When your kid eats the environment


A friend of mine lives in Brooklyn and recently encountered an interesting dilemma there at the playground where he takes his toddler son. Seems a teacher in the adjacent school was bringing the class chicken out to scratch around under a tree near where kids play. Some parents thought this was cool–a chance for youngsters to interact with an animal that’s pretty rare in NYC–while others worried about disease.

My friend asked my opinion about this situation, then published this column in which he was kind enough to quote me (alongside bestselling author Susan Orlean! It’s all downhill from here).

It’s true that, as I told my friend, I wouldn’t let my daughter crawl around with our chickens. Nor would I, say, allow her to eat lead paint chips. But I’m realizing, as she becomes more mobile, that I’ve got to have some trust in our environment and let her experience things as babies do–i.e., often with their mouths.

This plays out in interesting, sometimes ironic ways. When we’re outside on the grass, I find myself taking grass clippings away from her and distracting her with a plastic toy. I try to relax about her chewing on a wallet, but draw the line when she tries to lick my friend’s shoe. All the while, the threats are invisible and probably often imaginary.

What’s funny is that I know there’s a lot of toxic pollution in the world, and definitely hope to limit my daughter’s intake of it when I can, but what I spend most of my day trying to keep out of her mouth is probably just dirt.

Parents, how have you handled this sort of thing? And is anyone keeping both chickens and toddlers in a small city yard?