Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Outer Limits

My sister has a new baby at home. 

Her spankin' new son is joining her soon-to-be three-year-old boy, and my sister has had some concerns about their burgeoning relationship. Her older son has been so thrilled by his new brother's arrival that he's taken to kissing and squeezing him on a near constant basis. Worrying that the intensity of this love-fest was starting to border on the violent, my sister decided to consult her pediatrician.

His advice was simple: He told her not to overreact. He informed her that should her son pick up on the fact that his attention towards the baby was getting attention for himself, he would likely take this as a sign that it was time to start playing that beloved childhood game, "I can get a rise out of Mommy by poking the baby in its eyes!"

The doctor said it was highly unlikely that her son would do the baby any real harm as long as she was supervising them and advised her to do her best to ignore her fears and enjoy the adorableness of her son's newfound joy in his sibling.

Which reminded me of one of the best pieces of mothering advice I've yet to receive. When the Snood was a baby, I was fretting to a veteran Mommy friend about one the myriad things I was afraid might somehow damage his little infant self. She responded,

"What you need to realize is that you are nowhere near the outer limits here."

She told me that I needed to start opening the parameters of what I considered dangerous or I would eventually drive myself crazy.

I was confused.

Then, a few weeks later, the Snood had a fairly classic childhood accident. I was visiting family in Chicago when I laid his 3-month-old self down on the bed in order to change into my jammies. Snoodie, in a portent of troublesome choices to come, decided this would be the ideal moment to discover the awesome new skill of rolling over. He proceeded to roll right off the side of the bed and hit his head on the nightstand on the way down before landing on the floor with a horrible thud.

I was terrified. But after a few moments of furious wailing and accusatory glances my way, Snoodie calmed down and seemed absolutely no worse for the wear.

It was almost 10pm as I sat holding my baby and pondering my options:
  • I could go to sleep and not worry about it.
  • I could bring Snood to the emergency room in a strange city and likely spend several hours waiting only to discover he was perfectly fine.
  • I could stay up all night alternately examining my sleeping baby for signs of lingering trauma and pacing the floor like a deranged lunatic.

I chose Option C. I spent the entire night Googling "baby head trauma" (here's a very simple piece of advice that I sincerely hope you will follow. DO NOT EVER Google "baby head trauma". That is all) and/or shaking the Snood awake to make sure he was OK. By the time the sun rose I was fairly convinced that any damage from the night table encounter was neither profound nor permanent.

In an effort to prevent similar episodes in the future, at Snood's next pediatrician appointment I nervously asked what seemed like a deeply self-incriminating question:

"OK, don't take this the wrong way," I stammered, "But exactly how hard does the baby have to hit his head before I bring him to the ER?"

The doctor seemed completely unfazed by my query. She told me it was fairly common for babies to have minor falls and that I should head for the ER if the baby were to lose conciousness, vomit excessively following the fall, or if I noticed clear fluid coming from his ears. 

I was amazed. This was like, SO MUCH FURTHER down the road than I would have thought. I mean, by the time my kid was vomiting or had clear liquid coming from any part of his body, there would be a me-shaped hole in the door and a path of flames leading directly to the emergency room. 

And it helped me understand what my friend meant when she talked about "The Outer Limits". 

She was saying that it was important to find out what things are really a danger for your kids and then try not to freak out until you get near that place.

Here's another example:

Almost as soon as Crinks started to crawl, the kid he decided that the ground was his own personal buffet. Every time I was distracted, (say, by his brother calling for help because he had crawled behind the refrigerator and gotten stuck) I would return to find Crinks gnawing on something unearthed from underneath the couch or perhaps performing a taste test on a sampling of coins from the change cup.

I was lamenting the situation to a doctor friend of mine who also had toddler at home, and I asked her where she drew the line regarding things her kid put in his mouth. She thought about it for a moment before responding, "Oh, you know, cleaning products... dog feces... cigarette butts."  

I'm telling you, people, the outer limits are a lot further out there than you think.

So the moral of the story is, try to relax and realize that you're probably doing just fine. That your kid is going to do crazy stuff, eat yucky things, fall from small heights, and be just fine.

Comforting, isn't it?

That being said, keep your three-month-old off the bed for God's sake. That's not going to end well.