Keeping Kids Safe Now vs. Then

Keeping Kids SafeMy friend called me the other day in regards to keeping my kids safe. “Don’t let your kids swim in public swimming pools” was the first thing she said. Now, I would love to say that I didn’t roll my eyes. But this is the same friend who used to call me every Thanksgiving to lecture me about the dangers of eating turkey. So, I took it with a grain of salt – just like I take my Thanksgiving turkey.

She went on to tell me about the latest reason why we should never let our kids leave the house: “molluscum.” Apparently, this is a nasty rash that kids can get from sharing wet towels at the pool. Or playing together. Or making contact with other human beings in any way. Or breathing air. Ok, not really from breathing air, but close enough.

I listened patiently as she described it to me and talked about how we need to keep our kids safe at swimming pools. Apparently her kids’ school had even sent a letter home on the topic of molluscum, particularly as it related to swimming pools. So, of course, I asked how, short of a submarine-like body bubble, were we supposed to protect kids in a body of water. I was under the impression that sunscreen and swimming lessons were the most important safety precautions we needed for our kids, but apparently, we also need to:

1. Make sure they have multiple towels and never, ever share a towel with another child
2. Have anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer ready for frequent use
3. Run them through a shower as soon as they get out of the pool – and definitely before they get into the car.

I listened politely and asked questions, but what I didn’t tell her was that there’s no way that’s happening. Mainly, because:

1. My kids go to the pool whether or not they can find a clean towel and have actually come home in other people’s bathing suits (don’t ask…and please don’t judge).
2. I have to hide behind trees, combat style, and attack my kids with aerosol cans of sunscreen to keep them coated through the day. There’s no way I can add hand sanitizer to my arsenal.
3. Shower? I’m pretty sure my 11-year old only goes to the pool to avoid having to take a shower in the first place.
4. Also, I had a three-year old that used to lick the display cases at shopping centers and once, an elevator door and she’s still with us. So….there’s that.

But, this friend is also a great mom and always has awesome advice. So, I had to start thinking about what it means to keep kids safe these days. There have always been “things” out there. When I was a kid, the occasional note would come home that there was an outbreak of this or that. So, we suffered a round of the chicken pox, then compared our scars when we got back to school.

Now we can’t let our kids walk to the mailbox without SPF 50 coating them from head to toe. We can’t let them look at a skateboard, bike or rollerblades without helmets, pads and a quick call to our insurance company. Trampolines have safety nets – and some homeowner’s policies won’t even allow them then. And yes, this is because accidents have happened – tragic ones that could have been prevented. And yes, it’s because we’ve learned and evolved and grown as a society…right?

As a kid, I used to grab a bottle of lemon juice, some baby oil and a boombox, then climb on the roof of my house to “tan.” I usually got bored and my brother and I would invent increasingly creative ways to climb/jump down. We would then go to the neighborhood park, lay face down (and helmetless) on a skateboard and have our dog pull us down the steepest hill in the history of mankind. She would help us pick up speed and we would only let go of the leash when our speed outmatched hers. We rode bikes like maniacs. We didn’t sit in car seats. We turned our backyard into scenes from The Hunger Games. And still we survived.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a very attentive work-at-home mother. She always had bandages and aloe ready when we came home with busted knees, splinters and the occasional road rash. She stopped us from jumping out of trees that were too high and even halted construction on the tunnel that we decided to build under the back fence. But as my friend was telling me that I shouldn’t let my kids swim in swimming pools, all I could think about was the time we decided to dig our own “swimming pool” in the backyard and only got stopped when my mother found us sitting chest high in the hole we had dug with muddy water up to our waists. We had let the hose run all day long and still couldn’t figure out why our pool would never fill up completely. Soil saturation was not on our list of concerns at the time – nor did we think about worms, germs or who knows what else was in our muddy pit. I probably still have bacteria in my system from that stunt. But all we cared about was having fun.

Of course, these days we have more books, more television and, of course, the internet. All of the world’s dangers – from large to small – are at our fingertips. We start researching the things that can go wrong from the moment of conception. During pregnancy, we don’t drink caffeine, alcohol or unpasteurized juice. We don’t eat deli meats, sushi or runny eggs. We take extra vitamins. When our kids are born, we swaddle. We use devices to prevent rolling over too soon. We have audio and video monitors so we can hear and see their every move. We keep them in car seats until they’re nearly old enough to drive the car themselves. We debate vaccinations. We buy helmets. We buy pads. We put safety locks on our toilets.

And thank goodness we know to do these things. On the one hand, I am grateful. More so than any generation before us, we have the information, education and opportunity to keep our children protected. But Google “dangers of swimming in a public swimming pool.” Go ahead…I dare you. In half a second, I got 8,710,000 results. It’s too much. It makes my head swim – and I would much rather let my kids swim.

There has to be a line somewhere. We owe it to our kids to know the dangers that are out there – in swimming pools and beyond. But we also need to pick our battles. If we are constantly worried about keeping them from danger, we might just forget to let them have fun.

I don’t judge, condemn or even question other parents’ decisions about how they choose to protect their own children. If anything, I applaud their vigilance. And at the end of the day, we have to do what is right for us and our families. But for those of us who take a slightly looser stance on safety measures, I don’t think we deserve judgment either. After all, we probably had molluscum ourselves as kids, but confused it with the sunburn we got from using too much baby oil. Just saying.

I’ll never stop doing what I can to keep my kids safe. My oldest daughter is going to college in the fall and I’m already trying to figure out what sort of surveillance camera I can install in her dorm room. I will still insist that they wear their helmets when biking. I will continue to apply sunscreen, ninja-style, if that’s what it takes. But keep them out of swimming pools? Not a chance. After all, you’re only a kid once…and even molluscum goes away eventually.

 

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