Michael Ryan

Impaling on pool fence, electrocution are reminders of my mother’s warning: Be careful

I’ve smiled about it for years, yet think of it today with a heavy heart as Mother’s Day approaches. Unfailingly, whenever I left the house my mom would exclaim, “Be careful!”

Looking back on it, I almost considered it a nuisance. But you can bet I repeated the admonition to my kids. I know as a parent what I didn’t know as a child: just how many dangers lurk out there in the world, especially for the young and restless.

And as a journalist I’ve too often seen vivid, tragic proof of it.

This area has seen two such tragedies just in the past few days: an 11-year-old Clifford Davis Elementary child impaled Monday on top of a swimming pool fence he and others had climbed, and a 20-year-old college student electrocuted Sunday on a power line while roof jumping in Waxahachie.

I don’t have to look. And I refuse to. I can imagine the condemnations and recriminations for these kids pouring in from social media.

Count me out. I’m sure as heck not going to sit in judgment of reckless youth — not when I survived it myself with no more wisdom than my brothers and I had, and not when most of us can regale our friends with tales of adolescent buffoonery. That backyard trampoline my brother and his friends biked to another neighborhood to pounce on? Might it not have been their undoing, but for a slip or a moment’s inattention? Luck? Fate? Who knows?

But a beautiful young boy like Jean Pierre Mwenge should never die from exuberance or juvenile folly. This cataclysmic moment of his short life and mournful death must be seized upon. It is a sadly opportune moment to talk with our kids about what’s prudent and what isn’t.

I can only hope they’ll listen better than I would’ve — because it’s not enough to get by on good fortune in the midst of bad decisions. And the dangers out there seem so much more numerous and nearby today than when I grew up.

All the more reason to talk.

It’s a good idea, for instance, if a drug has no warning label or childproof cap, and it has to be purchased on the sly, not to take it. CBS’ “60 Minutes” recently reported on how fentanyl — said to be 50 times more powerful than heroin — can be bought online and delivered in the mail.

Mom, if only you were alive today. Kids nowadays don’t even have to leave the house to find a world of peril.

But how to explain to a child the difference between hijinks and high danger, the line between frisky and risky? And how to make invulnerable youths understand their vulnerability?

The truth is, danger is a little like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of obscenity: sometimes hard to define, but “I know it when I see it.”

If there’s a warning sign — either in front of you, or just somewhere in the recesses of your mind — turn back.

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The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.