28 May 2009

Don't Panic

As a parent, as word that the first case of H1N1, or Swine Flu, has hit my children's school district, it is hard not to panic. As soon as you become a parent, the urge to panic is fierce.

You can't help but see the world through different eyes. You are responsible for a tiny, helpless, extremely vulnerable creature, and the world seems like a far more dangerous place.

A few days after Sarah, my oldest child was born, David recounted how this new perspective changed him. As he was walking down Valley Road, in the heart of Upper Montclair, a lovely place, he suddenly noticed all the teenage boys, and our friendly town took a sinister turn. As he passed each boy (my there are a lot of them, where did they all come from?), he couldn't help reflexively think, about each and every one of them: "You can't go out with my daughter." "Don't touch my daughter!" "DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT LOOKING AT MY DAUGHTER!"

At times like these I find it helpful to remember the immortal, ever wise words of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: DON'T PANIC. It never helps anything.

Whether we realize it or not, as parents, our emotional states are intimately connected with those of our children. When they are happy, we feel good; when they are sad, or ill, we absorb that pain. The opposite is true as well; our children feed off our emotions, and if we are panicking without good cause, our kids are bound to pick up that energy. And then we have two, three, infinity number of people feeling anxious, without necessarily knowing why. And no one can think clearly in this state of mind.

It was inevitable that H1N1 would eventually come to my town, so when I heard the news it did not surprise me. I am no medical expert, but from my perspective, all the coverage in the media, at this point, it is much ado about nothing. This seems to be a mild virus, milder than the regular flu. At this point, it is no real danger to anyone who is not seriously immunocompromised. In fact, it is probably a good thing that we are being exposed to this virus now, as it may act as protection when next year's flu season rolls around.

This is not to say the CDC shouldn't be monitoring H1N1 closely, or that I would willingly expose my children. If they were to get sick, I would be concerned, perhaps even alarmed. Until I remembered, DON'T PANIC.

The bane of twenty-four/seven news coverage is that when there is nothing new to say, we keep hearing the same thing over and over. This repetition only serves to heighten people's anxieties, and societal dynamics are just family dynamics writ large.

So don't rush to keep your kids home from school. Wash your hands. Sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Teach your children to do the same. Teach your children how to wash their hands properly, and MAKE SURE they do it. WELL. Every time they've been to the bathroom, or had their fingers in their nose, or their hands in their pants. (Mothers of boys, I'm talking to YOU.) Seriously, I think this is one of the most important things we as parents can teach our children. Clean hands save lives.

But above all, DON'T PANIC.

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