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15 January 2008

Protect Thy Jewels

No, not those jewels, Mister. I mean your kids, your la famalia...

Before any of us leave the house, whether for a hour, a day or a week, we tell each other to "PLEASE BE SAFE". You see, Safety is job one at our house. Lots and lots and lots of things can go wrong and still be fixed ... except for being seriously maimed, or worse. Especially if it is preventable. So we make being safe a big deal. We like coming home to each other.

Where does that policy come from?

Well, I can be anal, fastidious, vehement, passionate about some things. Interestingly, that is not the word that Tonya and Emily use to describe it either. :) Maybe it is the repeated lessons on rescue safety factors, the disturbing images seared into my brain of being exposed to people that did not make safety a priority or perhaps it is the 'hold my beer and watch this' mentality that is seen on my city's streets, TV - or YouTube - every day.

The other, seemingly hypocritical piece of that policy is one of using perspective and being proportionate. There is after all, a problem with being too safe and too fearful also.

Emily tells the story of being afraid of sharks as a much younger child. She was living with her mom at the time near a lake, where she frequently swam. It happened to be the same summer that the media showed shark attack after shark attack on the news. Of course, there were not any more sharks attacks that summer worldwide than any other year, it was just that the news covered more of them. And nothing grabs our rubber-necking viewership like "video of a shark attack at 5p, 6p and 10p!"

So it prompted the first of many, uh, lessons on perspective and disproportional fear. And yes, I know what you're thinking. My early step parenting skills were very much a round peg and a square hole so of course little 5 year old Emily did not quite understand those terms. (Really? You Think, Mike?) She did however come to understand that since there were no sharks in her lake, then there were therefore no sharks available to actually bite her. Aha! She was then able to come up with her own example of being afraid of not hitting your head on a star while jumping on the bed when the stars are so far up in the sky. Smart kiddo. Class dismissed.

But I digress....

When dropping Thunder Pants off at his baby camp today, I noticed that there was a little girl that we hadn't met yet that was so terrified by the presence of a new person - and a new man no less - that she stood against the wall, thumb in mouth, tear in eye and pee in drawers. The Head Duck said that she acted that way with other newcomers too (male and female) and even offered her the credential that I was "the baby's" Daddy. After the 15 or so minutes that I was there and didn't draw a sword, breath fire or make her eat broccoli, she eventually gave me a weak grin before I left.

This little girl was not well versed in our aforementioned logic and was - I assume - a product of her parents disproportionate desire for her to be fearful of people, men in particular, that she doesn't know. Not a bad lesson in general...but one lacking perspective. And since she was just a little whippersnapper, the responsibility to prepare her to actually function on her own falls to the parents.

Fear-mongering aside, let me add a some perspective: Strangers are not the problem. Bad Strangers are the problem.

Sound familiar? We talked about this regarding the evil step parent label too. Now again, I am not going deeply into this topic for several reasons and in fact I already deleted a collection of facts because it changes the whole tenor around around here. Suffice to say, bad things can can happen to innocent kids. And as parents we have to arm them with perspective so they learn the difference between those people and situations that are safe and those that are not. Back in the 1950's and 1960's the US government developed the Stranger Danger campaign using a picture of a wrinkled trench coated old man behind a tree with a bag of candy spying on children. "Yell and tell!" they were told. And in fact that probably worked if the threat was dressed in a wrinkled trench coat, etc. But not on the school cafeteria worker with the big smile, fake ID and criminal history of child sexual assault, huh?

There is an outstanding book on the subject called Protecting the Gift. The author's first book, Gift of Fear, is a must read, and I can't say that emphatically enough, to every woman who wants to be in control of their own safety. It is full of perspective, and though it has some gritty parts to it, you will feel more powerful after reading it. Then pass it to a friend you care about. Protecting the Gift is about keeping our kid's safe and is chock full of helpful information and, again, perspective. Fear-mongering only makes people fearful, it does nothing to make them safe.

Please go to my Daddio's Recommended Reads on the right panel and you can go directly to the book's Amazon page to learn more and order one or both.

We have established that loving moms, dads, aunts and other caregivers, (regardless of size!)
can be like a Subaru-sized, pissed off, Mother Bear when someone threatens their kids. So I would venture to say that when our kids are with us, that it is unlikely that any hump would survive through an encounter of trying to bring harm to our precious 'jewels'. Am I right?

So our challenge then is to help our children understand the difference between other bears that can protect them and the wolves (including those in sheep's clothes!) that won't ... all while not developing a fear of the entire wilderness.


Deb in OPKS said...

It is truly scary stuff. You do your best and yet sometimes it still happens. My husband was an assistant prosecuting atty and saw some bad stuff. I leave some of the discussions to him, but I majored in criminal justice and took a class in child molestation so I'm not completely ignorant on the facts. But these creeps know the system too and actually have web sites telling each other the best places to find victims and how to do it! As parents and guardians, we have to be ever vigilant and always listen to your child. Give them the benefit of the doubt no matter who they accuse!

Michael M. said...

Absoluetly. Now you know why I didn't post any stats. Eternal vigilance...and some big scary bear claws wouldn't either, eh? :)

Rose said...

It's one of the scarier aspects of raising children. All the people I know who have been molested were attacked by family or close friends. How do you protect your kids from that?

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm loving yours! I'll be the person reading your archives for the next few days. :-)

Tismee2 said...

Wow Michael, wasn't expecting THAT at 0630 this morning!
Seriously though you are spot on. I try to ensure my two have a balanced take on life but they already know more than me - being 15 and 5 if course!

It's difficult and all you can do is your best and pray that they stay safe.

BTW I thought at first you were going to launch into a Health and Safety in the Home thing. I get that all the time as hubby is a H&S manager! "Unplug that lead", "Move those toys from the stairs" etc etc.


Dana said...

Thanks for the "must read" list! I've added all of them to my library list!

Michael M. said...

Great point Rose....we tend to keep enemies and bad people at arms length. It is the people in 'our circle' that can and do the most harm. Modeling behavior clearly if we model sane perspective, then perhaps our kids will too??

Michael M. said...

Good morning Gail! Who needs a morning tea when they have me to throw a curve ball every once in awhile? As a part-time stay at home dad, I see some of the bias' that exists - and get passed down - about men in a predominantly woman's business. Men are not bad! Bad men are bad!

And don't forget to turn the light on before going up or down the stairs at night, okay? :)

Michael M. said...

Happy reading Dana...and stay safe!

Kat Wilder said...

M, thanks for visiting my blog, which brought me to here,

I've been mommying for 15 years now, and when kids get to be this age — teens — they're the ones who are fearless, and the parents are the ones who are freaking out. Why? Because we know what they're doing!!!!

It's funny, but I look back at my childhood/teen years and remember some situations that were potentially disastrous, that I should have had much more fear about, and that I never said a peep about to my parents.

And then there was my spider thing....

Michael M. said...

That's funny Kat....and thanks for your perspective. You have a great, articulate blog.

I too am sometimes amazed at how we got to live this long in one piece.

Emily is 11 and up until now the rule is that she can't be alone with a boy until she is 36 or I am dead (later revised to 'dead of natural causes').

Sounds like that prohibition will be tough to enforce as she jettison's into her teens. :)