of those are actually "engaged in farm work."

The National Institute of Occupational Safety reports there were 16,100 farm-related injuries in 2009. Roughly 3,400 were work-related injuries.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 10 percent of the 5,719 work-related deaths for children were in agricultural settings.

Once I had my stats, I needed something to compare them to, so I kept digging. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention came through again, giving me even more to worry about.

In 2008, the most recent year I could find data for, roughly 1,361 children under 15 years old died in traffic accidents, while 745 drowned and 361 died in fires. Another 91 children died as a result of unintentional falls.

As I kept digging, I began to realize that farm work might be about the safest thing I could have my child do. In fact, I started thinking back to all those afternoons I would slip away from the farm to "goof off" as my father put it.

Considering how risky all my recreational activities were, it's no wonder he got upset when I wasn't doing my chores. I can't blame him. In fact, I immediately purchased a small garden tool set for my son. It's spring time, after all, and I figure it's never too early to play it safe.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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