Kids know how to have fun. Adults? Well, sometimes we forget. I let my joy get kicked curb-side recently while traveling through Heathrow (this Chicago girl still can’t wrap her head around flights being grounded for a week by 2 inches of snow). By Sunday afternoon my son was yelling in frustration, “You never have fun! You never play with us!” Being a sane, mature and in-control adult I yelled back, “Do you think I really want to do the dishes, the laundry, the shoveling, the bills, etc, etc, etc.!” Yup, a fine moment in the annals of good parenting.
I was already at that uncomfortable, guilt-inducing can’t-wait-until-school-starts-again countdown when it hit me. Unlike adults, children do not deny themselves joy. They seek it out and revel in it. How cool is that?
But how often do we, as adults and parents, try to put a damper on their joy because it’s inconvenient for us or some other stupid excuse? Yes, we need to keep our kids safe while they have fun. Yes, boundaries are necessary for a number of reasons. Yes, sometimes we do have to drag them from the sledding hill because we have lost all feeling in our toes. But the other excuses? Are they really valid or are they just stuck-in-a-rut thinking?
So, the dishes waited because I cranked the music and my kids and I danced until the laughter drowned out the yelling. So, my yard looks like crap because it’s the go-to playing field for my neighborhood. So, sometimes we ride our bikes to the ice cream store for dinner or have pizza-and-movie night in the basement, crumbs, no vegetables and all. All the responsibilities of adulthood will still be there, but don’t deprive your kids or yourself.
Let JOY be what your kids remember most.
This time of year puts me in a contemplative frame of mind. I’m certainly not adverse to a good party, but December 31 is one night I’d rather stay home and think about what I’d like to accomplish in the next year. Of course a glass of champagne and a roaring fire are required – it is a festive evening after all.
Speaking of goals, I was interviewed recently by Jayson Jackson of Diversity in Aquatics (here’s the link if you’d like to watch): http://www.diversityinaquatics.com/video/using-jabari-to-make-an-impact
Jayson asked about my goals for the next year, so here goes. My #1 goal is to raise awareness of drowning as a serious threat to children across the globe. Roughly 600,000 child drown each year, and by some estimates, 1,400,000 almost drown, yet very few parents know that drowning is such a risk to their children. My goal for 2011 is to change that.
We can not fix a problem until we acknowledge it’s existence. Help me make 2011 be the year childhood drowning hits everyone’s radar screen.
Children ages 2-4 are at the highest risk of drowning of any age group. And, while the drowning rates for older children are slowly decreasing, the rates for toddlers are actually increasing.
I have yet to find a study that explains why. Based on my research (and my own experience as a mom), I’d venture to say it’s because water is everywhere and it’s fun. It’s a magnet. It draws those little rascals in. At that age, kids not only don’t stay where we put them, they are busy exploring and pushing boundaries. But the biggest reason? Most kids aren’t learning how to relate to the water safely.
So, what do we do about it? The status quo is not working, unless we think it’s OK that children keep dying. I don’t. I think we need to reach them on their own turf, in ways their brain can understand. We need to teach children as young as one to respect the water and how to interact in the water safely and we need to do it in a way that acknowledges that water is fun.
We know kids learn best from repetitive, positive, age-appropriate messages. We know kids are hardwired to learn through stories. We know kids like to engage with characters they like, trust and want to emulate (Disney anyone?).
So let’s introduce a central character—the Smokey Bear of water safety—to American kids. Surround him with a band of characters that represents a broad range of kid personalities from rascal to responsible; distracted to know-it-all; twirly girlie to sporty. And, launch them on a variety of platforms, from books, activity pages, beach signs and posters to DVDs and children’s television.
Yes, it’s a big vision. But it can be done. In fact, I’ve already started. Meet Jabari, a lion cub who teaches young children about water safety. https://www.jabariofthewater.com/content/jabari-book Currently in book form, I’m ready to put him and his band of buddies to work on a variety of platforms to make a real dent in some dismal statistics. I’m looking for someone who shares my vision to pilot the concept.
