Sunday, February 25, 2007

Confessions of a laid-back Mother.

Sometimes, despite the books and the WHO and the gurus and the mother's groups and all the facts and figures, I think I may be overly relaxed as a parent.

I give as an example the handful of dirt Charlie ate the other week. Now, most mothers of my aquaintance would not have been out in the garden in February with their baby, no matter that he had on so many layers he could barely move and was swaddled in blankets and hats and gloves and toys and sat in a warm chair. They just wouldn't have done it. And, if they had, they would in no way have put him on his belly near the edge of a playmat after a particularly heart-rending cry so that he could watch them digging fence-post holes. Remembering, of course, that at the moment, C is of an age where copying a parent is his big thing. Did I know that Charlie would dig in the dirt? You know, I think I probably did. In fact, it is more than likely that somewhere in the far distant reaches inside my head (and there's a lot of unexplored territory back there), I may even have been thinking 'heck with it, let him eat dirt, it'll be good for him'.

My reaction upon seeing his fingers in the dirt was to lift him up lighteningly quick and check around his mouth (dirt) and then in his mouth (more dirt) and then to rush to the tap to wash him off - but did I then spend the next few days hovering around him in a panic waiting for him to show signs of some terrible disease? No. I didn't. In fact, I went on to forget about it completely until he pooed it out two days later.

The reactions of my fellow Mums to this have run the full gamut from shock to horror, partly at the dirt and partly at the 'out in the garden' bit, although I did have a reasonably humourous response from one enlightened Mum who suggested that now may be a good time to save myself the trouble of sterilising his bottles (true, but I still do anyway). My Mother however howled with laughter and this is yet another example of How Things Were Different in the 60s when I was a baby. Did I eat dirt when I was a baby? Knowing me, undoubtedly. Did my Mum panic? Knowing her, not a bit.

This however is not the first time I've been overly chilled out on Charlie's behalf, certainly in comparison to other Mums around me. I mean, I took him on the tube and to yoga AND to the cinema among the heaving masses before he'd had his shots. I always bath him in the real bath and these days I hover my hands a whole two inches above him and let him splash about on his back practically on his own. I've taken him into swimming pools. I let him drink out of a water glass at a restaurant. Should I be expecting social services to drop over? He's always warmly dressed, well fed, he's napping in the day, sleeping through the night, putting on weight, developing normally... but I have this creeping worry that somehow, I am a Neglectful Mother.

I just wonder about all the safe-guards we put up for our children against dangers and if firstly, there is a point where we reach over-kill and secondly, if I can trust myself to know where this point is. I mean, I don't want to expose my son to risks, but equally, I don't want to over-protect him so that he doesn't know what is dangerous and what isn't - or worse, leave him with no immunities against bacteria, virus attacks and allergens.

So, where do we as parents draw the line? Clearly some things are obvious, like putting gates at the top of stair-cases and keeping the bleach under lock and key ('Mummy, this lemonade tastes funny!') and not letting him play with fire. But other things, like letting him play in the garden or kiss the cat or washing his high-chair in normal soap and not anti-microbial, super-bacterio-blasting monster-bleach are decidedly up for argument.

To a certain extent I am going to follow the rules. No peanut butter or honey until he's 2, careful exposure to foods that can trigger allergies, sterile bottles, washing soft toys to get rid of dust-mites - anything backed up by medical science. But stopping one's baby from digging in the dirt and then using anti-microbial soaps on everything seem to me to offer the sort of protection that will stop him from developing immunities to the things that he will be exposed to the minute he leaves the house.

Ultimately I may be walking more of a middle line here than most of the parents I know but I attribute my own rude health largely to a country upbringing replete with cow, chicken and guinea-pig manure, stinging nettles, mud and bending down to drink unfiltered water direct from the same stream the cows drank and possible peed in, not to mention playing in haystacks and digging in the dirt. A lot.

While raising Charlie in London is going to offer a host of larger, faster, subtler and more dangerous dangers, without going overboard I still want to loosen his wrappings just a litle bit and let him build up some armour.

Is this too relaxed?


joy said...

I have a friend who is a registered nurse who had her little boy on the grass out in the park. He quickly grabbed a leaf and stuck the whole thing in his mouth, much to the dismay of all the moms around. She gasped and said, "Oh no! Don't put that in your mouth!" She snatched the leaf from his grasp. And then she went on and put a bigger, more perfect leaf in his hand. "Take this. This one's better!" I think she's so cool. That's the kind of mom I want to be!

Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful and proper way to treat a child...we never had microbial soap when we were children, and playing in the dirt was a basic part of life.

Please all of you Mums give your children a chance to develop an immune system....

The Dad of Sparx.

Sparx said...

Joy - what a great story... I might have to 'borrow' that one day knowing Charlie!!!

Dad - thanks for checking in! See, I knew I had close encounters with dirt .


BOSSY said...

To quote Bossy's favorite adage: It takes a ton of dirt to kill ya, and even then it has to fall on ya.

tinakala said...

Way to go! I used to eat dirt when I was small. I must`ve been at least 2 or 3, because I can remember it. And you know, nothing happened. Fussing and over-protecting is not healthy. Good idea of limiting some foods though, considering the allergies.

Sparx said...

Mum just reminded me that Grandad used to say 'we'll all eat a peck of dirt before we die'.

How much is a 'peck' anyone???

anna said...

I think you might need to pick up some parent-friends who will walk the middle line with you - it is a very good place to be.

Arban said...

"Is this too relaxed?"

NO! Everyone else is crazy, not you! You sound very sane.

What I refused to do w C was to create an artificial environment. I thought it was essential that he learn the dangers he would face in our home and in anyone else's home, rather than removing everything, creating something false that would only foster ignorance and dangerous curiosity when he did encounter these things. This has served me well, we've had no emergency trips to A&E, and he has a better understanding of electricity, chemicals, and other dangers than many kids his age, I believe.

coffeesnob said...

No,no! Not too relaxed! Perfectly reasonable and sane. Bless your mummyness.

Sparx said...

Ooh, good tips A! Thanks for the support all, it's good to know I'm not completely bonkers. Now will someone tell my friends?

jill said...

I stumbled upon your blog and thought this post was just perfect! As a middle-walking mom myself, I really appreciated both the story AND the fact that you shared it!

Krissie said...

Thank you for the sanity!
And I'm sure Charlie will thank you for it some day himself.