Recently I wrote a blog post in which I extolled the virtues of lollipops as an emergency prop for kids while traveling. Lollipops have served me well over the years. I bust them out when the screaming reaches fever pitch, when the pacifier and the toys and the screens and everything else has failed, and they work.
Unfortunately, I made the tactical error of sharing this information in an online moms group, and was quickly but firmly schooled by a flight attendant who informed me that lollipops are incredibly dangerous. In fact, she had been witness to a lollipop-stick related fatality in a young child on a flight.
I spent days ruminating over this fact. OH MY GOD, I thought. WHAT HAVE I DONE?! I felt as though I had been recommending that other mothers give their kids crack cocaine and Uzis to play with, just to keep them quiet. I was simultaneously embarrassed and horrified, with an additional layer of mom guilt: it’s a miracle that my children are even alive, considering the number of times I have put them in a moving vehicle with a lollipop in their mouths.
I was also pretty surprised. I knew that a lollipop was a choking risk, if the top came off; but so is pretty much everything else, and a parent of a child under three always ought to be monitoring their kiddo. But it had never occurred to me that the stick would be the danger.
I did extensive internet research. You will be pleased to know that while I do not doubt this woman’s story, I could not find any data on lollipop-stick related fatalities, suggesting they are not common. The flight attendant’s point was that a stick can be dangerous in the hands of a child due to the possibility of sudden turbulence on a plane. Point taken; I would say the same could be true then of a pen, pencil, marker, or the seatbelt my kid keeps trying to poke in his eye.
In fact, it turns out that pretty much everything can kill your kids. We don’t want to think about this, of course. We are so terrified from the moment they hand us those helpless bundles that we (helped along by the media, modern medicine, and everyone else) do our darnedest to convince ourselves that if we do everything right, our kids will be protected.
Buy the right carseat, install it correctly, feed them the healthiest food, don’t expose them to sickness, wash their hands all the time, use hand sanitizer, don’t let them eat off the floor… I’m not going to even get into the argument over whether or not you should be allowed to simply hold your baby on your lap on an airplane. (Which I totally did, of course; feel free to send me hate mail).
When I was in graduate school, I went to a lecture on decreasing injuries on children. I should mention that I am actually very concerned about health and safety; I have a masters degree in public health, actually. Public health is invested in decreasing morbidity and mortality, or sickness, injuries and death. The leading cause of death in children is injuries, and has been for a long time, so this woman had written an entire paper on how to decrease playground injuries. This was years ago, so the details are foggy, but you can guess what the take home was: get rid of all that damn playground equipment.
I didn’t even have kids at the time, and I remember walking out and shaking my head. She wasn’t just suggesting simpler ways of making equipment safer; she was suggesting getting rid of the most dangerous categories (swings are terrible, we all know that, right?) and basically covering the kids in bubble wrap. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I’m confident that helmets and kneepads were mentioned.
Now that I’m a parent myself, this bothers me even more. Meanwhile, I’m reading articles in which occupational therapists note how alarming it is that our kids have poor motor skills compared to previous generations, and they are specifically putting kids on swings in therapy! Furthermore, more and more research is showing that children need to be exposed to germs in their first year of life for adequate immune system development.
On top of that, pretty much every mother I know has an anxiety disorder, including me. I think just the title of ‘mother’ makes you a little anxious — being responsible for another life, that’s kind of a lot. But I suspect the severe anxiety comes from a sense that we ought to be able to control all this: we should be able to prevent bad things from happening to our children, and form them into the adults we want them to be, and make them behave well in public, too. However, if we could all just agree that shit happens, I think maybe we could take a collective breath. If we convince ourselves and each other that accidents and illness are totally preventable, as our culture essentially does, then when something happens, someone gets blamed. Guess who that someone usually is?
It infuriates me to no end when people try to play CDC when they get a cold (dear husband, I”m looking at you). Who got you sick? You’ll never know. The incubation period for most illnesses is a span of multiple days. It could have been me coughing in your face. Or it could have been the cashier at the grocery store. We’ll never know. Stop blaming.
It’s not that I don’t believe we should do what we can to prevent illness and injury; that’s my day job, after all. I am a strong advocate of hand-washing, vaccinations, carseats and all evidence-based methods of protecting our kids. I just know that all those measures sometimes fail.
Our children will get injured at some point; that’s part of life. Let’s hope and pray they don’t get hurt too badly. In the meantime, love your kids. Do your best (and let me do my best). Let them live. Let them fall. Let them experience pain. Let them get back up again. Let them solve their own problems. If they fall off the playground, take them to urgent care. They have to take risks. Life is risky. It is only by going through all this that they will learn the coping skills necessary to deal with all everything the rest of life will throw at them.
After breathing through several days of anxiety, I feel okay about my lollipops again. I know my kids, and I know how I monitor them, and at the end of the day, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.
Suzi Iverson parents three little boys full-time and writes, travels and practices medicine part-time. You can read more about those damn lollipops on her website Travel With Monsters (www.travelwithmonsters.com), or follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/travelwithmonsters/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/travel.with.monsters) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/MonstersTravel).