Friday, July 20, 2012

To my teenaged self

I was a pudgy kid in my early teens. I saw myself as not just pudgy but fat, and unattractive besides. Consequently, I tended to dress, as one "friend" in high school put it, like a baked potato: drab. Self-confidence was NOT my middle name...

A friend from college took the picture below of me our senior year (I know, I look about 12, but I was actually 21) and she found it and sent it to me around 10 years ago. You tell me: is this girl fat and homely?

I don't know about you, but when I saw first this picture, I thought "How cute was I???" And fat?? Not by any stretch of the imagination. And it's not just that this picture happens to be particularly flattering; here's another one, from my college graduation:
Yup: cute. And so NOT fat.

But it's not just from the vantage of 20 or 30 years later that I can say I was cute then. Somewhere along the way from 1984 to today, I embraced myself. (And before you ask, I have no magic secret to share on how. I'm sure 8 years of therapy helped.) But at some point, I realized that I like my face: as is, no makeup, just me. And I mean I like it NOW, a few wrinkles and all, not just as it was 30 years ago. I also like my hair, grey hairs and all. And I even like my body, including the oversized boobs I inherited from my grandmother Crook. (And truly, I'm lucky - I'm 5 foot 6; she was 4 foot 11 something at her absolute tallest, and hers were just as big as mine...) I would like to continue to lose weight for my health, but it's not about thinking I'm fat and ugly anymore.

I wish I could go back and tell my teenaged self that you don't have to look like a supermodel to be beautiful. And how did we let the media co-opt the word beautiful and use it for headlines like "50 Most Beautiful People!" As if there were a limited supply of beauty, and it's relative, so only the top 1% or something qualify? Hogwash. We are ALL beautiful one way or another: God doesn't make ugly. We just have to find a way to embrace our own unique beauty and find ways to let it shine.

Alas, I cannot go back and tell my teenaged self that, and I don't know if she could hear it if I did. But I'll settle for this: if you're reading this, you are beautiful. Own it, cultivate it, revel in it, embrace it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The more things change, part 2

So, OK. Clearly my post on The More Things Change, about child safety issues, hit a nerve or three. The comments are limited to 4,000 characters, so in the interests of a fuller response, I'm doing a second post. I should say, everything I post here is my opinion, indeed, my musings on things I find interesting. I did not and do not espouse disobeying any safety laws.

First, regarding carseat laws, KalJ is correct that age 12 is a recommendation and not the law, at least in NC where I live (it varies by state - don't get me started on the insanity of that...). The law here is still 8 or 80 lbs. I should have verified that and not taken my coworker's (muddled) word for it. Still, even as a recommendation, yeesh... But the costs of infantilizing a tween by making them ride in a booster seat and the tradeoff in safety is a whole 'nother post for another day. 

As several of you pointed out, age (beyond some developmental point, probably in preschool) and weight are utterly irrelevant when it comes to the safety of children in car seatbelts. The relevant measure of whether a child (or adult) is adequately protected by a seat/shoulder belt is HEIGHT. Yet almost NO state carseat laws are based on height - they are based on age and weight. Lord only knows why - height is no harder to measure, and actually the easiest of the 3 for a cop who's pulled you over to estimate accurately (the cop's height being constant, they should be able to find out where the height cutoff falls on their own body, and use that as an index). I would not rail against a standard based on height, especially if it were coupled with laws requiring car makers to make seat belts adjustable to a reasonable range of pre-teen to adult heights. My paternal grandmother never topped 5 ft - should she have had to drive in a booster seat? (As an aside, I'm not sure I buy the contention that car seat belts are designed only for adult men - the seat belts in my Corolla, hardly an expensive car, are height adjustable to a range that easily fits The Nerd, who is currently 5'4", as well as my husband, who is 6'0".)

Moving on to cribs, how many deaths are too many and we have to ban something? Why do we ban a useful feature on cribs (drop sides) over 3-4 deaths a year, but we don't ban swimming pools? A quick google search finds a paper that found 675 drowning deaths in pools among 5-24 yr olds in a 4 year period. That's about 170 per year, a heck of a lot more than 3-4, a lot more families crushed when it's their kid, yet we haven't banned pools. Why not? They are purely recreational - there's no tangible"benefit" to them - they're just fun. There is, at least for some people, a benefit to drop sides on cribs. For me, that drop side on the crib was a life saver with Rapunzel, who was a hideously bad sleeper. Getting her down without waking her with the drop side down was hard enough; without it, it would have been nigh unto impossible. At what point would my own sleep deprivation have become a greater danger to her than the crib?

