Risk

Early this week a friend from high school posted this status update on facebook: “Friends who are parents, especially parents of children still in car seats: Would you leave your toddler, strapped into their seat while you ran into the post office? Car is turned off and your quick dash is at least 4 minutes long. It’s 55 degrees and you’re in a suburban/city area very close to a major highway. I’m especially interested in (names removed for privacy) thoughts as they live in very similar areas.”

Eventually 40 responses were typed. I’ve read them all and haven’t been able to get the thread out of my mind. In fact, my thoughts are so scattered that this is my third go-round in trying to write a post about it. The responses were given with an assumption of some sort of privacy, so I’m not going to name or quote anyone.

Two parents copped to doing it. Most everyone else said no. What surprised me was the number of people who cited their parental love or the preciousness of their children as motivation to not leave them for several minutes. The implication was those who made the choice to run into the store loved their kids less, were inferior parents, were exposing their child to a catastrophic risk.

A staggering 258,000 children were kidnapped in a single year according to an oft cited report issued in 2002. The vast majority of those children, 200,000 of them, were abducted by family members. 58,000 were taken by people they knew or strangers, but according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children non family member abductions were least common. Of the 258,000 kidnappings in the report 115 were “stereotypical” kidnappings, which means “the child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently“.

I am not trying to make light of kidnapping. As a parent the idea that someone would take my child from me is my absolute worst nightmare. It does happen, it is real. In 2002, the year the kidnapping report was released, there were 72.9 million children in the United States. Less than 115 of them were killed by a kidnapper.

In 2010 approximately 171,000 kids were injured in car accidents and more than 1,200 were killed.

Yet, I don’t break out in a sweat when I’m strapping my kids into the car seat.

Fear distorts risk.

Do you guys know about the blog Red Wine and Applesauce? The author is a mother and a journalist who specializes in vaccines, parenting, and prenatal and child health. Last week she wrote a post about the flu vaccine in pregnant women. According to the latest peer reviewed scientific studies health benefits for mother and child were found when the mother was vaccinated against the flu. She also included an anecdotal account of a friend who lost one of the twins she was carrying after contracting the flu. I had never commented on her blog before, but the inclusion of an anecdote bothered me enough to voice my opinion.

I am pro vaccine. Even after C experienced an adverse reaction to the chickenpox vaccine that eventually snowballed with other illnesses to land him in the hospital I am pro vaccine. Based on the results of varied research studies conducted within the academy and published in peer reviewed journals I believe the risk of disease is greater than the risk of the vaccine itself. I believe in herd immunity. I believe that it is my responsibility as a member of this society to vaccinate myself and my children in order to help protect the vulnerable who are unable to be vaccinated due to health or age.

The anti vaccine movement often relies on anecdotal evidence to prey upon the fear of parents. The “studies” produced by the movement are not published in peer reviewed journals, which require adherence to scientific method and ethical data collection and use. It bothered me that a writer that I respect would also use anecdotal evidence to bolster her point.

I’ve been to the anti vaccine sites. Not going to link to them here, but you could find them with a simple google search. I’ve read the heartbreaking stories of families affected by adverse reactions to vaccines. Those reactions can’t always be conclusively linked to vaccines, but sometimes they can. They are not to be dismissed. They are tragedies and my heart aches for the families. Still, I vaccinate my children. Because the risk of disease is higher than the risk of injury. Because although I fall prey to fear on a regular basis in this case the science and statistics speak louder than the anecdotes.

Back to the kid left in the car. Would I do it? No. But I’m sort of envious of the person who did do it. I honestly don’t think it is a big deal. My parents did it with us as kids. My Mom tells a story about running into the dry cleaners with a baby me in the car in which I stole her fries from the bag of fast food and chowed down.

I wouldn’t do it mostly because I know you can get in trouble for doing it. And do you know what I do fear disproportionately? Authority.

