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Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy
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Of Applebee's and America

Comment

As you probably have heard and then heard some more, a toddler at a Michigan Applebee's was accidentally served alcohol instead of apple juice recently.

Naturally, the parents have sued. Naturally, Applebee's has gone through paroxysms of self-flagellation. And naturally, at least one story in the media (OK, USA Today) began: "The restaurant industry faces a sobering image mess: how to convince consumers it will stop accidentally serving alcohol drinks to toddlers."

As if restaurants have been serving free mai tais right and left to anyone wearing a bib.

As appalling as the incident was — the Applebee's mom said she knew something weird was going on when he started saying "Hi!" to the walls — the bottom line is: The child was unharmed, and this was one odd event. In fact, it was an incident so modest and local it is bizarre that it made the news (as did a similar incident in March at an Olive Garden). It's not as if this was a terrorist attack.

Yet to Applebee's, it was just as unhinging. The restaurant chain will retrain all its employees, it promised, and from now on, it will use only single-serve juice drinks.

So now every kiddie drink has to be individually packed? This is ridiculous, not only for ecological reasons but also for common-sense reasons. If a child gets hot soup spilled on him at Applebee's — God forbid — should Applebee's stop serving soup? Or only serve cold (but not TOO cold) gazpacho from now on? Should it ask patrons ordering soup to sign some sort of waiver or to don heat-proof aprons, just in case?

What the alcohol incident and official reaction represent is the fact that though sometimes things go wrong, we cannot accept this anymore. We individuals have been trained to overreact, as has corporate America.

We treat minor, even one-in-a-million, problems as major affronts. And then we try to "fix" them, even if there's very little, if anything, to fix. It's almost as if we have come to believe that if we just plug every pinhole in the universe, we all will be absolutely safe and sound forevermore — so we keep hunting for pinholes.

This is the same mentality that says we must issue a recall for any product that anyone ever has hurt himself on, even if the product is basically very safe. A couple of months ago, I read about the recall of a table that had a screw protruding from the bottom of the tabletop. A dog had gotten its hair caught in it.

Sad, yes. But worthy of a recall? Can we PLEASE accept that there is some risk in the universe? Or at least some risk under a cheaply made table?

So far, I have seen no proof that we are that mature. We spend a lot of time and money and political airtime saying that things CAN be perfect and looking for someone to blame when — well, goll-ly — there isn't anyone except the luck of the draw.

NEWS FLASH: Life is not perfect. Sometimes things go wrong. When they're not too terrible, could we please stop acting as if they are? And when they aren't anyone's fault, could we please stop pointing fingers and filing lawsuits? And while we're at it, after something goes wrong SOMEWHERE in the universe, could the media please stop gravely reminding us: "This could happen to you. Pay more attention!"

We already ARE paying attention to these bizarre blips. Way too much.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (lskenazy@yahoo.com) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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