Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where Are Our Babies Safe?

Sidney on his first day of day care - April 2010
As a parent my first and foremost concern is keeping my son safe.  I'm not talking about bubble wrapping him to prevent every bump and scrape (although at times this is a tempting option); I know as a little boy he will have his share of scraped knees and bumps on the head.  As sad as it makes me I know that at times he will have his feeling hurt and I will have to explain why things are not always "fair". This I can deal with.  It is Sidney's physical and emotional safety in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world that really frightens me.  As last week's horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut illustrates, no place is truly immune to violence.  If our children can't be safe in their own schools, surrounded by caring and nurturing  professionals, where are they protected?  In the midst of an already disheartening week I was further disturbed by an article in today's Washington Post discussing child abuse claims at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Child Development Center (CDC).  For those people who are unfamiliar with military terminology, CDCs are the military provided day care centers that provide safe and affordable child care options to thousands of active duty military personnel around the world.  Or so I always thought it was a safe option.  The report of two caregivers physically assaulting two-year old children under their care and additional staff with backgrounds that should have precluded them from employment around any children is another blow to parents everywhere.  If the military, a place where rules, law, and order are the basic tenants, cannot properly protect our children, I have to wonder whether anyone can.

Sidney spent fifteen months in the CDC at Bolling Air Force Base while we were stationed in Washington preparing for our overseas move.  I will never forget the fear I had as I left my tiny son at the day care facility for the first time.  He just seemed so small and helpless and I wondered whether he would be all right.  (The better question would have been whether I would be all right.  Mostly because Glenn was with me and wouldn't allow me to, I resisted calling the center to check on Sidney during that first day).  The caring staff reassured me that he would be OK and I left thinking that after all this was a military facility so if anyplace was safe, this had to be the place.  I was even more reassured when I was presented with his "schedule" from day one.  In true military precision, even the babies day's were planned out with nap times, meal times, reading, and outdoor activities.  Age appropriate music, arts, and sports activities were incorporated into every day.  Over the next year Sidney was more than OK.  He flourished under the watchful eyes of Ms. Renata and Ms. Amber.  Due to his prematurity he went from being delayed to developmentally caught up in record time.  At eight months he was using ASL to indicate more, please, and thank you.  Peer pressure had him walking at 13 months (which adjusted for his age was actually ten months).  Finger painting and the water table quickly became favorite activities which I welcomed since it saved us from having to deal with the mess at home.  The entire experience was good for me as well.  The experienced teachers taught me a lot about parenting, assured me that he was ready to move onto the next level when I questioned his ability (after all he was still so small), and taught me to let go of the smaller things.  Every bump and bruise that Sidney inevitably received during the day was documented and when he received not one but two bites from a fellow classmate (separate kids on separate days so I guess Sidney really is sweet), we were quickly notified and the issue was addressed.  Yes, I felt like this was a safe environment.   Removing Sidney from the CDC, his little friends, and his teachers was a bittersweet moment.  After that first week I neither regretted nor questioned our decision to place Sidney at the day care center.  Until now.

As parents of infants we child proof our homes, buy the safest car seats on the market, and make sure our kids only eat healthy foods.  Toys are age appropriate, we instruct our kids not to talk to strangers, and do our best to prepare them for the inevitable literal and physical bumps and bruises that lie ahead in life.  But I wonder whether this is really enough.  In the past week I've heard conversations ranging from the need to arm the teachers in our schools and to exclusively home schooling children, to complete assault weapon bans to requiring all gun owners to carry insurance the same way automobile drivers do.  Are these the solutions? Will these actions make our world safer or just make us all paranoid?  How do we move forward as parents if we have to question the safety of our children at every turn?  And what does it say about our society that we have been forced to do this?

Maybe bubble wrap isn't a bad idea after all............................

Sidney on his last day of day care- June 2011

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