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It did not make the headlines but word has just arrived of a Long Island couple with a 10-year-old named Peter whose principal subject of conversation this summer has been the American League pennant race. They were pleased and even sentimentally touched the other day when he began to ask questions about something else, in fact, about his parents' first meeting, their courtship, engagement and so on. He took the answers in relaxed fashion until he learned that mummy and daddy got married in 1941.
"Why, that's wonderful!" exclaimed Peter.
"Why, particularly, Peter?"
"Do you realize," Peter said, stressing every word, "that 1941 was the very year Ted Williams hit .406?"
A CODDLED U.S.A.?
The statistical insult implicit in the Kraus-Prudden report on physical fitness (see page 30) used to start fist fights. It calls us a nation of mollycoddles. And it may be significant that mollycoddle is an old-fashioned word, that modern slang has no term for the slack-muscled, pampered youngster connoted by these figures. Is he now too commonplace to be singled out for ridicule?
Perhaps the statistics distort the situation, for with other figures one may prove that Americans are among the world's healthiest peoples because we live so long. But longevity statistics, taken by themselves, distort the situation, too. That we live longer is due largely to preventive medicine's victory over most childhood diseases, to Schick tests and antibiotics, to sewage disposal and milk control, none of which ever put an inch on a biceps.
But after a child has been vaccinated, inoculated and trained to accept chlorinated tap water as a normal beverage, little is done to encourage the muscular development which is his birthright and in cruder times resulted from doing what came naturally. The playpen and a plastic toy keep him sanitarily quiescent. The puny trees of most city and suburban backyards are seldom fit for him to climb. Their stand-ins, the pipe-rack "jungle bars" of the playground, are neither challenging nor especially useful to his muscular growth. The school bus gives him portal-to-portal service, making it unnecessary for him even to run hard in order not to be late for school. If he trips in the playground he skins his knees on brick or concrete, a simple deterrent to hard play. And if he isn't good enough to make a school team he is not likely to play hard at anything.
Europeans have whipped us in the physical fitness tests partly because they tolerate exercise for its own sake—gymnastics and physical jerks—partly because their best-loved game, soccer, can be played by the very young as well as by the fully developed. It is not all done with black bread and shanks' mare.