Dr. Annie Answers: Water Safety

TRIGGER ALERT, Child loss and drowning discussed in this post. It’s not fun to read about but it might, just might, save your kid’s life.

Yesterday, we got to enjoy a rare hot and sunny Washington day on our friend’s ski boat. After the husbands took turns reliving their glory days on wakeboard and mono-ski, we put out the “Sidewinder” tube and my good friend went out for a much more tame go with her son and our two girls.

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Everyone was safely ensconced in life jackets. My husband, ER doctor and former lifeguard, was perched on the back of the boat ready to leap in if anyone was jostled off. Both girls know how to swim without floaties. We never went over 15 mph. And still, with every bump, every turn over the wake, my heart was in my throat imagining one of them popping off into the water and drowning.

As a doctor, I know that drowning is the leading killer of children aged 1-4. If there is only time for 1 thing to talk about at the end of a well-child visit, that’s the one I target. It’s something most parents worry about whether they know the statistics or not. And yet – we still miss the biggest risk most of the time.

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Kids are not at high risk of drowning when we are all playing together in the pool. They’re not at high risk even when bouncing along in a life jacket behind a boat. It’s when we don’t think they’re going in the water at all that the danger is highest.

The day before our boating, I had lounged and gabbed with our friends on the beach – Rosie and Mimi 200 yards down the empty shore collecting seashells and I was honestly more worried that the bald eagle we kept spotting would come carry one of them away than the very real danger they could wander down to the water’s edge without us noticing and drown in moments. We ALL forget that it’s these unguarded moments that are the real danger. Even the professionals. 

The recent stories of toddlers drowning in the media – including the tragic loss of Bode Miller’s daughter and Nicole Hugh’s son – have started a new fight to promote water safety with the AAP and in the public eye. They highlight just how quickly the lives of even the best parents can be changed by drowning. And also, that you can do things to decrease the risk and improve chances of survival.

So, what can you do? Should we all keep life vests on our kids 24/7 when we are in walking distance of water? Should we just give up and never let them around water deeper than an inch? Leashes? Well…. I mean you could. But, there are more practical solutions.

1) Education

Talk to your kids about water safety from the beginning. I have erred on the side of scaring them about it because I’d rather they be a little timid as swimmers than over-confident.

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Strongly consider enrolling them in ISR Self Rescue classes sometime after age 6 months and before 6 years old. These classes teach infants to toddlers how to roll over and float safely if they fall into water.

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Photo credit: Brendan Nicholson

I think my friend, the super smart mama Dr. Elizabeth Nicholson (that’s her cutie above), says it best:

I’ve seen conflicting opinions of ISR over the years … As an Emergency Medicine physician, I am painfully aware of drowning risks. Each summer, I console at least one family after the loss of their child. Primary prevention, such as locked fences and sturdy pool covers are the most important, but we all know that even the most attentive caretakers have escape artists for children. It takes only seconds.

I wanted to have extra seconds to find my kids. I viewed drowning prevention through ISR like buckling a car seat or holding my hand in a busy parking lot. It might not have been fun every minute, but crucially important.

Our instructor is wonderful. She pushes the kids in a safe a supported manner. They are reassured during class and proud after learning new skills. Even with vastly different temperaments, both of my kids have learned the skills AND love the water. See for yourself!

 

 

Want to see it in action? Check out the video of the “final lesson”, falling in with clothes on below:

Look up the closest certified program to you here.

