Parenting, Singapore

You Can Never Be Too Careful

At the start of summer, an article about secondary drowning had gone viral, usually accompanied with pleas from well meaning friends to “please read. You can never be too careful.” Like a good mother, I read it.

A couple of weeks ago, an official from some environmental government agency and one of the guards from our building showed up at our door. They were going door to door informing residence that “several” cases of dengue fever had been reported in our neighborhood. He dropped off some scary reading materials and gave a few tips about how to keep the “mozzies” at bay. (Mozzies makes them sound almost cute, right?) Keep the windows closed and do not allow standing water anywhere in the house. You can never be too careful.

I’ve joined a few Facebook groups for Singapore expats. Someone posted a picture of a HUGE python inching across a bike path. It was on the other side of town but quite a few people commented with their own tales of running into pythons and cobras and other snake varieties all over the island. I swear one women told of green snakes falling from trees (but admittedly, I was completely freaked out and may not have read carefully). Apparently pythons do not attack – only if they are frightened – so no need to panic if you see one. But you know, be cautious. You can never be too careful.

You can never be too careful. But can you? Isn’t there a point when heeding caution and can overtake the reasonable threat to one’s well-being? I’m certainly no economist but isn’t like law of diminishing returns? You reach a point where your effort and worry to prevent the worst will outweigh the actual threat of “the worst” actually happening.

Every time we go to the pool or take a bath (which covers everyday of the week), I can’t stop worrying that someone is going to take in too much water, appear to be fine, and then a few hours later need to be rushed to the hospital. (If you didn’t read the secondary drowning article, this is essentially what happens. You take in a little water, appear to recover just fine, act normally, while the tiniest bit of water expands in your lungs and slowly drowns you hours after you’ve left the water.) My kids don’t know how to swim. They are still a little scared to put their heads under but the longer we live in this tropical climate, where kids their age and younger regularly jump and splash and dunk their heads, the braver they are becoming and it terrifies me. Every time one of them coughs or chokes, even if for a second, my secondary drowning censors go on high alert. Hours later, while everyone is calmly sitting on the couch I find myself asking them if they feel ok or if it hurts to breath. Then when they look at me like they have no idea what I’m talking about, I feel like a crazy lady.

Dengue fever, as it turns out, is often not severe, but in some cases, can require hospitalization. People who have lived here for years seem relatively unfazed by it but of course, I went ahead and read about what happens in the worse cases. But then again, the best repellent against the evil mozzies is Deet and depending on what you read, Deet can sound just as bad as Dengue. So my kids bathe in Tiger Balm (Deet free repellent) before school and I sit at home and worry that it’s not enough,

I haven’t stopped my running re-emergence, but I pick up speed under trees and I stick to well traveled paths. And everyday that passes and I don’t encounter a python, I am thankful.

Clearly, I haven’t holed myself and my family up in our house. I’m not sure I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns but I feel like I’m close.  I can’t stop looking for snakes and when I feel anything like a mozzie on me, I jump and yelp like…like I’ve just seen a python.

Despite how this post might sound, I’m actually not a particularly high strung person. But when you are responsible for the lives of little people, it can make that line between cautious and overly cautious very squiggly. Parenting but not over-parenting, allowing kids to take risks but not too risks that are too risky, challenging them without impossibly challenging, helping but not enabling. This parenting gig is tough.

I imagine as we continue to settle in and no one drowns in the living room, I won’t think about it as much but there will be something else – a rare but deadly parasite in the water, some exotic bird with toxic poo that burns if it hits you, needle like grass blades…

But I’m starting to believe there is something to remaining calmly unaware. My mother didn’t think twice about the possibility of me becoming decapitated while I bounced around the “way back” of our Ford LTD station wagon with my sisters and brother. She was too busy blaring John Denver and Kenny Rogers.

The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. So here’s to throwing away the useless worry and keeping the useful worry. But how Kenny, how do you know?

2 thoughts on “You Can Never Be Too Careful”

  1. This sounds awful! You’d better head right home. Then all you’d have to worry about is West Nile virus, EEE, the new mystery virus that’s headed here, the reemergence of whooping cough and polio, and terrorists….oh yeah, the dry drowning, too.


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