***Kidnapping, vaccines, issues that get us hot under the collar as parents…if you disagree with me I do welcome your comments, if you agree with me I welcome your comments. I am going to ask if anyone decides to comment that that we all keep it respectful. It doesn’t do a lick of good to name call or act superior. Whether you agree with me or not.

overalls

There should be a law that two year olds are required to wear overalls.

new slippers

Amazing alpaca slippers from Uncle A and Aunt B! Perfect for Syracuse winters.

The Talk

Today I wanted to write about anxiety and mental illness and a party and agoraphobia. More accurately that is what I planned to write about yesterday when Z and I figured out our schedule for Sunday to include some writing time for me.

Right before we went to bed we saw the jury had come back and delivered a not guilty verdict. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about anxiety and mental illness and a party and agoraphobia. But today I can’t.

Today the boys played in the backyard while Z worked on a climbing structure he is building for them. They ran around, they used toy hammers and chisels and mallets and screwdrivers. They hit each other, pulled hair, kicked. Time outs happened. I watched them play, yelled at them when they started in on each other, gave out kisses when T fell onto a stool. My mind was half with them and half thinking about Travon Martin and his parents.

My boys. My beautiful boys with their blond hair and their blue eyes. My boys who are too young to understand that terrible things happen in this world. We are trying to figure out how to explain it to T. He is still obsessed with guns and weapons. He isn’t allowed to play guns at home, he isn’t allowed to have toy guns. It’s all abstract to him at this point. You shoot at the bad guys. Case closed.

The other day I was making dinner while T sat on the sofa and watched Disney Jr. The movie Pocahontas happened to be on. I hadn’t seen it since it first came out. I walked into the room and looked at the screen. A young man was pointing a gun at John Smith and Pocahontas’s brother as they fought with a knife. Suddenly I remembered that the brother was going to get shot. T was riveted. I had the time to turn the TV off, but I didn’t. I stood there and watched it with him. When Pocahontas turned to the kid who shot and cried, “You killed him!” I faced T. “Look at that. Look. That gun killed that man. That is why Daddy and I hate guns. They kill people. The kill good people. They kill bad people. They kill by mistake. They kill on purpose. They are horrible and unsafe and we do not think it is cool or funny when you pretend to have them. Police have guns to protect us, but guns are dangerous. They can kill.”

A little heavy for an almost 4 year old, yes. But T has been fascinated by death for months, it has been a frequent topic of conversation.

So we are trying to let him know what we feel about guns. It is going to be a long road. Obviously he didn’t get what I was trying to explain, but over time he will. And many people will disagree with our approach. That’s fine. We are all allowed to have different views. We are going to teach our kids that in our family we do not believe in owning guns. We don’t think they make us safer. And frankly, we don’t think other people should have guns either.

We are going to have to have a lot of difficult conversations as the boys get older. But we don’t have to have The Talk. Our boys will never be told that they can’t run in public for fear of raising suspicion of the police. Or that they can’t wear a hoodie without being targeted as a criminal. Our boys will think of the police as people who will help them, not as ones who will accuse them of crimes they didn’t commit.

Our boys are different than black boys or brown boys. They are going to get different opportunities. They are going to be treated better-I was going to type for their whole lives, but you know what? I hope and pray (fake pray? agnostic pray?) that it won’t continue for their whole lives. I hope equality happens in their lifetimes.

Today I’m numb and sickened and horrified by the world we live in. I will never understand what it is like for Travon Martin’s parents. And I’m not even grateful for the privilege that accompanies the color of my boy’s skin. It is dirty privilege. It is wrong.

These words don’t come from some ivory tower of race relation perfection. I’ve done and felt plenty that I’m ashamed of in my 36 years. I need to do better. Z needs to do better. You need to do better. We all do.

family cl

I wish we lived in a country where all families were treated with the respect that our family receives.

Totally Unsolicited and Probably Annoying Advice

My amazing sister-in-law gave birth this week. The day and evening we knew she was laboring we thought about her non-stop. As the night crept on we just wanted to hear the birth had happened so she could be out of pain. Z turned to me at one point, “Aren’t you happy you NEVER HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN?” Um, as much as pictures of newborns make my ovaries ache the answer is yes. Although I asked him to remind me how much I didn’t want to do it again after I held the baby. I know my resolve will crumble in that moment. Damn hormones.

