Stories not meant to hurt people

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

I've always been kind of a research nut when I latch onto a new subject. I saw the mini-series "Disraeli" on PBS years and years ago and immediately read his biography. A ten-minute segment about glass-blowing, and I had to look that up, too.

Pregnancy and childbirth – the same thing. I think I read every "How to" and "Everything you need to know about Š" book they had on the shelves to prepare for the birth of our first child. Sometimes, however, the information simply doesn't sink in. I skimmed over the chapters on C-sections, and ended up having three of them. I didn't remember a single thing about prickly heat when the time came and had to rely on Mom's advice.

And then there was the hotdog incident, and the newspaper, which after a long and convoluted introduction, is what this column is really about. Every child care book, video and expert will tell you not to give your toddler hotdogs

becasue they are the perfect size to fit snugly in the child's wiindpipe and choke him. Yet, we do it all the time.

I did it – Scott loved them and it was hard to get him to eat any kind of meat (or psuedo-meat) so we did a lot of hot dogs in our house.

One morning, I read an article in the local paper, not the one I edited but a sister publication about 40 miles down the road. A child was in the hospital because he had almost choked to death on a hotdog. Reading about it so close to home finally drove the message in. Scott still got his hotdogs, but only after I'd sliced them into thin ribbons, or diced (minced) them up. Knowing it could happen and knowing it had happened made the difference to me.

What about the mother of that child, the one who choked? Did I condemn her for letting her child have a hotdog and almost dying? Surely she'd read the same books, heard the same lectures I had. No, I couldn't possibly condemn her, not when it so very easily could have been me at the emergency room with my child. I felt a great compassion for her, and perhaps even a little gratitude, for her plight opened my own eyes to the possibility of disaster.

The whole point of reporting history, and that is what a newspaper strives to do, is making sure the bad parts don't repeat themselves, which they will surely do if we don't learn from our mistakes, accidents, or simply bad circumstances.

I wash the fruit we buy religiously, having read about the pesticides and other chemicals that may linger even after the grocery store has washed them. Everyone in the family wears seatbelts, after having read so many police reports over the past 10 years that indicate those belts would have saved many, many lives.

I know I can't coat my kids in bubble-wrap to protect them from everything in the world. Just this week, Ben got a split chin in gym and Scott twisted his ankle climbing down from the bleachers. But I will do what I can to protect them, and part of

that means knowing what is out there that can hurt them – and for that, I read the newspaper.