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The Importance of Safety

Dear Loch,

Being a parent is a major lesson in staying calm. One I often fail. Question after question after question…I’m pretty good at. Whining, whining, whining…I’ve been known to crack.  But for me, I struggle the most to keep calm about your safety. Once you have a child you’re constantly preoccupied with their well being. Their health. Their milestones. Their welfare. Sure we all want you to be gorgeous geniuses in happy relationships with great jobs and fulfilling lives, but mostly we want you to be safe. To be healthy. To be secure. And, unfortunately, the world you live in is filled with things working against our goal.

From the moment we bring you home from the hospital we are doing things to protect you. We baby proof our houses within an inch of their lives. For the one child that drowned in the toilet, we have a million parents with toilet guards that make it nearly impossible to use their own facilities. We put you in 5 point harness carseats and dress you like American Gladiators to ride your bike. We lather you in sunscreen and scour the internet with every apparent illness or behavior (Or at least I do. Getting sick turned me into a raging hypochondriac). It’s a tough gig, and for every hurdle you clear – he’s over 5, we’ve passed the autism window – there’s another one ready to rear it’s ugly head – sexual predators, driving, drugs… There’s always something that can happen to you, and as parents, it’s our job to try and shield you from as much as possible. But we can’t do it without your cooperation. Really, we’re like Jerry McGuire – a character in a popular 90’s movie by the same name I suggest you see – We need you to “help us, help you.”

Listen to what we say. We aren’t trying to be pains in your a^*. We are literally trying to get you to adulthood with all your limbs and a fully functioning brain. If we suggest you do something or avoid something else, know that we say it in hopes of saving you some pain or anxiety. The fact is, we’ve lived longer and seen more. In this case, we truly know better. Defer to us.

One of the first things I taught you in terms of safety was to put your hand out first so a dog can smell you. Even as a really tiny guy you would stick out your chubby, little mitt for a dog to sniff. At the time you were still too nervous to pet them, but you liked the connection. As you get older though, this is a good lesson not just for animals but life in general. Be innately cautious when dealing with things that can potentially hurt you. Go in slowly and let the situation unfold organically. Assess the risk and proceed as you deem appropriate. Check if there’s rocks under the water. Sometimes, even when you do the right thing, you still get bitten. But it’ll happen a lot less. It’s also a good rule of thumb to ask the owner if you can pat the dog, or use the equipment, or swim in the pool… I learned that lesson the hard way when a ridiculous doggie on a pillow attached itself to my lip when I was 8. As far as I’m concerned if you brought your dog to a workplace or social situation it should be friendly. Don’t bring your bit*^y, bitting, yip of a dog to a place to launch itself at children’s faces. That dog stays home. But I should have asked.

One thing you also learned early was the danger of taking pills that aren’t for you. I take a litany of medications daily. They’re prevalent in our house. I keep all my PH drugs in a box on my dresser, but it’s not locked, and every night there are 2 cups filled with pills beside my bed for 11pm and 7am. I also take pills at 3pm when we are usually together. I’ve borrowed your sippy cup more times than I can count to wash them down. You can’t help but see them. They are an ever present part of your life. So as early as I could I taught you that you don’t take pills.

Me: Do you take pills Lochie?

You: No.

Me: What happens if you see a pill on the ground?

You: I don’t touch it and tell a grown up.

Me: What if someone tries to give you a pill?

You: I don’t take pills.

Now, obviously as you get older you will take pills for pain or illness but I think the lesson stands. You don’t take pills that aren’t for you. You don’t steal your Dad’s Adderall, you don’t take your friend’s mom’s valium. You don’t mess around with perscription drugs and you don’t take recreational drugs made in a lab. Those things will eff you up. If you experiment with drugs at all, please just limit it to things that grow out of the ground. Once something has been messed with scientifically you don’t know what you’re getting. Nothing in your life was made to be snorted or injected. Nothing good comes from that s#^@. No high is worth what you could possibly lose.

