Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Edition of The Fearful Parent

Another Halloween is fast approaching.

I'm working on this year's pumpkin. I'm carving out a medusa head based on some the cameos I saw at the MET. I think the snakes are going to be the hardest.

The only problem is that The Child has fallen asleep, so I can't use the power jigsaw. He seemed OK with it earlier, but I put it down for some sharp knives and while I was carving out the little feathers of the wings on the left side of medusa's head, he passed out.

Trick or treaters should be appearing at our house in about four hours...

While I was carving, I had all sorts of Fearful Parent articles going through my head. Arthur's on the floor so he can see what I'm doing. Naturally, when I first separated the top of the pumpkin's head a few seeds fell out onto the newspaper. I picked up the seeds. Later, Arthur started to try to eat the newspapers on the floor. The article came unbidden to my head

Pumpkins can be a festive treat for baby's first halloween, but they can be deadly, as Susan of Chicago, Illinois found out. "I'd given little Dakoda-Shanti her own little knife to carve with. We'd always carved jack-o-lanterns when we were kids. I turned my back for just a second, and Dakoda-Shanti was out the door, with the knife." Susan's voice quavers. "She got into a police standoff holding up a Fisher-Price Depot."

We spoke with Dr. Sheridan Johnson, of the Safe Holidays Institute. "We all remember the fun of holidays past. But holidays these days are a lot more dangerous. Take pumpkins. Baby sees the pumpkins and will try to eat them. Most parents use the "bigger than baby's fist rule" and don't realize that it doesn't apply to pumpkins. Sam and May of Minneapolis, Minnesota discovered Dr. Johnson's warning too late.

"We thought, '[the pumpkin is] bigger than Leonardo's fist,'" recalls Sam.

"But Leonardo was just starting to teeth," adds May. "We were both in the kitchen when we heard a noise."

Sam continues. "I thought it was some early trick-or-treaters, so I went to the front door. But..."

"It was Leonardo. He'd gotten his little mouth around the stem of the pumpkin and the whole top of the pumpkin was lodged in his windpipe."

They called 911 and EMT's managed to dislodge the pumpkin from the infant's throat just in time.

Experts warn not only of physical hazards, but also of the psychological damage of Halloween pumpkins.

"We see this sort of thing all the time," says child therapist and pediatric physiological expert, Dr. Margaret Castle-Jones. "We call it, 'Post-Pumpkin-Stress.' PPS all starts out innocently, and 94% of the parents of sufferers of PPS we interview are completely unaware of the early trauma they've unwittingly submitted their children to."

Dr. Castle-Jones leans in. "The young child is taken by her parents to a pumpkin patch. They choose a pumpkin. Then the child sees how the pumpkin is cut up. A face is carved on the pumpkin; it can be a smiling face, it can be a frowning face -- it doesn't matter, the pumpkin has no choice about its emotional expression. After one special night, the pumpkin disappears; maybe it ends up in the garbage or a compost heap. During this whole time, the child is internalizing the pumpkin process. She might worry that someone will come to take her away; or will have her emotional expressions limited or dictated. Birthdays or other special celebrations can trigger PPS related anxiety that the child will disappear the next day. If the parents have been calling her 'pumpkin' as a nickname it can compound the damage fivefold."

Dr. Castle-Jones points to a graph on her wall. "We're experiencing the legacy of PPS as a culture; teenagers today are reacting to infant PPS by piercing ears, noses, chins, brows, lips and even eyes in an attempt to regain some of that perceived control they lost in their early developmental years."

We asked Dr. Castle-Jones what parents can do. "I'd recommend avoiding pumpkins during halloween altogether. However, if your family tradition is strong, a fallback strategy would be to purchase a plastic pumpkin that already has a smiling face (see SideBar for Plastic Pumpkin comparisons).

....oops. Look's like Little Pumpkin The Child is waking up. Time to fire up the jigsaw.
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