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.