We have guns in our house. Not real guns but toy guns. For big boys and little ones. Your Dad is an avid competitive paintballer and his gun looks like a semi automatic weapon. You’ve seen him clean it numerous times and he’s shown you all the components and ammunition so you really understand what it is. You have Star Wars laser guns and two very excellent marshmallow guns. I thought, not having grown up with guns at all, that I would be very anti-gun in our house but to be honest, it’s hard to keep a boy away from a weapon. If I don’t give it to you you’re just using your fingers, and with your Dad’s military background, boy scout sharpshooting and weekend hobby, there is no way I can keep guns out of your life. I just want you to be responsible. We’ve discussed that there is a difference between what we have and a real gun, and what to do if someone ever shows you a real one. You are not to touch it. You are to get away as quickly as possible and tell a grown up. I reiterate this lesson a lot. Too many kids have been killed accidentally looking at their father’s gun or showing off for their friends. I want you to know that a real gun is not a toy but a weapon designed to kill. They need to be treated with the utmost respect.

This is the actual target. I took a picture because I was proud. Freaked out, but proud.

As a side note on guns, I’d never even held one till this year. Dad took me to a gun range one night so I could get a feel for one. We chose a revolver and went into the range. First of all, it’s so bloody loud I don’t know how people do it without flinching. It’s also really scary to be in a place where everyone has a loaded gun. Even blanks can kill you. I kept picturing the guy with the glock shooting next to us just turning around and opening fire. It made me unbelievably nervous. I ended up shooting a full round of bullets. My very first shot ever was like a joke. Dead center of the target. Perfection. Every other bullet wizzed by his head or went through his arm. But as my friend said, “It’s really the first shot that counts.” And my first shot was awesome. After, Dad asked me if I wanted to try a semi-automatic hand gun but I declined. I’d had enough. I got the hell out of there and watched through the glass as Dad and his friend decimated a target. He’s a good shot your Dad. After, we had a conversation I never thought I’d have. We debated the merits of having a gun at home. We decided that it’d be pointless in a home invasion as we’d have the gun and the ammo in separate locked boxes and it’d be totally impractical. We really would just want one for when the zombies came and we weren’t quite ready to sign up for that. We got an alarm system instead.

I guess when I really think about it, other than you getting sick, the thing I worry about most isn’t you, but others. How other people and their choices will effect you. Right now, those other people are strangers but when you’re older it’ll more likely be peer pressure and poor decision making. Strangers are a real issue for parents. We have a Berenstain Bears book called Learn About Strangers. In the book Mama Bear shows Sister Bear, using a barrel of apples, that most people are essentially good but it’s the one bad apple that you have to be careful of. She shows sister a bumpy, misshapen apple and Sister says that must be the bad one because it looks funny. When they cut it open though, it’s a perfectly good apple. The bad one turns out to be one that looks totally pristine. The book goes on to illustrate that you can’t judge a person based on how they look and, though we don’t want our children to be afraid of everyone they don’t know, we want them to be cautious so they have a better chance of staying safe. Not talking to strangers is a good rule of thumb – especially if you’re alone – but if you are with a grown up you trust,  look to them for guidance. Granny was recently bemoaning the state of the world that she can’t even say hi to a child in the grocery store anymore. They’re so drilled with stranger danger that they’re immobilized by fear. People talk to you all the time Loch and I encourage you to respond. Have a conversation. Politely answer their questions. Just do it when you’re with a grownup who can assess the situation. Most people just want to talk to little kids because they’re so cute. It seems a shame that children no longer feel safe to do that.

Get into the habit of saying “I have to ask my Mom/Dad/Sitter.” The lady at the Dry Cleaners loves you and wants to give you gifts. I know and trust her, so you can have them. But if you get into the habit of asking, you won’t find yourself in the position where you take things or go with strangers. If your answer to any offer is always, “I have to ask”, you’ll discourage most of those kind of potentially dangerous situations. If there’s no one there to ask, then the answer is always NO. “No. I can’t come see your dog in the car. No. I can’t take that candy. No. I can’t go to your house. No. I don’t want to be your special friend.” Our co-op members recently heard a speaker on predators. According to the speaker, the number one fear of Predators is getting caught, and the children that are taught to ask their caregivers before doing anything, the ones that are well educated on their body parts, that take ownership of themselves, the ones that aren’t afraid to tell their parents anything, are the least appealing victims. We’ve taught you, much to my horror with society, that you are the “boss of your body”. That no one should touch you but you. Sometimes doctors and parents have to help you but you’re in charge and you say what you’re comfortable with. Even as you age you still have to be on the lookout for unsavory characters looking for an adorable boy like you.

