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Darwinism, Lawsuits and Vacations in the Balkans

         Published February 25, 2013
         By Laura

Oh my god, if my American mommy friends were here … They. would. freak. out. They’d totally be on the next plane back to the States.

Montenegro sunset … Beautiful, right? Of course … but, look! No railings! A child could easily fall into the water, break his head open, or worse … Drown!

These were my thoughts the first time I visited the Montenegrin seaside. I knew I had to manage my expectations lest I have a continuous anxiety attack.

Truly, the definition of appropriate measures to guard a child’s safety are viewed differently in the Balkans.

Whereas the American approach is to all-but-eliminate legal liability and to cover every single possible negative eventuality … the safety of a child here is left to parents, grandparents … and when age-appropriate: the child himself.

U.S. vs. Balkans: Child Safety Face-Off

My kids are borderline hyper very active and athletic, and I definitely was spoiled by the plethora of clean, safe parks available to us in Southern California.

That’s not only thing you’re spoiled about, Laura.

Didn’t you know? “High-maintenence” is my middle name. Nice to meet you.

In the U.S., playgrounds are non-smoking, curb-your-dog oases, padded with woodchips, or better yet, recycled rubber tire chips. Or that squishy material they use for track-and-field.

In Serbia, the majority of playgrounds are covered with asphalt (yes, you read that right), peppered with dog shit and cigarette butts. Those playgrounds that are described as “beautiful” (a relative term, as most structures are covered in graffiti) do have squishy material or … tiny pebbles. Hello!? Toddler choking hazard!

In the U.S., every possible raised platform is appropriately blocked by some gate or netting, or it leads to a smooth plastic slide.

In Serbia, platforms are concussions in-the-making open. Slides are either (broken) plastic, or metal, that, on a hot day becomes a burn-inducing fun trap.

In the U.S., the photo below is a lawsuit waiting to happen. A toddler, standing on some slippery metal sculpture (possibly a real anchor). Barefoot, in a public place. In the dark. Next to deep water, and ACK! NO railings! … It’s veritable child abuse!

In the Balkans, it’s called a lovely restaurant.

M, age 2.5, may have tripped over that damn red string … more than once. But then, he learned how to jump over it. In the photo, he’s merely practicing.

Concrete “beaches” with no children’s gates?

In the Balkans, it’s called Darwinism.

One relaxed Serbian mom told me, “They’ll learn. In the meantime, put swimmies on the kids, that way you don’t have to worry when they fall in.” [I'm thinking "when"! Jesus, there are rocks in the water they can hit their heads on!]

After three summers, it’s all good. Our family remains injury-free (knock on wood).

More importantly, my kids love the Montenegrin seaside. L.O.V.E. Sun, salt water, swimming. Eating a huge, artery-clogging breakfast of kobasica (fried sausage) and eggs with ripe, juicy tomatoes. Spending the entire day by the water with their friends.

My son, age 18 months, hanging out with his boys. Seriously. He was barely verbal, but he was “one of the guys.” Don’t judge, it is considered completely normal that he’s not wearing pants.

At the seaside, clothing is optional for the under-five set. Girls wear only swim panties until approximately age twelve, or when they start developing–whichever comes sooner. Sometimes not even then. Hell, it is Europe, right?

Beach-life is communal, with grandmas bringing fresh fruit and salty snacks for all the kids to share. It’s usually ice cream for “lunch.” Head home for an early dinner; usually fresh fish, caught that morning, served with traditional roasted potatoes and blitva (a domestic green leafy vegetable, like kale). Then, more ice cream.

Only this American mom requires a nightly bath to remove the layers of sunscreen, ice cream-drips, sweat, salt water, dirt and lord-knows-what-else … before an early bedtime. Yep, it’s wash, rinse and repeat the next day.

Well, of course, my ornery daughter refused to wear the damn swimmies. Apparently the ring was okay. Here she is, aged 2.5, “swimming” (naked) over to a kafana, a cafe about 30 feet away from “our” beach.

For my kids, the seaside means freedom.

(And yes, we’ll be back there this summer.)

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18 Comments
  1. Annie permalink

    It's just your generation that thinks kids are breakable! My mom (yep, Grandma Dennis) used to shoo us out of the house in the morning with instructions to "go play outside" and "be back for dinner". It was hordes of children playing with NO adult supervision all day long — we survived!

    • Laura permalink

      Anne,
      Yes! You're right … but when and how did it change? Did it start with my parents' generation–the baby boomers who were reading all of that psychology? Was it mass media that scares the bejeezus out of us when it comes to child predators, school shootings, etc. etc.? I, too, went out to play … without cell phones or constant adult supervision. I guess we all are a product of our times, but it's only recently that I realized how much my kids value their freedom … independent of mommy.
      Laura

  2. I had a good laugh at this! I think Americans are way too uptight about their kids.

    I recall an amusement park trip when my son was 3 years old. He stuck his head between the bars of the railings and got his head stuck. His father and I had a good laugh. The other people in the line just glared at us, and one lady said, "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. The poor baby!" I thought it was hilarious. He figured out how to get his head out, and he didn't do it again!

