Never Run With Scissors (or Knives)

scissors-321238_640Like Kelly, one of our readers, I’ve got Ken Jennings’ Because I Said So on hold at the library, because it sounds like such a book romp.  I am always telling my kids to put on a sweater because I am cold!

Also, I’m kind of a risk-taker, and I want to see what feedback Jennings has for the likes of me.  Just a few days ago, I let my 7 year old son ice his own Lego birthday cake.  I felt the fear and did it anyway.  It’s true that the chances I took ten and twenty years ago, um, differed from the ones I take today, but the risk factor remains.

So looked up what Ken had to say about “Never Run With Scissors” because my kids sometimes run with scissors, and I ask them not to run with scissors and other sharp objects.  I even sort of know of someone – my mother’s partner’s grandson (I don’t know his name, but maybe I met him once?) – who permanently blinded himself in one eye by poking himself with a fork (or something).

But while I do ask them not to run with scissors, I’m not vigilant about enforcing this or other sensible rules.  (And I find the line between sensible and sensitive is hard to draw.  My brother once told me it was unsafe to let the kids walk/run around with a toothbrush as they could impale their mouths if they fell.  But he also did not allow his children to play in the sand of their suburban neighbourhood park (there could be needles in it) or wear flip flops until they were nine (they might fall).)

So I was really hoping that Ken would debunk “never run with scissors” as false, but alas, and predictably, it ranks as “mostly true”.  Jennings explains:

Do injuries actually result when kids run with scissors? They do! The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a fascinating database called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (or NEISS), a statistical sampling of emergency room visits nationwide. NEISS estimates that 4,556 kids under ten sought medical care in 2010 for scissor-related injuries, none of which were fatal. About a hundred of those are the eye injuries that Mom and Dad always harped on. Some of the cases in the NEISS database include physician notes, and I found 19 scissor-related cases since 1997 in which “running” was implicated. Those kids’ moms and dads must feel like the worst parents in the world!

Gratefully, though, Jennings provides some context:

But it’s easy to demonstrate with NEISS that scissors aren’t especially dangerous, certainly not in keeping with their gangsta reputation. Seventy-two percent of those 4,556 injuries were to fingers, it turns out, which means that cutting with scissors is a vastly bigger problem than running with them. Looking at scissor injuries to older kids since 1997, I was able to find doctors’ notes on six patients who suffered “buttock lacerations” when they accidentally sat on a pair of scissors, compared to only four who were hurt running. But is “sitting on scissors” a slang term for wild, devil-may-care behavior? It is not!

… NEISS reveals that kids are downright safe around scissors compared to death-traps like batteries (4,972 injuries last year), benches (11,563), coins (28,674) and handrails and banisters (9,434). Unless you shiver with fear at the sight of a banister, you don’t need to teach kids excessive paranoia regarding scissors either. Why is a bench or handrail dangerous? Because you could trip and hurt yourself on it, just as you could with scissors or a pencil or a toy. It’s the running like a crazy person that leads to the accidents, not the scissors so much.

And there’s the rub.  Because many of our children are hard-wired to run like crazy people, and are thus prone to banging themselves up in the process.  And I could tell my kids to stop running more often than I do, or to get out of the cold wet of the rain, or to stop wading in the mud of winter.  They might have fewer accidents or get less sick because of it.

But they might not.  It might be that kids that get to explore more fully with their bodies are likely to better know and accept their natural limits.  Maybe kids that play in the dirt (and eat it) will develop stronger immune systems.  (My brother-in-law says that kids on farms don’t have allergies.  True or false?  I should go ask Jennings.)

True story:  about a month ago, my four year old jabbed himself in the eye with a butter knife.  He was not cutting with it or using it.  He was just holding it, and all of a sudden, thought it would be fun to make sharp, jagged movements with it in front of his body, and he accidentally missed the air the was aiming for and hit himself in the face.  Luckily, he hit the upper edge of the socket and there was no damage to his eye.

I give my kids knives to cut with, and my four year old has long demonstrated the capacity for using butter and paring knives for certain jobs in the kitchen.  For a moment, the eye incident made me wonder whether I should stop that.  Except that he didn’t injure himself with a knife while cutting.  He hurt himself by reaching into the utensil drawer and playing in a weird, unprecedented way.  I didn’t know to say, “Don’t make sharp, jagged movements with the knife in front of your body”.  While it reflects fairly badly on his parents to say that he poked his eye with a knife, it was not really the knife that caused the injury, but the playing.  He could have hurt himself the same way with a stick or a pencil or even a pointy carrot.

From this view, the real culprit for this category of childhood injuries is not the scissors or knife or carrot:  it’s the child.  I suppose we could try to prevent them from running and playing like crazy people, but then they wouldn’t be like children, and where would we be then?

But I’ll never stop asking them to put on a sweater when I’m cold.