Stay by your grown up. If you get lost, go to a mother with kids or the sales person at the cash register. Apparently security guards are no longer safe. Too many predators dress up like them to lull children into a false sense of security. And you wonder why we worry. Mother’s with children and sales people are the most secure choice. Sad but true. Finally, I’ve taught you that if, God forbid, someone picks you up or tries to take you anywhere you scream at the top of your lungs “I don’t know you! I don’t know you!” over and over again. You can also say, “Help! Police!” All too often we see parents picking up screaming, thrashing kids, feel sorry for the parents and ignore the situation. If something is happening you want people to KNOW it’s happening. Don’t let them tune you out.

When I was young they taught us if a man attacked us to scream “Fire!” instead of “Help!” or “Rape!”, because people want to see a fire but they don’t want to get involved in an attack. I also learned that if someone tries to get you into a car or van using a weapon, FIGHT and RUN, because getting stabbed or shot is better than what will happen if you get in that vehicle. Remember, predators want passive victims. They avoid fighters as being too much trouble. That’s the kind of trouble you want to be.

Sadly, you also have to be careful of people you know. More often than not abusers aren’t strangers. Never do anything you’re not comfortable with. Listen to your gut. If the situation seems funny or wrong. Trust that it is. You’d rather be embarrassed than hurt. In David Fincher’s film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the villian points out that the Hero came willingly into his house knowing something wasn’t right. That his need to be polite overrode his need to be safe and now he would pay for it with his life. I’m all for manners but this is a good lesson. Be rude if you have to be. Your safety is more important than what someone might think of you. Don’t get into a car with a friend that’s been drinking because he’s riding you to do it. Don’t not use protection with the girl you just met because she says “it’s ok.” Don’t help that man you don’t know carry his TV into his house. I don’t care how big or strong you get, everyone is vulnerable and you have to be your own best judge.

Finally, as I always remind you, you live in the cyber world. Predators are on line en mass. They are there to steal your identity. To steal your stuff. To lure you into hazardous situations. You have to be vigilant. We’ll put parental controls on things but, watching you navigate and iPad right now, I think you’ll have access to whatever you want no matter what we do. Knowing that, I say, BE CAREFUL. These people are dangerous. Stay within the designated lines. They are set up to protect you. Your teenage self wants to see porn, we can work that out. Just don’t send your information or picture to some stranger on Facebook or have someone from Craigslist come get Gears of War 8 when we’re not home. And tell us immediately if you receive anything that seems inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable. Don’t keep secrets from us. We are here to look after you. Let us. We aren’t trying to ruin your fun, just protect you from ruining your life.

Your father is nervous that my concern for your safety will scare the adventure out of you. He wants me to ensure you understand that everything above is there as a precaution. But I’m the mom, and it’s my job to give you all the facts so you can protect yourself. Your dad can work on the daring. He’ll run headlong off the dock with you and I’ll check the temperature of the water. We’re a good combination that way. For now I’ll just say…

Don’t play with fire. Always note the Emergency Exits. Have an Earthquake kit at home and in your car. Take a first aid course. Don’t go to sleep smoking or with a laptop on your bed. Charge your cell phone. Carry a spare tire. Be alert when you drive. And if you’re ever robbed, give up everything without question. Don’t give them any reason to hurt you. Stuff is replaceable. You aren’t.

Be smart. Use your head. And if your head’s a bit fuzzy, call your parents. We’ll come get you. No questions asked.

I love you. Take care.

xo Mom

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amy #

    I just started following your blog, and in each posting I’ve read, I am so impressed by how thorough you are while still keeping the tone interesting, personal, and appropriately humorous. Your writing is like sitting with a true friend and talking about real stuff that matters. And then, it feels like there is a bear hug with “Good talk” whispered in each other’s ear.