So to E and K, two women who I love and respect and who I’m grateful are my family here is what I want to say to you as you embark on this insane and amazing and insane and life changing and INSANE event:

First of all, please, as with all advice when it comes to child rearing, take it or leave it. Who the hell am I? I’ve got a diagnosed mental illness and I regularly ask the internet for advice on how to raise my kids. I’m not rocking it over here. The other thing is this advice isn’t just for you. It’s for me as well. It’s what I would do if I were a better Mom and better human. It’s advice for all of us.

And I don’t mean to seem all doom and gloom. I’m writing about the hard parts because the easy parts take care of themselves. The easy parts are also the most-of-the-time-parts. The amount of love and joy G will add to your life, man, just thinking about it makes me tear up. The good stuff is why we do this parenthood business, it is truly sublime and I wouldn’t give it up if I could sleep in late a million times. Ok, maybe a million. But not a thousand for sure.

So the hard stuff. Well, there are going to be days when you wonder what the fuck you were thinking when you wanted kids. There are going to be hard times when you can’t stand her, or yourselves, or each other. And I’m a hypocrite for giving you this advice because I don’t to it myself. But. You need to forgive. Forgive yourselves, forgive each other, and forgive G.

Accept that the three of you are going to fuck up regularly. It makes dusting yourself off and trying again a tiny bit easier. I remember seeing the advice left by someone on one of your FB pages to just make sensible choices when it comes to this parenting thing and you’ll be ok. Fantastic advice. And you guys will have no problem doing it 95% of the time. Don’t beat yourself up for the other 5%. I know you both are super duper over achievers. You are allowed to get frustrated when parenting gets hard. You are allowed to want to give up and totally lose your shit every once in a while. You are allowed to fail. You can’t control a lot of what happens now (hello G, week and a half late, huh?), which sucks balls. But the sooner you accept it (by the way, I still haven’t after three and a half years) the happier you will all be.

You guys know that parenting these days is done under a microscope. Did you see the adorable video going around the interwebs of the baby waking up and dancing to Gangnam Style? A couple of days later did you see the meme going around pointing out that the kids were strapped into their car seats incorrectly? So ok, they totally were. But heaven fucking forbid someone puts something adorable on the internet without someone else telling them they are doing it wrong. Z has a friend who is struggling to nurse her 5 month old. The pediatrician suggested starting rice cereal to supplement and she shared the info with a friend who isn’t a parent yet. The friend sent her an email reminding her that the WTO suggests exclusively nursing until 6 months. Because that is what someone who feels shitty enough about low milk supply needs to hear. I know you two will be able to block out most of that terrible noise. But the constant second guessing takes a toll without you realizing that is what’s going on. You start to give yourself a hard time.

Is it shitty that I’m being heavy? E and K, maybe you guys should just enjoy G for a while and read this in a few weeks. Totally enjoy the postnatal bliss that is filling your house. I guess all I’m trying to say is don’t be too hard on yourselves. You know what? You guys probably don’t need this post at all. You are awesome ladies and I bet you have it covered. It’s, um, a pretty good reminder for me, though.

Ok, ok, one last piece of advice. My mom had this brilliant idea when T was new and it has saved me a ton of time. Go buy a couple of lingerie bags for the laundry (I didn’t know what they were-small zip up mesh bags) and use them to collect and launder her socks. So you don’t spend a million years tracking them down and sifting through the wash to find them. I stopped doing it for a while and a sock slipped down over the barrel and made our belt snap. A cool $150 later and I was back to using the lingerie bag every time. Seriously. Do it. Now I’m done. Love you guys. See you in less than two weeks!

We can’t wait to cover you in hugs and kisses G! Photo by Kelsey Leonardsmith.
A new baby in the family is making me nostalgic for my boys as newborns. Sweet T when he was about 10 days old. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith
And C with his lightning bolt birth mark when he was about the same age. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.
Holy shit this is making me want another baby. Which is insane. Clearly I need to go to bed.