It is always a tragedy when a child dies. Period. I can’t contemplate losing my own children without tearing up. But here’s the tough part. When you lose a child to an accident, despite the definition of accident being ‘unintentional’ and ‘unexpected’, parents feel guilt on top of the crushing grief. “What if….” “I should have….” “If only I hadn’t….” And how many of us subconsciously agree with them? Do we self-righteously tell ourselves, “I NEVER let my toddler out of my sight for even an instant”.
Really? Aside from unrealistic, that probably wouldn’t be good for either the toddler or you. “I NEVER leave my child alone in the bathtub.” OK, more likely, but are you saying you never, ever forgot their jammies or a clean diaper in the other room? I’m even going to confess to just standing in the other room with my eyes closed for a second when I dashed to get something just channeling the energy to keep me going until the kids were in bed after a very long day of solo parenting.
So what do you do when your child is the victim of an accident? When your child drowns or almost drowns? The reactions are as varied as the people impacted. Do you suggest pools should be banned? Do you keep your other children away from all water? Or do you understand that water is everywhere and a fact of life and that drowning happens in the blink of an eye to the best loved and monitored children and try to make everyone around you more aware and safer?
Here are a couple of my heroes. Ordinary moms who have the enormous courage to stand up publicly to teach other moms about water safety.
Sara Staker’s toddler Bronson almost drowned in a bathtub when she stepped away for just a minute. He was declared dead but a dedicated team of doctors tried a new treatment and Bronson is alive and doing well.
Jenna’s toddler son drowned in their backyard pool. He was out of their sight for literally a minute or two and somehow got up the side of the pool with no ladder and fell in. He had drowned by the time his frantic parents found him only minutes after he went missing.
The bravery that really boggles my mind? The Stakers have been on national television talking about their near-miss. They have Bronson in water safety and swimming lessons and have taken him to the beach. Jenna had her infant daughter in the water within months of her son drowning (wearing a life vest, a float and with both mom and dad within arm’s reach). She has taught her daughter water safety and talks to her regularly about how to stay safe in the water. Jenna is also trying to raise money to become a certified swim instructor so that she can help other kids.
These moms have faced our worst fears and realized that they need to teach their children how to have fun in the water – safely, and they are willing to share their story. There is no greater courage.
I had an e-mail from my friend Reese last week. While she was carrying her baby to the car, she fell and sprained her ankle badly. She screamed in pain for her mother to come take the baby and then promptly fainted when the baby was safe in her mother’s arms. It reminded me of an incident when my daughter was 4 months old. It was dinnertime, we had just moved into our house with the beautiful stone floors and I was walking her to soothe her. I stepped on the wooden top to my son’s fire engine and my feet flew out from under me. I pitched violently forward and landed hard on my elbows and knees with my baby’s head an inch above the floor. Not one part of my daughter made contact with the unforgiving stone floor and I did not fall onto her, I instinctually held her safe in that split-second accident. My knees and elbows were a mass of painful bruises for several weeks and it took far longer for me to stop shaking over the potential injury to my baby, but I also wondered at the protective instinct that kicks in when you don’t have time to think.
A father drowned this week after instructing his son to swim to safety when they got into trouble. Last year in New Zealand both parents drowned trying to rescue their three children from a rip tide (the children survived). I see dozens of similar stories where parents die trying to rescue their children who have gotten into trouble in the water.
We all know that there is nothing we wouldn’t do to protect our children. Those of us who have felt first-hand that protective instinct kick in know that even if we had time to stop and think about it we would unhesitatingly give our lives for our children. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t risk our lives every day throwing ourselves in front of cars because our children routinely wander in front of them – we teach them how to cross the street carefully and to look for cars. It can be the same with water, start teaching your child from infancy respect for the water and how to navigate water safely. Being a parent is rewarding, challenging, frustrating, funny, and the source of a maelstrom of strong emotions, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening.
