February 26, 2015

Opting Out . . . .

My mother is the de facto godmother to a young woman, the daughter of a good friend. By chance, Rachel is the same age as my boys, so I heard the travails of kindergarten etc, at exactly the same time I was navigating the same waters with Hart and Jeff.

Mom did not often agree with her friend's child-rearing choices. I got an earful about Rachel's eating habits, school work, discipline (lack, thereof) on a regular basis. I listened patiently for many years, My only response was that I didn't care for what has been now termed "helicopter-parenting" and I didn't know either Rachel or her mother, so the whole saga seemed rather abstract.

Then suddenly, I had enough. During the three kids' Bar/Bat Mitvah year, Mom happened to mention that she would be attending Rachel's Bat Mitzvah on a coming Wednesday. Wednesday? Wednesday, whoever heard of that?

Well, Mom explained, her friend didn't want to incur the cost of feeding the whole congregation on a Saturday morning, so the Bat Mitzvah was scheduled for a Wednesday.

I was inexplicably angry about this news. I couldn't explain why, only to tell my mother that I had had enough Rachel updates, and that I wished to hear no more.

When I thought about it, I realized why I was offended. To be a member of any community, a church, a synagogue, a book club, a soccer team, is a social contract. It is a quid pro quo understanding. You attend any fellow member's Bar Mitzvah celebration, enjoy, eat as much as you like, then when it is your kid's turn . . . .  

This is kind of opting out seems to me to be tantamount to social anarchy. We humans are social animals. We developed  rituals, etiquette and mores in order to live peaceably together. When someone opts out, it feels like a personal affront.

Wealthy, educated people who decline to vaccinate their children incur the same wrath from me, and for exactly the same reason. It is unhealthy, unsafe and subversive!

If stopping at red lights is a convention we all observe for safety, why isn't vaccination? It is inconceivable that anyone would say "since everyone else stops, it is safe for me to drive through the light" (assuming no one is coming the other way).

The unspoken social contract, the "herd immunity," for near-universal vaccination has been just enough to accommodate a tiny number medically-fragile children and Christian Scientists who are not vaccinated. 

Maybe this vaccination issue is just a momentary blip and abstaining from vaccinating children a momentary fad. I hope so. 


  • Rachel turned out fine, despite her mother's choices.
  • My children were vaccinated in Russia and are current on all vaccinations.
  • I had measles at age six, before the MMR vaccine. I would not wish it on anyone at any age.