2) Tools

  1. Barriers: If you own a pool, a pool fence or safety-focused pool cover is a MUST. We moved into the gorgeous backyard oasis above, but all I saw was drowning risk until we got our All-Safe Pool Fence. If you’re inside and not in “swim mode”, keep the kids behind locked doors – make sure the locks are child-proof. A hook lock at home or simple stick-on child lock at a vacation rental can be applied to most sliders above child’s reach to be safe.
  2. Lifeguards: If you’re at someone else’s home or on a watery fun vacation without a fence, treat watching the kids like lifeguards do. Someone should always be the primary observer. If that person needs to go, they need to actively and explicitly hand off duty to another adult. When you’re in a group setting without this designation, it is WAY too easy for everyone to assume someone else is watching the kids – which is what happened to this family
  3. Life jackets: If the kids are just playing in the yard around an open pool or on the beach near the waves, they still need life jackets on and/or an adult “lifeguard”. 20045346_10100140255349096_1854036280355769801_o.jpg
  4. Pool alarms: Again, if this is your home or somewhere you go frequently, a good back-up measure is an alarm so you know it they’re in the vicinity.

3) Rescue

If you haven’t already, enroll yourself and your adult family members in a CPR class. Make sure to continue updating it when it expires. Drowning happens quickly and silently and you can’t be sure how long the kid has been in the water. If you get to them quickly, rapid initiation of CPR while someone else calls 911 can absolutely save their lives.

Adult & Child CPR Anytime Kit

You can look up classes in your area here or get at home kits. Don’t let this be one of those, “well I was meaning to do it, but we were just so busy….” items. Look it up today. Put it on the calendar for within the next month. Chances are you might literally save a life.

4) Spread the word

Tell. Your. Friends. If you see unsafe practices around water – say something. We can’t know how many lives have been saved by the preventive measures above, but it’s definitely significant. Not sure where to start? Send them this blog article or post a pic on social media saying “PSA: pool fences save lives” or whatever speaks to you. Just keep people talking about it. We should be talking about this AT LEAST as much as preventing SIDS or the proper carseat positioning in your vehicle or which screen time is the least evil screen time because it still remains the leading cause of early childhood death.

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Alternatively… stick to inland splash pads.

Dr. Annie is a married mom of 2 plus 1 on the way and family physician in the Sacramento area.

Save Our Water Series, Vol. 2: Sustainable Agriculture and The Importance of Supporting Regenerative Practices

In our first volume of the Save Our Water Series, we spoke about rain barrel production and the benefits on small gardens to big farms.  Today’s volume will illuminate the myriad of important information gleaned when researching sustainable farming, and what it can do to really save our planet.

We will begin by understanding what Sustainable Agriculture is.  In short, this type of farming practice keeps the greater good in mind. It protects the environment, public health, animal health and habitat, and allows us the ability to produce good food without hindering the next generations ability to do so.

Well what is GOOD FOOD? Great question. “Good” food, in my opinion, is local(the further it travels, the more preservatives have to be used), truly organic (get your round up out my face) properly fed (grass fed, or true omnivore diet for chickens because chickens are NOT vegetarian), non hormone or GMO enhanced (screw you Monsanto and the three headed , genetically modified horse you rode in on), FOOD grown or grazed in soil that not only is rich in proper nutrient densities and ratios, but also maintains a pesticide and herbicide free grade.

Let’s break down the difference between Industrial Practices and Sustainable practices.

Industrial Crop and Livestock Production

So basically, Industrial crop and livestock production uses a type of monoculture. What is Monoculture, you say? Oh, let’s let the experts explain.

“Monoculture is a common practice in modern agriculture in which large acreages of land are planted with one type of crop, usually multiple years in a row. Often such techniques are used to supply goods to other regions or countries. Monocultures deplete the soil and crops grown in this manner become more susceptible to pests and disease than those grown in a diverse crop environment, thus requiring larger amounts of chemical sprays (i.e. pesticides). Monoculture on animal factory farms refers to the raising of one type of animal (generally chickens, turkeys, cattle, or pigs) confined in densely packed expanses, often treated with hormones and antibiotics to maximize growth and prevent the diseases that would otherwise spread quickly through the farm. These operations produce much more waste than the surrounding land can handle, and the farms are associated with numerous environmental hazards as well as animal cruelty. The government calls these facilities Concentrated (or Confined) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).”