1. Courage: Marcellus “Dat Dude” Wiley, pro football player, was so affected by children drowning that he was willing to go on national television and say he was overcome with emotion after facing his own fear of water and doing an ocean swim. http://bit.ly/bdZNKR
2. Strength: Real men know when to hold you up, when to stand next to you, when to stand in front of you, and when to stand behind you, graciously.
3. Honor: To all those soldiers who take a minute to smile at a child in a foreign country or help a local in distress, they do more to enhance our reputation than any amount of artillery. Thank you.
4. Kindness: The grandpa I saw at the ‘Dad and Tot’ swimming class yesterday, filling in so that his granddaughter would grow up having fun in the water safely, and smiling as she squealed with joy when he tossed her in the air.
5. Walking the talk: Cullen Jones and countless others who have used their own life experiences to help thousands of kids live better, safer, healthier lives.
6. Teamwork: Watch any good sports team in action. If we all worked towards a common goal, using individual’s strengths to a greater good, think of what we could accomplish. I’m partial to rugby as an example.
7. Mentor: Acting as a Big Brother, Scout leader, Coach or just the dad who includes the kids whose dads aren’t around. They make a real, positive impact in children’s lives.
8. They aren’t women: My daughter has blossomed having Mike as her swim teacher – men sometimes push a bit harder and are less likely to coddle – children need both male and female influences to thrive.
9. Self-confidence: Being a real man means you can say you are scared, wrong or emotional. After all, we women are kind of hoping you might feel something if we died or were hurting, nice to see you are capable of feeling.
10. Muscles: No explanation necessary.
Some of you have been reading my blogs over the last year or so. Maybe you’ve seen my activity on Twitter or connected with me on Facebook. First of all, I’d like to say Thank You! and I genuinely look forward to connecting with more people who share my passion. I’d like to learn more about you – people’s stories fascinate me. By now I’m guessing that more than a few of you are wondering “Why is she doing this?”
For probably the first and only time in my life I fall into a gray area. In a field that is dominated by the academic/public health/medical professionals at one end of the spectrum and parents who have suffered the loss of a child at the other end, I fall into an area that my friend Mary Ann and I have dubbed ‘Switzerland’. I have a strong academic/business background but it has nothing to do with aquatics, water, or public health. I love to swim, but thanks to a shoulder injury I swim sidestroke – most often associated with elderly ladies wearing petal swim caps. I have not, Thank God, lost a child. I have no obvious reason for dedicating myself to water safety.
So why have I dedicated 3+ years of my life, not to mention my own money, to saving kids from drowning across the globe? Serendipity, karma, the right place at the right time, a perfect storm – they all could qualify as an explanation, but the only true answer I can come up with – it’s what I’m meant to do. I have had a passion for helping children since I was a child – give me anyone who is weak, misused, endangered, vulnerable, subject to the whims of adults – and I stand ready to take on their cause, fiercely. Take that single-minded determination to make children’s lives better and add water, literally. I love the water – it soothes me, it revives me, it relaxes me and regenerates me. When I started helping a friend look at drowning prevention it all just clicked and I knew this is what I was meant to do. After over 40 years my diverse and non-linear path through academic, professional, and personal experiences suddenly made sense and provided me with exactly the tools I needed to address the issue.
My goal is to cut the global rate of drowning significantly and permanently over the next 30 years. I believe that if we start teaching very young children continuously, repetitively, positively, and age-appropriately how to have a positive and realistic relationship with water, that water safety will become an internalized life skill. Once children know how to relate to water positively and safely, they will make the right decisions when confronted with water throughout their lives and will teach their own children. It is only if we accomplish this that the global rate of drowning will drop permanently. Drowning should not be the epidemic it is. We have to change how all people relate to the water and we have to start with children as young as infants and toddlers if we are going to make a permanent change. This is what I believe and this is what I am dedicated to creating.