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You May Drown – And It Will Be Your Own Fault!

swimming-pool-816394_640“Because I said so,” could be my favourite 4-word sentence.  That and “Sure, we will babysit.”

In the early days of being a parent, I struggled with what camp I wanted to embed my feet.  Attachment parenting seemed too out there for me but being overly authoritarian didn’t sit well with me either.  After all, I had learned something in Intro to Psych all those years ago.

When my first-born was 18 months old, we decided that he needed to socialize with other children of his own age . . . and I was going crazy with a toddler and a newborn in the house.  After much careful thought my husband and I chose the school at the end of our street as the institution for our son.  Admittedly, the “research” was Googling pre-schools in our neighbourhood and selecting the closest in geography to our house.

This method of selection proved much more effective in choosing a pre-school than it did a pediatrician and within a few months I had “drank the kool-aid”.  I became a devotee of Adlerian philosophy.

I consulted Alyson Schafer’s books and interrogated the teachers at the school when faced with any parenting challenge and when my children entered new “phases”.

I made sure that I was following the 4 C’s.  I wanted my boys to know that they count, are capable, have courage and feel connected.  I was cautious about over-praising and learned how to encourage (although I am still a beginner with this concept) and most importantly I tried to limit the number of times that I said NO.

I would grit my teeth and rephrase.

“How about we try that another time?”

“Is that helpful or hurtful?”

“Not right now.”

“Maybe later.”

“In our house, we don’t jump on the couch.”

I opened myself to negotiations with the boys.  I would listen to their point of view and work with them to find solutions that benefitted both of us.  I wanted them to feel connected!  Capable!  Counted!

But it’s 6 years later and I am tired.  There are only so many ways to say no.  And while I love that my boys feel connected, capable and that they count and have courage, I have to admit that I have raised some very effective future boardroom negotiators!

I am conscious that I need to balance all of that goodness.  In the real world not everyone is encouraging and not everything is a compromise.  In the real world you will run across people with more authority and many who feel a great deal more superiority and they will say Because I said so! and my boys best have the skills to deal with that too.

And so, like a good mother, I am sure to provide balance and I freely dole out conventional wisdoms knowing full well that they lack merit.

  • Don’t eat the cookie dough!  They say it will make you sick. 

Translation:  Paws off.  It’s mine.  I share enough with you moochers.

  • They say wear your toque to the car after swimming or else you will catch a cold.

Translation:  I am sick of listening to you whine about how your head is cold when we leave swimming. I know that I should let you make your own mistakes, but it’s 5:30 pm and I need to make dinner with this pounding headache.  Put the fucking hat on.

  • They say don’t read in the dark with a flashlight!  You’ll ruin your eyes!

Translation:  Go the fuck to sleep!!!!!!

  • They say you can’t go swimming right now.  You have to wait an hour to let your food digest or else you’ll get cramp and drown.

Translation:  It’s unlikely anyone has ever drowned after scarfing down a few tacos and then jumping in the pool.  I know this and the good folks at Snopes.com confirm this, suggesting the origin of this myth is from a 1908 Scouting for Boys handbook exalting the dangers of swimming:

First, there is the danger of cramp.  If you bathe within one and one half hour of taking a meal, that is, before your food is digested, you are very likely to get cramp.  Cramp doubles you up in extreme pain so that you cannot move your arms or legs – and down you go.  You may drown – and it will be your own fault. (Snopes.com)

But am I wrong for citing this to my boys?  Am I wrong for wanting to finishing chewing my butter-drenched corn on the cob before lake water is splashed up my nose?

Let’s be clear.  I am still a card-carrying member of the Alyson Schafer fan club but sometimes I need to revert to parenting “old-school” by preaching empty threats and blaming the powers of “they”.

There will come a time when my boys will ask me who exactly “they” are and I will have to cop the truth, giving them further fodder for their future therapist but in the meantime I choose to live in the present.  I focus on what play my game has and I use every weapon in my arsenal to get through the challenging days.  There are some times that you need to channel your inner Alfred Adler and some times that you lie.  And that’s ok.

Because I said so.

“It’s OK, Even Einstein Flunked Math!”

einstein-645461_640Taking our cue from Ken Jennings, this week at 4 Mothers we are examining some myths and legends we pass on to our children.  So we have established that it is ok to eat raw cookie dough and that the Five Second Rule is totally true (even if we pretty much knew that it is gross to give kids food from the floor).  How, how do these rumors get started?!  I’ve spent how many years fretting over the dough?

Well, for this next one, look no further than Ripley’s Believe It or Not, if not for the origin of the rumor then for spreading it like wildfire.

My eldest celebrated his 12th birthday this weekend, and as we gathered with his friends around the fire to make the celebratory birthday s’mores, talk turned, as it often does, to Einstein.  (The kids are much occupied with end-of-year matters like exams and grades and whatnot.)  Several of them opined, in a self-soothing way, that, “Hey, even Einstein flunked math.”