Sounds AWESOME, right?

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This seems, to me, that they are operating under the notion that they are gonna treat everything like crap, just to “feed the world” chemically downgraded food that is low in nutrients, and high in toxic crap.

Sustainable Livestock Production

Farmers that use practices with sustainable focuses allow their animals to eat an instinctive, natural diet, to move freely on pasture, and to eliminate the stress and disease (hello no disease, no antibiotics needed…f*#%ing DUH) that a cramped environment produces.

People are led to believe that in order to feed more people, we must use genetics to produce food that can withstand drought, bugs, weeds, and weather patterns. That is just untrue in a lot of cases. Sure, the big companies take a hit in the wallet when these things happen, but to truly teach sustainable farming will impact our whole world.

“Regenerative Agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”

I cannot explain the benefits any better than Regeneration International can in their well researched list below.

A Global Shift to Regenerative Agriculture Can:

  • Feed the world: Small farmers already feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. > Read the GRAIN Report
  • Decrease GHG emissions: A new food system could be a key driver of solutions to climate change. The current industrial food system is responsible for 44 to 57% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. > Read the GRAIN Report
  • Reverse climate change: Emissions reduction alone is simply inadequate. Luckily, the science says that we can actually reverse climate change by increasing soil carbon stocks. > Read the Rodale Institute Report
  • Improve yields: In cases of extreme weather and climate change, yields on organic farms are significantly higher than conventional farms. > Read the Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
  • Create drought-resistant soil: The addition of organic matter to the soil increases the water holding capacity of the soil. Regenerative organic agriculture builds soil organic matter. > Learn More
  • Revitalize local economies: Family farming represents an opportunity to boost local economies. > Read the FAO Report
  • Preserve traditional knowledge: Understanding indigenous farming systems reveals important ecological clues for the development of regenerative organic agricultural systems. > Read the Action Aid Nepal Report
  • Nurture biodiversity: Biodiversity is fundamental to agricultural production and food security, as well as a valuable ingredient of environmental conservation. > Read the Report
  • Restore grasslands: One third of the earth’s surface is grasslands, 70% of which have been degraded. We can restore them using holistic planned grazing. > See the Evidence
  • Improve nutrition: Nutritionists now increasingly insist on the need for more diverse agro-ecosystems, in order to ensure a more diversified nutrient output of the farming systems. > Read the Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

We Can’t Afford Healthy Food

This is a legit concern as health food stores are quite pricey when it comes to organic food. Finding your local farmers market (yes, they have them in cities all the time) or finding a crop sharing organization such as Agriberry here in Virginia and Maryland, helps keeps the cost of truly organic farm fresh foods down.  It also provide the added benefit of having your family eat what is in season, which requires less industrial farming interventions.

 

In small towns, like ours here in Virginia, farmers markets supply these local farms a venue to sell the fruits of their hard labor. We utilize these markets for produce, and have a gone in for several years on purchasing a cow sharefrom a local SUSTAINABLE farm here in Orange, VA called Renewed Pastures Farms.

Farmer’s Market Setup

The owners, Jason Goforth and his wife, invited the family and I to tour the farm and see exactly what the farm does to remain sustainable. We could even see how the cows live and graze if we wanted to!

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‘Sup, Jason?!

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In the health food store, a pound of Grass-fed meat is roughly $6-$8 depending on the store and the company. Over time if you are an avid beef eater like we are, the tax, price for gas for the trip, the packaging, and price fluctuation in the market adds up quickly. So, we do a cow-share with some friends of ours. We get 1/2 a cow that is cut to order and will last us roughly 8-12 months. At less than $8 per pound, we get filets, flank steaks, London broils, and even or ground beef allotment for a STEAL compared to grocery store. And Jason delivers it right to our deep freezer!

So we have local (within 100 miles), preservative free (freezing is their only method), and true sustainably farmed meat that our family can rely on for an unbeatable price.

How can we NOT afford that?

