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How Do You Keep Your Kids Safe in the Summer?

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

Not to sound like an overly neurotic mom, but how do you keep your kid from killing himself in the summer, around pools and playgrounds, when he's finally—finally!—walking, running, trying to jump, and climb on anything he can (or can’t) climb on? Remember when I said I was missing the Neurotic Mom Gene last October? I just re-read that post and my foreshadowing was spot on: I specifically mentioned the things that are making me neurotic now. There isn’t a day that goes by that Preston doesn’t either A) fall, B) bump his head hard, C) scratch his eye, D) skin his knee, or E) all of the above—and I know how lucky I am that these are as far as the injuries have gone so far (knock on wood). Because up until now he hasn’t really been all that fearless, which is quickly changing before my eyes.

Take this weekend, for example. We were at the park across the street on Saturday, which Preston knows like the back of his hand since he spends every waking moment there during the week. Preston is so fast and sly, in a split second he’s navigated his way over to one of the very high and complicated jungle gym thingies, climbed up a chain ladder (it’s literally made of chain, with little bars for their feet), and has landed in a place that I couldn’t get to if I wanted. It’s one of the taller climbing/slide things that are meant for older/bigger kids, but apparently not meant for adults. He was up there without me (I tried to get to him, but literally couldn’t!), while the other older/bigger kids went barreling past him—I was at the bottom freaking the hell out. He’s holding onto a bar, swinging, and then dives head first down a very steep slide, and there’s nothing I could do to stop him (I pleaded). I guess he’s still learning cause and effect, because even he was surprised by how fast he went, and when he hit the ground head first (it’s one of those rubber, cushiony grounds thankfully), he banged his lip, flipped over on his head, let out a little cry, and then off he went again…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m relieved that the kid who didn’t move a muscle for the first 16 months of his life is finally mobile and agile, and is even able to dust himself off without being a big baby about it (usually). But he’s still a bit unbalanced, and takes spills pretty easily. He’s still figuring out how to jump (god help me), but has just figureed out how to run (though still in that drunken sailor kind of way, it’s adorable and frightening all at once). I kind of hate taking him to the playground when it’s crowded with other kids. Is that so neurotic? Not only is it a major workout for me to follow him everywhere (I’m dripping by the time we leave), but it’s completely nerve-wrecking: He’s just one step away from seriously injuring himself. For real.

On Sunday we spent the day at my best friend’s house in the ‘burbs: They have a beautiful pool in their backyard, with a water slide, rafts, the works. Preston had a blast. He loves the water, which is great and all. But the very first thing he did when we first sat him down on the pool steps was dive head first into the water—but he hit the steps!—and he banged his head pretty bad. He was fine, though, but he has a lovely raised bruise in the center of his forehead to show for it (see photo). He actually didn’t cry as hard as I would’ve expected (or as hard as I would have), but it looks so painful and I bet he’ll keep hitting that same spot over and over again, it’s so centrally located. His poor head takes such a beating…there’s almost never a time when there isn’t a purple bruise on it.

These same friends are having a pool party this weekend, so there will be lots of other kids running around. Not gonna lie, I’m a tad freaked out about it. With just us there yesterday, it was totally manageable. We could tell Preston to stop running near the pool, and he’d sort of listen. (One little slip and he’d surely fall in.) But with other kids running around, I’m considering not bringing him to the party. Is that overly neurotic of me? This is a hybrid kids/adult party, but the pool being there makes me nervous, even though it’s fenced off. He will see it, and he will see the other kids swimming, and then he'll of course want to join in on the fun. He’s at that age where his need for independence combined with his ability to tune me out when I am disciplining him are a recipe for disaster around playgrounds and pools.

Is there a trick I don’t know about when it comes to disciplining your kids around these dangerous distractions? It’s one thing for him not to listen to me at home, but quite another when there’s a pool nearby and other kids to influence him. But I obviously don’t want to rob him of these summertime pleasures either. What would you do? And did I mention I have a kid who LOVES the outdoors? Oh yeah, he'd live outside permanently if we'd let him. I know this is a good thing, but it rules out locking him indoors until he's 18.

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