    That same kid broke his leg when he was 5 years old on a scooter, and he broke his toe just last summer. He's always doing something.

    My youngest daughter has broke every finger in her left hand.

    All my kids are still alive (thankfully), and they will one day have tales to tell their kids!

    • Laura permalink

      Kellie,

      I agree — our kids are smarter and more resilient than we give them credit for. And, they can figure stuff out, if we just let them!

      I've recently all but forced myself *not* to get involved when my kids have their friends over. Unless someone is screaming in pain, I just leave them be. They argue, they work things out, there's this push and pull that allows them to navigate their social relationships. And, it stresses me out to watch. I want to step in, and explain, and well, I've learned it's better for them to learn social independence.

      Thanks for writing!
      Laura

  3. Oh, how I would love to bring my family for a visit. The swim-up cafe would send my daughter into orbit, as would the ice cream for my son. And meeting you would do it for me :-)

    I had similar thoughts when living in Syria. I called it Life Without Initials — no government agencies like the USDA (flies all over slabs of meat hanging in the sun), the ADA (smooth sidewalks — HA!), or NHTSA to tell people not to put entire families of 8 on one motorcycle.

    • Laura permalink

      Lori,

      Yes! You know, many of my Serbian friends think that Americans out-of-control with their acronyms. It's like we have, OCD, RAD, ADD, ADHD, etc. … and people just say, "he's nervous." Nervous encompasses nearly all non-calm, controlled behavior. It's awesome and annoying at the same time!

      OH YES! A visit would be amazing … But I'm sure that life will let us meet one day down-the-road. And, I'm looking forward to it!

      Laura

  4. Sanja Grbović permalink

    It is perfect Laura, I laughed at every word you said!! And I recalled one situation. When Dragana ( I think you know her form Krašići) came back from New Zeland, she had the same experience when looking after the children like you had from America. Then, she left me too keep her kids for one day…. And I did it like I would with my kids. I went diving, and left all the kids (aged 3,4,5 and 6) on the beach (concrete beach, without the fence, in front of my house) for 2 hours. Dragana came back and found kids alone, and alive…. ahe asked where was I. Pepole said that I went diving 2 hours ago. She was so surprised, and after all very happy. And she told me: "today I leardned that nothing woulčd happen to children if mom doesn't look at them for every munute :)

    • Laura permalink

      Sanja,
      I'm glad you liked it! Yes! If we can just relax a bit, kids and parents can coexist and actually enjoy one another–without being attached for every minute of every day.
      That is so funny about Dragana, I can totally picture all the kids just hanging out by the water with their friends …
      Laura

  5. What a great post! I suppose that, at some point, we all have to go with the flow. It is easier said than done. What you are describing looks a lot like France. I had the opposite experience.

    In London too, we are obsessed with Health and Safety. And people are such prudes! In France, it is perfectly normal to change the clothes of your kid on the beach or on the swimming pool. A naked kid is nothing to be ashamed of. Well, not over here. You should have seen the looks I had when I did it!

    • Laura permalink

      Ha! That's awesome, Muriel. Yes, I've seen the differences between the British and Serbian mentality, as well–perhaps the British are even more 'prudish' than Americans :)
      I can just imagine, you, the French Mum, just stripping your kids down. I'm laughing at the very idea :)
      Laura

  6. Great post. I'm not a parent, but agree that H&S has gone crazy these past couple of decades. I don't remember my parents and grandparents being as uptight about danger back in the 70/80s as parents seem to be now. Let them explore and develop their characters – all of your photos show happy, healthy children so I'd say your new relaxed nature is not doing them any harm.

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks! I'd like to think this new relaxation will help them thrive in the long run.

  7. Yup, it one of the things that sucks coming back to the states, kids are so overprotected from everything besides videogames.

    • Laura permalink

      Oh man, my kids are not aware of video games, pursay … we do have iPad and I do let them play educational games. Even with that, my three-year-old sometimes gets obsessed. … I know that's no where near what I'm in for when we get back to the States!

  8. Americans have a way of making my thing seem more dangerous than it actually is! Growing up we played in a variety of ways that might send an overprotective mother into a tizzy, yet I'm still standing today!

    • Laura permalink

      Riki,
      I know, right? My kids can't stand when I hover, which I'd like to think is a good thing :)
      Laura

  9. We really should supervise our children especially when they're playing outside. It is to keep them safe. We should know how to balance it though so we don't become overprotective.

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