    January 30, 2012
    • That’s a lovely compliment, and I thoroughly appreciate it as that’s exactly the tone I’m going for. Thank you Amy. xo leigh

      January 30, 2012
  2. So true, and I am constantly impressed by how much Loch has learned from you guys in his life. I struggle with this one a lot because in my professional life, parental fear is one of the main barriers to kids getting adequate physical activity and is consequently a contributer to the obesity crisis in North America. I think your post is right on because it is about equipping our kids with the ability to handle whatever situation they are presented with rather than bubble wrapping them. The more we protect without the education, the more harm we are doing because then they have no idea how to assess risk, much less handle it. This discussion comes up a lot because I live in a rural and “safe” community compared to the “dangerous” downtown city I grew up in. But growing up in Toronto and taking the subway alone at age 10 allowed us to assess risk, and walk away from situations that made us uncomfortable. We also took self defence classes 🙂 And I totally remember the lesson about yelling “fire” vs. yelling “rape”. The mom who dropped her kid off in NYC and let him find his way home on the subway didn’t just choose to do it that day, they worked up to it. But man, easier said than done to take off that bubble wrap. This is a rant. Really, just waying great post. xoxo meg.

    January 30, 2012
    • Like you don’t want to send your kids outside to play because you’re afraid it’s not safe? So they only get outside when you can go, which isn’t often enough? So your safe kid becomes an overweight kid sitting on the couch in your home? I can totally see that. Yes, un-bubble wrapping your kids is hard. Especially in today’s world. But you speak to a good point about teaching them in stages that allows them to assess risk properly and deal with potentially dangerous situations with a clear and educated mind. Thanks for reading Meg! xo leigh

      January 30, 2012
      • yes, essentially. Parents don’t let their kids “roam” or go to the park by themselves, or play in the dark with the neighbours etc. etc. because of perceived dangers. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of real dangers too but there are a lot of things luring our kids inside (screen time) and if we are scared of letting them outside on their own, they won’t play, and they need to play, unsupervised to learn. Kids just don’t really know how to self initiate play anymore because they are either inside, or hyper organized into structured activities by their parents. Another rant. xo

        January 31, 2012
  3. Great to warn him about the pills. The closest I ever came to death was when I was 3. I thought mom’s pills were candy. I climbed up to the cabinet where they were and managed to get them open, swallowed all of them. Luckily they got me to the hospital and stomach pumped in time. Nice post.

    January 30, 2012
    • Your poor mother must have had a heart attack! I’m so glad you’re ok. Pills do look like candy. Thanks for the compliment! xo leigh

      January 31, 2012
  4. mum #

    Spoken like a fabulous mother! xoxo

    January 30, 2012
  5. Thank you for saying so many of the things that I have thought. I know I’ve said this on your blog before, but it’s so reassuring to know that I’m not the only one.

    January 30, 2012
  6. G R E A T anti-drug education website from the Foundation for a Drug-Free World:

    January 30, 2012
  7. Amen, Sister!!

    January 30, 2012
  8. Laurie Wallace #

    I became truly and deeply religious when my two sons began to drive. I was so frightened that something would happen to them on the road that I could not let them walk out the door. Finally, I had to place their safety in Someone Else’s Hands. I had done everything I could personally do to keep them safe, but finally had to turn to God to get my sons, and myself “through the night”. It helped.

    Wonderful Leigh, just wonderful.

    Laurie Wallace

    January 31, 2012
  9. Madeline Lund #

    I really liked your common sense approach to the various situations. The appropriate amount of fact and alarm without being scary or over the top. A great resource for the rest of us to initiate conversations that will save lives. Thank you for your dedication to the hard things and the wonderful methods you use to address them!

    February 3, 2012
  10. Another great and thorough post ;o). Thanks for shaing with us…

    February 6, 2012
  11. You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the paintings you
    write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

    May 2, 2013
    • Thank you water softener. I really appreciate the support.

      May 3, 2013

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