Untweetable.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

When you’re first pregnant, delirious with excitement (or panic), and strangers want to rub your belly, no one tells you that the first several years of motherhood can be excruciating. Not because of sore nipples or lack of sleep. But because of the pervasive, at times overwhelming dread that serious harm will befall your child.

 

Mine are now 12, 11 and 7. Currently my household exists in bliss between the myriad safety hazards facing toddlers and the teenage risks of drugs, drinking, driving and unprotected sex. I sleep well at night, at least for now. But during their early childhood, I was constantly scanning our house, the stairs, the open windows, the street, school, playground, sidewalk, park, alley, parking lot. Danger lurked everywhere. An open toilet seat. Unprotected electric sockets. Drain cleaner under the kitchen sink. A car backing up. An unclipped seat belt. A loose screen on a second story window.

 

I felt like if I let down my guard for 30 seconds, one of my kids might die.

 

I was right.

 

Accidents are the number one cause of death of children ages 1-4 in the United States, according to National Institutes of Health. The top five accidental deaths are car crashes, drowning, fire, falls, and poisoning.

 

Personally, nothing frightened me more than swimming pools. Probably because we have one in our backyard. In the summer, my kids spend about 10 hours a day in it. We all treasure this luxury.

 

But until all three kids could swim, I relied on paranoia to keep them alive. We have a lockable, retractable, automatic vinyl cover that sealed the pool at all times unless an adult was within five feet of the water. A chime and locks on all our doors. We never left the kids in the pool unsupervised – not to go to the bathroom, get the phone, make a sandwich. We used a zero tolerance policy when it came to pool safety.

 

I was the most critical safeguard. I lived my pediatrician’s advice: “Even with every safety precaution, there is no substitute for constant vigilance.” It was dreadful living with 24/7 worry coursing through my veins like adrenaline – checking and rechecking the doors, the pool, my kids’ locations. I employed the same regimen when we went to visit my in-laws in Florida or friends with pools. If the pool had no cover, I constantly scanned the surface and pestered every adult to keep an eye on the kids at all times. It was difficult to sleep at night – a child could wake at any point and unlock the door to the lanai. I considered buying an $80 portable pool alarm to pack in my suitcase (not kidding). My children wore lifejackets on boats (even a public ferry once) and at the beach when the waves and undertow were strong.

 

This vigilance did not make me popular among my children, husband, friends, relatives, or babysitters. I’m sure some people (hi honey!) thought I was nuts. But my kids never drowned.

leslie morgan s...
12.24.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Accidents do befall parents who've done nothing wrong. And I think it is even worse to face a tragedy in which you played a role, through carelessness or not. So I agree totally that this is not the time to place blame, but to come together in sympathy as fellow mothers.

However, my research indicates that Shellie Ross is not reading anything about herself or her family in the media. It's highly unlikely she will read what I wrote. I don't want her to feel even an iota worse than she already must.

What's more likely is that my judgment might lead another parent with a pool or access to a pool to be far more vigilant. A child's accidental drowning might be prevented by us being candid about why this tragedy occurred.

To me, it is never constructive to hide from the truth. Especially when the truth can prevent future tragedies. So let's come together to be honest about how to safeguard our children and all children, as we must as responsible parents.

Eppie22
12.24.09

Tragedies befall the most diligent of parents. How sad in this time of heartache and loss that you chose to write in judgment, rather than sympathy. Regardless of what anyone may think, this woman now must live with the loss of her child and that alone should have caused pause when writing this piece.

The Suburban Outlaw
12.23.09

Just put this blog up on Twitter. Thank you for writing it.

The Suburban Outlaw
12.23.09

Her story makes me want to write fiction. Honestly your blog is so touching and right on. Her tweet didn't kill her son, her uncovered pool did. Thank you for getting it right.

windycitymomma
12.22.09

Thank you for posting your comments about this tragic and horrifying event and your reaction to the mother tweeting about it. Like you, to say that I was relieved when my children were no longer toddlers is an understatement.

Regardless of whether or not one supports the mother's decision to tweet such a personal event, as a fellow (but occasional) blogger, I commend you for stating what many of us have been thinking. I am not sure that Twitter or other social media forums are the best place to alert one's "friends" of such painful news.

In any case, my heart goes out to the family and their loss. When I read the news, I could not help but say a silent prayer and hold my children a bit closer that evening. Call it "Mother Love."