*** Check out this PDF on Grass-fed Cow Market News.***

The simple truth is this, we have to support our farmers who work their butts off to uphold truly sustainable farms. They rely on us to purchase their products, be it produce or meats, in order to keep their higher standards up. So let’s get out there and support our local folks!

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Dear Teacher: An Open Letter to My Son’s Teacher

Now that it’s summer time, and we have the time to reflect upon a successful kindergarten year for my son, I have been thinking of you, his teacher, a lot.

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A few years ago, I took my son to his preschool friend’s birthday party.  A few of the other moms in attendance were complaining to one another about our kids’ assistant teacher. They were saying, “She’s mean. She doesn’t like children.”   I said, “She isn’t mean; she is strict. Discipline is black and white for her – there is no gray area. She doesn’t harm the children, and she doesn’t say discouraging or disparaging things to them.  She is tough. I am ok with that. Structure in the classroom is good.”  No one seemed to agree with me, and that’s ok.

My reasons for feeling this way stem from a few things, not the least of which is due to the kind of mom I am.  I work long hours. When I get home I want to enjoy my children.  However, if they have been unhinged all day, it’s impossible to do because I spend all evening trying to reel them back in. I would rather spend the evening enjoying them, eating dinner, reading books, playing games, riding bikes, rolling around on the floor and snuggling on the sofa watching a movie.

I do understand viscerally the emotions these women are feeling, so my sharing this story isn’t meant to shame them for how they feel. I feel it myself sometimes. When my son is on the playground and another child shoves him aggressively to get by, I feel an intense desire to intervene and protect my son. “Wait,” my husband says, “and watch. Let him handle it first.” I stand by, my palms sweating and my heart beating, imagining myself march up to the parent of this kid and ask why they haven’t disciplined their kid for putting his hands on mine.  Then, something magical happens.  The kid does it again, and my son turns calmly to him and says, “Hey.  Don’t push me.  Ok?”  Just like that, it’s over.  As I’ve shared here, I learn very important things from my kids every day – usually, and especially, when I let them try to resolve their own issues.

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We were watching reruns of Friday Night Lights recently. There was a scene where the coach is yelling at the kids in the locker room.  Not speaking words of encouragement – straight up yelling at the top of his lungs.  The team members shrunk in their seats, feeling the heavy weight of disappointment on their shoulders.  Then, they worked harder, they ran sprints, they rolled in the mud.  They learned their lesson and they tried harder.

As I was watching this, a light bulb went off in my head.  I thought about my husband’s volunteer coaching gig at a local high school and remembered him telling me a story about a kid’s parent who wrote him a strongly worded email, chastising him for “yelling at” his son.  My husband is not a yeller.  He explained to the parent that he expressed dissatisfaction to the kid because he was disrespecting his teammates, but he didn’t yell.  And so I thought to myself, what is our obsession, as parents, with trying to prevent our children from being disciplined by the very people that we are asking to teach, coach, and discipline our children?  When I played sports, I got yelled at by my coaches.  I didn’t like it, sure.  It didn’t make feel good.  But you know what?  I am so glad it happened.  It taught me so much.

I want my kids to learn how it feels to do something wrong – to feel the consequences, most intensely and piercingly being when you disappoint someone you love and admire. Your teachers. Your coach. Your mom. Your dad. I remember those feelings in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to protect my kids from that. It’s better that they make mistakes and understand the consequences in a space where those consequences don’t result in life altering outcomes like injury, jail, death, addiction. Teenagers are emotional and impulsive creatures.  I don’t want the first time for my son or daughter to be held responsible be years from now when he/she is a teenager and makes a bad decision like drinking and driving which can result in a DUI or worse, hurting themselves or others.

