Monday, October 17, 2011

The Monday Muse: Accidents Waiting to Happen

A few months ago, my family was accused of being "an accident waiting to happen." This accusation came via private message and in direct response to a piece I wrote, Parenting and Acceptable Risk. The sender has a history of sending offensive rants, so I didn't take much of what she wrote seriously. The "accident waiting to happen" bit, did, however, catch my attention.

Because she's right.

Not in the way she thinks, of course. We're not an accident waiting to happen because we hike on a regular basis. We're not an accident waiting to happen because we hike in the winter or in high winds or all day or into the night. If we were unprepared when we hiked, if we went outside without paying strict attention to the forecast, if we lacked map, compass, food, proper clothing, etc. -- then yes, I'd say that, on the trails, we were/are an accident waiting to happen.

But that's not the case.

What IS the case is that Alex and Sage are an accident waiting to happen. Or, more aptly, they are two separate accidents waiting to happen. Or, even more aptly, they are both separate and combined accidents waiting to happen.

Why? Because they're KIDS. And, after last night, I am convinced that each and every kid, no matter what you do and do not allow them to do, is an accident waiting to happen.

Hugh was standing outside the house, arms crossed and face grim, when I turned into the driveway last night. I was coming back from hiking Mount Liberty and Mount Flume with Sage; she was talking my ear off about how she wants to highpoint every state AND hike Kilimanjaro and Everest before she turns twelve (note: hate to burst the kid's bubble, but I'm not exactly sold on the Everest idea).

I parked, opened my car door, and heard Hugh's ominous words over Sage's chatter.

"Trish, something happened."

His next sentence, thank goodness, was, "Everything is okay now." My heart descended to its proper place and I politely shushed Sage. She went inside while I stood on the porch and listened as Hugh related the day's events.

He had taken Alex horseback riding at a local and reputable farm. Alex's horse had reared and she had fallen directly onto her face. He had taken her to the ER, they'd done all the proper exams, and the bottom line is that her nose might have a hairline fracture and her face might have a couple of minor scars in places that aren't noticeable. The swelling will go down in about a week and a half.

I went inside and Alex came to me.

Her face was completely swollen. Evidence of profuse bleeding was everywhere; blood had soaked through the upper part of her sweater, blood had dried and caked her nostrils and lips. The fresh and sutured lacerations looked angry and raw. She looked tender, fragile. It was a shock to my system, seeing Alex this way, and though my mind felt calm and clear, I began to shake uncontrollably. I held her for long minutes and was so, so grateful things weren't worse. Thankfully, she was no longer in a lot of pain. Just tired, very tired. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the couch and watching movies.

People have since told me that falls are relatively common in this socially acceptable childhood sport. A quick internet research reveals that in 2007, 78,000 people were seen in American emergency rooms for horseback riding-related injuries.

We allowed our kid to go horseback riding...she was therefore an accident waiting to happen.

Last January, Alex fractured her tibia in gymnastics, another socially acceptable childhood sport.

We allowed our child to take gymnastics...she was therefore an accident waiting to happen.

Sage has had her share of injuries. Her most recent was last January. She, Alex, and two of their friends decided to abandon the safe sledding hill and try the "more interesting route" (Sage's words) filled with brambles and low branches. This decision was, of course, made in the very short amount of time it took my friend and I to go inside and grab some coffee. I had just added the cream and sugar when Sage walked in with three wide and dripping red stripes across her face. Her right cheek and eye had been violently introduced to a protruding branch. "I think I'm bleeding," she calmly stated while the others jumped around and made a big, supportive fuss.

Sledding -- a horribly dangerous activity. Sage was obviously an accident waiting to happen.

Then there's bike riding, cheerleading, football, etc. -- I touch on these in Parenting and Acceptable Risk. Accidents waiting to happen.

Then there are all those little things that send a child to the ER...the time Alex slammed her hand in the car door, the time Sage tripped over air and banged her head against the wall, the time toddler Alex fell up (yes, up) a playground step and smashed her temple against protruding metal, the time a hellion threw sand directly into Sage's eyes hard enough to potentially scratch her corneas....if you're a parent, you know this list goes on and on and on.

