Life’s Little Things

Protection comes in many guises

Recently our daughter was scheduled to receive a booster vaccine in school. I vividly remember vaccination day in my school; the multiple recounts of five inch needles, dragon nurses and the agonies retold for the benefit of those next in line. Although more than 30 years ago, the memory still makes me weak so unsurprisingly, I resolved to be with my four-year-old daughter on her appointed day. 

Very few parents were present but the nurses were kind, thoroughly professional and very sympathetic to their young patients. What struck me most forcefully was how compliant the children were. There was no crying or hysterics and each was meekly shepherded along to sit on a strangers lap and have their arms restrained while being injected in both arms simultaneously.

Years of watching my children receive injections has done little to make me comfortable with the process of vaccinations but this time I found the school setting and the willingness of the children to be jabbed, albeit compassionately, particularly unsettling.

Encouraging our children to be respectful of authority and yet make them aware of its’ fallibility is not any easy thing to do and teaching them to be sceptical of individuals while allowing them to retain their innocence is next to impossible.

As our daughter begins her school life, finds new friends and makes contact with their families, we her parents must be able to recognise a wolf in sheep’s clothing from a genuinely nice person.

A mother stopped me in the school yard last week to ask if my daughter would be attending a classmate’s upcoming birthday party. She appeared astonished to hear that my daughter was going but that I would be there too. “I wouldn’t want the parents to think I don’t trust them,” she confided in me, “even though my daughter wants me to, I don’t think I should stay.” If you don’t know them, I wondered out loud, why on earth would you trust them?

I have sat through my fair share of birthday parties over the years as we got to know our sons classmates and their families. Parents, bemused at first are happy to have an extra pair of hands to clear up the left-over nuggets and chips. Why should it matter that a stranger might be offended at your desire to ensure that your child is comfortable and well taken care of? We may want others to think well of us and we don’t want to cause a fuss but I would rather be thought overcautious or even rude than have to deal with the consequences of leaving my child unprotected.

Last year, every parent in this country was made painfully aware of how vulnerable our children can be at a birthday party. And yet, parents still naïvely give their children to strangers hoping that in the chaos of popcorn, lemon cake and magicians their children will be properly cared for. Making judgements about the people our children associate with is an ongoing reality for parents and worrying about social niceties is not just foolish but downright negligent. Allowing our children the freedom to enjoy their childhood means parents being active and obvious about their protection. Our children learn that they are deserving of protection and that parents will do their job even when others deem it inconvenient or unnecessary.

As I handed my daughter over to be vaccinated I wanted to take her and run away; but protection comes in many guises. I will volunteer her for discomfort and unpleasantness when absolutely necessary, but for as long as I can, I will never leave her unprotected.