Emotional intelligence is more important to me than book smarts. Responsibility. Bravery.  I teach my son to stand up for what is right especially when it is hard. When he comes home and tells me that his heart hurts because someone was mean to his friend, I revel in that moment. He needs to understand empathy. Not sympathy. He can learn his ABC’s any day.  It doesn’t take a genius to teach ABC’s, but it does take a great teacher to teach empathy, kindness, bravery, humility and leadership.  Those things don’t develop when teachers are only allowed to dole out positive reinforcement instead of appropriate discipline.

I want that when my son is given accolades for an accomplishment that he feels true pride in knowing what he did was exemplary. I want him to motivated by this feeling over and over again.  It’s impossible to know this feeling if everyone gets a sticker, award or trophy. It’s also impossible to know this feeling if you are never disciplined for doing something wrong.

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We find ourselves in interesting times. We are begging for leaders of strength, kindness, good-heartedness and intelligence. However, we aren’t fostering the growth of them. We won’t allow our kids to fail. Parents handle everything for their kids. Strength is not made when you don’t have to work for things. Our children must learn how to effectively communicate with their teachers, how to stand up for themselves, how to ask for help, and how to learn how they can do better, be better and reach higher.  Minds, souls and bodies are all like muscles. You must work them to grow them.

I am sorry, dear teacher, for the precarious situation you now find yourself in. I was surprised when my son’s amazing preschool teacher called me one day a few years ago  to talk to me about my son’s day. No, not because he is perfect. He most certainly is not, and I am thrilled that in our household we do not have those ridiculous expectations. But because she felt it was necessary to proactively explain to me that he was reprimanded for doing something mischievous with his friends (climbing a fence) and against the rules. That call made me so sad.  Not because my son did something wrong.  He was four, and he’s a very fun little boy who values his friendships above all else, so I wasn’t surprised.

The call made me sad because the teacher likely has to make dozens of these calls a week, if not more, in an attempt to protect herself from angry parents who want to know why their perfect child came home and told them that he/she was disciplined in the classroom.  You, teacher, must spend your evenings making these calls instead of relaxing after a hard day of being paid WAY less than you are owed.  What, my fellow parents, are we trying to accomplish with this intense oversight?  This is not a rhetorical question – I actually want someone to answer this for me.  Parents: What are you trying to accomplish by making our teachers and coaches afraid to teach and coach our children?

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I don’t want my son and infant daughter to be me. I want them to be better than me. In whatever way that means for them.  As I see their shiny faces, looking up at me, happiness and interest and calm, I want the world to be a safe place.  But it isn’t. I can make my home safe but I can’t control the world. I don’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, if someone harms my child (physical abuse or worse), I will intervene (and God help whoever has to deal with me in that type of situation, believe me.)  But, that’s not what we are talking about here.  We are talking about normal discipline in a school setting.  Warnings, time outs, privilege revocation, etc.

I want my children to be equipped to thrive in the real world. To know triumph. To know disappointment so that the triumph is sweeter. To search and work toward a solution. To lose. To win. To be bad at some things. To be good at some things. To be prepared. To be unprepared. To love and innovate and shine independently from me. They don’t need to change the world – just themselves, and always in a positive direction. For as they become the best version of themselves, they will change my world, their world, and your world. All teachers are not the same.  Some are loving.  Some are strict.  Some are silly.  Some will like my kids, and some won’t.  But THAT’S LIFE.  My kids will learn, just as I did, that not everyone is going to like them, and that’s OK.  I want my kids to be prepared for the WORLD.

So to you, dear teacher, your role is an important one. You are my partner, and I am yours. We work together and support one another.  You aren’t the mother – I know that that’s my job. You are their teacher, and I am so glad you are.  Don’t give them the answers. Help them learn. Don’t let everyone win. Help them grow. Hold my child accountable. Hold us all accountable to ourselves.  I support you, and I hope for a world where you can do your job without fear of being fired because a parent is upset that you hurt their child’s feelings by moving them to the back of the line when they couldn’t listen or follow the rules.

Otherwise what is the purpose of school?

With Great Gratitude,

Margo