So yes, my kids are definitely accidents waiting to happen. And those accidents will inevitably come...but probably not on the trail. That's not to say my girls are invincible in the woods. No one's immune to a twisted ankle or a broken leg, and sure, Alex or Sage might eventually fall the wrong way while hiking. However, statistically speaking, it's far more likely the next injury will come from doing something riding in a car.

Kids. They're accidents waiting to happen, each and every one of 'em.


OPW5000 said...

I like your point of interesting read. Sorry to hear about Alex. Hope she is feeling better soon.

Chris said...

Family Wilds said...

We know that must of been frightening for all of you, and are so glad she will heal well. Great post, Trish!

Anonymous said...

Trish, this post made my head explode! I hear similar comments all of the time, "How can you be so irresponsible to kayak, hike, camp, etc. . . with your kids alone. Someday they will get hurt and you'll regret the decisions you made." Yeah, maybe they will get hurt or maybe they won't. Or maybe they get hit by a car crossing the street. Accidents happen.

As for the people that are so vocal and quick to criticize the decisions others make for their children, they are working for a place of ignorance and fear. And those that allow ignorance and fear to be the driving force for the decisions that they make, they are the ones that have lost (but it took me a long time to understand that and to get to that place).

The gift you have given your children is in teaching them about mitigating risk, taking calculated risks, being prepared, and simply how to make good decisions. This gift far outweighs wrapping them in bubble wrap and sitting them in front of video games and TV.

Your girls have been given a gift of nature. They know how strong they are mentally and physically, they know what their bodies are capable of (and what they are not). If they don't know already, they will come to understand that a hike or a nature walk will lead them to a place of peace when they can't quiet the noise in their heads. It takes most people a lifetime (and hundreds of $$$ in therapy) to learn these lessons. The same lessons that can be learned in a long, hard afternoon on the side of a mountain.

The benefits of hiking, camping, and being in nature is a gift that can never be taken from them. You are a fabulous mom. Hike on ladies, hike on.


PS. I hope Alex recovers soon.

P/B said...

I’m a firm believer that if you make it to your 12th birthday without a scar, you were not much of a kid.

DuGout said...

I like the way you think. Acceptable risk with appropriate (and reasonable) precautions. We need more parents like that.

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Thanks, folks. Alex is doing well. Most of the swelling has already subsided and the lacerations are healing. It will probably be about a week before she looks completely normal, but her face looks much better today than it did yesterday. She appreciates everyone's concern.

Alison, many thanks for your kind and supportive comments. I'm sorry that you have also been subjected to negative statements from people who probably don't have a clue. Ignore the naysayers! That's actually the title of a chapter in UP - "Ignore the Naysayers." I've a feeling you'll like that one. :)

tom said...

Another great post. I must admit I was struck at first by the fact that your daughters are *little* girls -- not like 10 or 11 when they're little adults -- but they mountain-goat up those trails and over those rocks as little children of our species have done for 100,000 years. You've just managed to get them on the trail before civilization washed away everything their ancestors passed down.

As a hiking fanatic I see a hiking cure for everything, but I can't imagine a better way to bring up two kids.

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Tom, many thanks for your message.

As you write, little children of our species have walked/hiked long miles every day for at least 100,000 years. Even forty years ago, Alex and Sage's hiking probably wouldn't seem all that surprising. Television, video games, and computers keep a lot of kids indoors nowadays, and a general culture of fear makes many parents afraid to get their children outside and away from sanitized playgrounds. I personally think a lot of kids age ten and under could do what my girls do if they were outside and in the woods on a regular basis.

Your supportive words are buoying, so thanks again for writing.

personal injury lawyers said...

I agree. Certain activities have a high probability of accidents. The best way is to avoid them. Horseback riding and high slope sledding are dangerous.

Patricia Ellis Herr said...

Yes, I don't think I'm too keen on having the girls go horseback riding again. We have friends who go all the time and I respect their decision making skills. Just don't want my own kids doing it. As for high-slope sledding...the girls often sled down mountain trails, but I stay ahead of them (walking) so I can stop them from going too fast or losing control.