I am pretty sure that there is a parenting award out there with my name on it, because, even though I had just read that this is, in fact, not true, I kept my trap shut and just kept roasting my marshmallow.  Right around the time that Grade 12 Calculus whipped my ass, and my teacher gave me the whole “I told you so” speech about how I had, like Milton’s Satan, aimed too high and now must fall, I, too, once self-soothed with the idea that the great Einstein had flunked math.

The problem with this homily is that we need a better life example, because Einstein was a spectacular math student in his youth.  He laughed in 1935 when a Princeton rabbi showed him a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon claiming that he had bad grades as a child.  “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied.  “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”  In fact, Einstein was so far ahead of his peers that he was largely self-taught, out of advanced texts he parents bought him.  At the age of eleven, he worked out his own novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, which seems to be pretty good evidence that he was, as my kids’ teachers say in parent conferences, “working at or above grade level.” …  In 1929, when Einstein was fifty, the headmaster of his old school got so tired of hearing the “Einstein flunked” rumors that he actually produced his old pupil’s childhood report card, and sure enough, his grades were excellent.

Is this why we let the rumor persist?  To allow successive generations of kids feel better about their academic struggles?

Who knows.  All I know is that yet another of my world views has been shattered, but I’m saving the disappointment about this one for myself.

Because I Said So! by Ken Jennings

imgres-1So, this does not happen often because I am not an absolutist, and I totally respect that some parents want to practice attachment parenting and some parents want … not to.   (WTF?  What’s the opposite of attachment parenting?), But I’ve thought this over carefully and I am firmly of the opinion that every single family household must have a copy of this book.  Why?  Because I Said So!

I mean, there’s the whole co-sleeping debate, but this stuff is not only serious, it’s universal.  Case in point: The Five Second Rule.  Universal, right?  Every single last one of us has handed back to our children an item of food that has fallen on the floor and told them it’s ok to eat it, invoking The Five Second Rule.  And every single last one of us know it’s bullshit, but we do it anyway.  Well, you have Ken Jennings to thank for finding the hard science behind the Five Second Rule, and, guess what?  Not bullshit.  Unless you have pre-treated your floor with E coli, you’re safe.  (Disclaimer: If you have pre-treated your floor with E coli, even one second is too long.  99% of the bacteria will transfer to the food in one second.  Someone spent time and money testing that.)  So, you can keep being gross and now be guilt-free!

Ken Jennings has compiled about 100 myths, tales and warnings that every generation passes down to its children, then he has gone out to investigate their validity.  He writes a passage about each one, assessing its scientific cred, then gives it a true or false rating.  He is also very funny.  (You can read some excerpts here.)

Here is a sampling of things I took as given and passed on to my kids in the last week alone:

“Take off the Band-Aid and let the cut air out.”

“Those are just growing pains.”

“If you crack your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis.”

“Swallowed gum sits in your stomach undigested for seven years!”

“Stay out of the cookie dough, you’ll get worms!”

“You need eight glasses of water a day.”

“It’s too dark to read in here, you’ll hurt your eyes.”

“Don’t touch its wings or the butterfly will die.”

“We only use 10% of our brains.”

“It’s OK, even Einstein flunked math.”

“If you are mad, just go let off some steam.”

False.  False.  All of it false.  This book was mind-altering.  I’ve accepted these things as truth. I can tell you that as soon as I read the passage about raw cookie dough not being dangerous, I made a batch of cookies and we all ate the dough.  This is actually not unusual.  What’s unusual was that I did not say a silent prayer to ward off food poisoning because, thanks to Ken, I now know that there is only a one-in-twenty-thousand chance that my egg will be contaminated with salmonella, which means one bad egg once every 84 years for the average person.

The moral, I suppose, is that everything in life is a risk.  Lightning kills about as many people a year as egg-borne salmonella, and there are some lightning precautions we think make sense (don’t hold the five-iron aloft as thunder booms above the golf course) and some that don’t (never go outside if there are clouds).  To my mind, licking the beater and/or mixing bowl when Mom or Dad makes cookies is one of the purest joys of childhood, and maybe even worth the once-every-eighty-four-years case of food poisoning.  (97)

I loved every minute of reading this book.  I like it when someone alters my perception of the world, and reading Ken Jennings made my world feel an awful lot safer, actually.  This did not come up in the last week, but I can tell you that come December, when we buy the obligatory poinsettia, I will not look askance at the thing as a possible harbinger of tragedy.  Not poisonous.  Not even to cats.

This week, 4 Mothers will share some of the myths, tales and warnings we have passed on to our children.  We will end the week with a hilarious tale of an invented cautionary tale.

What are some of the warnings you pass on to your kids?