The Post We’ve Been Avoiding

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write this post for well over a year now. But I also didn’t want to write it. Didn’t want to venture down this road. Didn’t want to type out the words because of some irrational fear that I might call a jinx into play.

The truth is, I didn’t know where to start. Didn’t know how to string my thoughts together in a lucid way, not the muddled heap of emotions that spills out whenever I’ve tried to articulate all of this before. It’s about choking. More specifically, children and choking. It’s one of my greatest fears, because it’s something real. Something that can actually happen, and in a blink of an eye.

I remember reading this NY Times story about the American Academy of Pediatrics pushing for warning labels on certain foods that are considered choking hazards. I couldn’t get past the first two graphs on this piece without clutching at my chest. It tells the horrifying story of a father, a Marine certified in CPR, who couldn’t save his 23-month-old daughter from choking on some popcorn. He had popped a bag in the microwave for his two kids to enjoy with him while they all watched television.

The line that jumped out at me, as if highlighted in burning bright yellow, was that this poor father knew CPR. And that didn’t matter. He was still rendered helpless.

Like many of you, my husband and I took the baby CPR class offered by the hospital where our son was born. We took it along with the other prenatal classes, there to help us feel informed and assured venturing into new parenthood. But that was almost three years ago. If push terrifyingly came to shove, would either of know what to do? Would we remember the crucial steps to save a child using CPR?

The answer is, frankly, I don’t know. I can’t be sure we could call the steps to mind and put them into action quickly and confidently. And so we push it out of our minds, trying to stay protected, somehow, by our ignorance.

Then something happened this week that brought it — the fear, the facts, the actuality — to the surface.

I picked up The Youngster at preschool and we moved along into our routine: after buckling him in, and before pulling off, I reach back and hand him a little snack. He munches on it as we drive home talking about his day. We were a few miles from our house when I heard him coughing. His healthy yogurt granola bar sounded like it went down the wrong pipe.

“You all right, buddy?” I asked, trying to keep my eye on the road and on him — through the rearview. Not a smart way to drive, to be sure.

He said yes, but it was between coughs and his eyes were watering. His face was getting a little red.

I asked him again and took a hard swerve to the right, pulling off into a private road. A golf course, maybe? I don’t know.

I hustled around to his door. He was talking, so he was breathing. I asked him to spit out what was in his mouth, and he did. Then I gave him some water.

He was fine.

More surprising, I was fine. I stayed calm through the whole thing — brief as it was — and never felt even a trickle of panic. As we made out way home, we talked about what just happened.

He moved on from it easily. And I did not.

This is why “they” say not to let your kids eat while you’re driving, I thought. But it’s such a part of our routine — he snacks, I drive, we get home and play — that I’m not sure how or if  to change it. So, let me ask you … in addition to taking a refresher CPR course, what would you do?

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    I got teary-eyed reading this. Snacking while driving is absolutely such a routine part of our day that I usually don’t even think about it. That said, I rarely if ever give the kids popcorn, and I tell friend that I don’t allow it at all – I too remember reading that same article.

    I know I won’t stop giving them snacks in the car – and we eat raw carrots (another danger food), and I know I can’t keep them from popcorn forever. It’s one of those terrifying parts of parenting that we have to find peace with somehow.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Oh, popcorn is so OFF our foods-to-eat radar. I once saw a toddler at a birthday party chewing away on popcorn (that was meant for the adults, mind you) and I had to change seats so that he was out of my line of sight. Too much pressure! But in all seriousness, it is terrifying. My heart was usually in my throat when my son first started eating solids.

      You’re right about making peace with it, somehow. I don’t think I’m at the point where eating snacks in the car is forbidden. I think… Clearly, I’m still trying to make my peace.

      Thanks for the comment!