So, why are we so inconsistent? Why is it OK to ban cribs that cause 3-4 deaths a year and not ban pools that cause 170? I don't know the answer, and that's part of what interested me about the whole thing, though I obviously did not do a good job of conveying that in the original post.

One more thing. "You know more, you do better" sounds great, and in many situations, it makes sense. But gains in safety are not free. Sometimes, the costs (and I don't mean purely monetary) are small compared to the benefit of the decrease in risk. Take prenatal care: there are some risks associated with driving to appointments, but the gains in the health and well-being of both mother and fetus far outweigh them.

But that is not always the case. Take children on airplanes: statistics show that children under two are safer in a plane crash if they are in a carseat in their own seat than on a parent's lap. So, under the principle of "You know more, you do better" we should require parents to buy a seat for their kid and buckle them up, right? Not necessarily. Many airlines do now require this, with the consequence that as young families (not known for having a lot of disposable income) are faced with buying an extra ticket (or two), more of them are choosing to drive to their destination instead of fly. Except that driving, even in a carseat, is MUCH MUCH more dangerous than flying, even in a parent's lap. So we have, by saying we know more and should require people to do better, inadvertently caused MORE child deaths via car crashes than we have saved via plane crashes. Here, the costs exceed the benefits.

Now, both those examples are pretty easy comparisons because we're comparing apples to apples - child deaths under plan A to child deaths under plan B (whether it's prenatal care or carseats on planes). The tradeoff is, alas, not always so easy, and when it's not so easy, different people can and will in good faith come to different conclusions without any of them being wrong. Clearly, I came to a different conclusion than some of my readers. That does not make either me or them wrong - just different.

As a mother, I have to make tradeoffs about my children's safety all the time (see, for example, my post "You're Taking This Really Well!" about the girls doing horseback riding). As a risk assessor, I can't help thinking about those tradeoffs, and that's not a bad thing: I'd rather think about it and make conscious decisions, for good or bad, than depend on my unconscious intuition about risk (which is innately bad in pretty much all humans, myself included - our perceptions of risk are warped by a number of well-studied factors). And as a writer, it's likely something I will continue to muse on.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The more things change...

Ours was all white, but it did have that cool pop top...
When I was a child, cars did not mostly have seatbelts. The VW camper we drove in the 60s and 70s had lap belts in the front seat, and that was it - shoulder belts were unheard of then, and lap belts were far from standard. What's more, there was no such thing as carseats for infants, much less toddlers and older children. My mother had a car bed that just laid on the back seat for my brothers and I when we were babies.

Look, Ma, no seatbelts!
That's unthinkable now. Imagine if you told someone you just laid your baby on the back seat for car trips. At best, they would be horrified. At worst, they'd have you arrested for child endangerment. Yet it was typical 50 years ago. When I had Rapunzel, you had to have a properly installed carseat to talk your baby home from the hospital. You had to use one until your child was 5 years old or weighed 40 lbs, whichever came first. By the time I had The Nerd 3 years later, it was 8 years or 80 lbs, which I thought was taking it a bit far. I remember the day she turned 8 and we ceremoniously removed the booster seat - she'd been waiting for that day a long time. Now, a pregnant coworker tells me it's 12 years (or presumably some higher weight). Let that sink in: The Nerd is 12, and just finished 7th grade. Kids typically turn 12 in late 6th grade or early 7th grade. So the law now requires middle schoolers to ride in booster seats. Seriously? Even a year ago, at 11, The Nerd was taller than and outweighed both her grandmothers, and no one thinks they need to be in a booster seat.

