Growing up was a struggle for me from almost the very beginning. I was born with horrible difficulty breathing and more than 40 years ago, was diagnosed with what is called extrinsic asthma triggered by milk, pollen, dust mites, and the worst, mold . . . practically everything.
But I was lucky. My mom tells me the story of two separate occasions, one I believe was in the hospital, another during a family trip, when I had an allergic reaction so bad that my breathing was in that last gasp. She called it the “death rattle,” something she’d learned during her nurse’s training. I’ve heard it only once, in my last minutes with my wife… even while on the respirator. It’s not like you picture it; there’s no drama, no struggle, more physical resignation. I did it twice, and though I don’t obviously remember, I can still see my Mom’s color drain when she – only rarely – speaks of it.
I spent a long time in the hospital, poked, prodded, crying, unable to see my Mom at night. I still remember the fear when the lights would go off and the nurses would walk out, my bed in what seemed a huge room. The nurses would come in several times a night and take blood and I grew to cry just at the sight of them. I would go to the small balcony of that room at 7 am and stare down until I saw my Mom on the sidewalk coming up and run back into my bed. I didn’t know until years later, but she wanted to cry every morning she saw me standing there.
Growing up, I couldn’t play as much as the other kids and I had to carry an inhaler when people didn’t know what that was. But my parents didn’t just encourage, they made me do it. I have never been more thankful for that. The fact that I went out and tossed the baseball or played Frisbee and football with my brother and Dad were in no small part the reason I outgrew the extrinsic asthma.
I tell you this story because a part of me worries that as parents we protect our kids far too much. My mom, in an effort to keep me alive, had to clean the sheets every couple days and dust the house constantly. But I wasn’t put in a bubble and kept inside. My parents insisted I do what all the other kids do. I was told to be as strong I possibly could and treated like a normal kid… just one who couldn’t last as long as his brothers.
I think sometimes we baby our children too much. We Clorox the counter after every little thing. We use germ killing hand cleanser even if we haven’t been to a dirty gas station bathroom. Massive, speed racer like metal slides are gone and we trim our trees so that kids can’t climb the lower branches to get up high.
I am guilty of it too. My kids have never had a bad sunburn until last weekend. The one day I wasn’t watching over them (when someone else was), they didn’t use sunscreen and my sons looked like lobsters just pulled from the kettle. My youngest, Sam, was so burned he started to get horrible blisters on his shoulders. I started to feel guilty about the fact I wasn’t there to put the sunblock on and force them out of the sun for points at a time. I didn’t keep them drinking water or hydrated or cooled off. I picked them up to find them this way.
So shouldn’t I be upset? Well, sure I am. I was horrified that it happened and that neither the person watching them nor their older sister had thought to put on sunblock– which I had told them to do right before leaving them. As hard and horrible as this is, though, even my nine-year-old son (so tough looking and flirtatious but a marshmallow inside) now understands there are consequences. When we started caring for the blisters and the burns he was loathe to let anyone near them. He ducked when the medicine came close to contacting him.
Two days later, still injured, he takes it. He understands the pain of contact is necessary to diminish the burn, the blisters, the long-term pain.
Had this not happened, the sunscreen admonition would just be another nagging line of mine to their ears. “Gawd Daaaad! Enough already!” Now, regardless of where or when, I know my kids. All four will harp on me about sunblock… just from this one experience.
My point is this: sometimes we need to let the kids be. Sometimes it’s okay if they eat a little dirt. It’s not bad if they get cuts, scrapes, and if all we are able to do at the moment is clean them up the best we can. I don’t advocate the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality, but smothering them doesn’t help, either.
What do you do? Do you wipe down, clean, chase, and protect your kids to the point of hurting them in the other direction? Can they stand on their own two feet?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog. Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.