This sort of obsession with child safety is, on the one hand, laudable, and on the other, going to ridiculous extremes. And what is unthinkable is changing, it seems, at an ever-faster pace. When Rapunzel was born, I would not have dreamed of using the crib my mother used for my brothers and me - the bars were too far apart and a safety hazard (little heads could get caught - Mom claims we all had really big heads, so it was fine...). I felt very superior that I knew better. But the crib Rapunzel and The Nerd slept in? Is now deemed unsafe because it has drop sides, and one day, both of them will refuse in horror to use it because "everyone knows those are not safe!"

I wonder what else I did as a parent when the girls were young that they will gasp in horror at when they have children. Like I did when my mother-in-law told me that when her sons were babies, baby formula was a make-it-yourself affair consisting of condensed milk and karo syrup.

It's not that I don't feel protective of the girls - I do - but at what point does taking reasonable precautions cross over into compulsive overprotectiveness? It makes sense to legislate safety protections for things that kill thousands of children and can be avoided through reasonable precautions (say, carseats for babies or booster seats for kids too short to safely use a shoulder belt). But no carseat is going to change the fact that driving is a risky activity. Thousands of adults are killed in car wrecks every year, even with seat belts and air bags and antilock brakes... So at some point, reasonableness has to take over. I would argue that keeping kids in booster seats until they're 12 crosses that line. Likewise, convenience must be weighed (and don't tell me it doesn't - if we weren't weighing in convenience, no one would drive. We'd still be using the horse and buggy.)

A deathtrap, if you believe the CPSC.
And take that now-verboten drop sided crib - how big are the risks, really? The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which banned them, says 30 to 45 children have been killed because of them in the last DECADE. That's 3-4 deaths a year. Out of how many millions using them? The most recent Census says there are more than 20 million children under 5 in the United States. If you figure they're pretty evenly distributed, that's 8 million kids under 2 probably sleeping in a crib. So, an annual risk of about 5 in 10 million, or 5E-7. For comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers risks 20 times higher (1 in 100,000) to be acceptable. Yet in banning them, the CPSC characterized drop-sided cribs as "deadly." Really?

I've said it before, and will say it again: you can't eliminate risk from life. We weigh risks against many other factors every single day, even if it's not conscious.

Still, I might as well take the crib the girls slept in to the dump - I doubt they will ever be willing to use it. And I'll steel myself for the inevitable "you did WHAT?"s that I will surely hear when they have kids and I start saying "when you were a baby, we...."

The more things change....

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wedding rings redux

I posted last month about not being able to wear my wedding rings, and ended with this:

"The upshot of it is, I feel less invisible to men without my rings. It’s a curious sensation, the resulting attention. Flattering, but also sort of surreal. On the whole, I’ll be glad when I can get my rings over that knuckle and wear them where they belong again."

A friend read that post and likened the rings to a force field, a metaphor I wish I'd thought of (thanks, Erin!).

Shortly after I wrote that post, I asked my hand therapist when she thought the swelling would have subsided and stabilized enough for it to be worth resizing my rings. They will surely need to be made larger, and by enough that stretching is not going to do it - I'll have to have gold added to both of them. Having just done that with my grandmother's opal ring to take it up 3 sizes, I know that will not be cheap, and this will be two rings, not one. So I don't want to pay to add gold and then pay to have some of it taken back out later. I'd rather wait till it settles at its new normal.

She told me it would probably be October. The next day, I asked the surgeon the same question and he said it could be a year from the accident (so, March). 

I decided I didn't want to do without my force field for that long. If nothing else, we will be going to Europe in August, and I don't feel comfortable traveling in a foreign country without rings (which is probably irrational, since Europeans are less like to wear wedding rings than Americans...)

My new pseudo-wedding rings.
So, I went to the jewelry store and got the finger measured to see what size ring I'd need to wear on it now. I then ordered a lovely blue topaz and sterling ring I've been coveting for a while on Etsy and a matching plain silver band in the current ring size. I figure once I get my rings resized, I'll have these made smaller and wear them on my right hand, in rotation with a couple other rings I wear there now.

The rings came today, and I am thrilled. The stone is much more beautiful than it looks in the picture... So, thanks to Cavalier Creations, I now have my force field again! And I really think I need the pair of earrings that match.....

Post script: When Chris came home and saw the rings, he took my hand and said "With this ring I thee wed." Awwwwww... I think I'll keep him!