Which is the priority-- physical safety, or emotional health?
This is the complex conundrum I am struggling with at the moment. It takes some explaining...
When I arrived to get Angel from school today the kids had just come in from the playground. Angel's hair was wet, I couldn't figure out why she was so much sweatier than the other kids (she does tend to run hot, but still...)
An older child I did not know, an after-school-care kid, was sitting next to Angel on the couch and asked me "Are you her mom?" I said yes and she sort of stammered "why does she...." and seemed to be gesturing at Angel's "shoes." Angel prefers to wear her little stubbie style prosthetics which we call her costume shoes because she wore them with her cow costume at Halloween. They were ideal for that because they resemble nothing so much as little hooves.
I understand that a little "Pan" child is a startling sight for most people, so I am happy to explain to kids that these are just her special shoes, as I did in this instance with this little girl. But she pressed on, asking, "but why does she have to be different?" I answered "well, everyone is a little different from each other, and this is just the way she is." The child then pointed out "She sure did get sweaty...." At this point Angel hopped down and ran off to play as I called after her that we needed to go grocery shopping, and the other child quizzed me about what I planned to buy from the grocery store.
A few minutes later I noticed Angel's bike helmet on the table, and suddenly realized why her hair was so sweaty. Today I had brought a helmet for the first time and had asked that she wear it when riding the bikes on the playground. For those who have not witnessed the results of a head injury firsthand I may seem a bit paranoid, but I am a real stickler for wearing helmets whenever a person is on anything with wheels. We do this religiously at home and I had just realized the week before that at school Angel rides bikes on the playground without a helmet. Okay, so they aren't exactly bikes so much as tricycles, but there is a bit more to it. You see, with out knees Angel can't just sit on a trike and ride it around like any other kid. Honestly, I don't think I'd worry much about helmets if that is what she were doing. However, since she can't pedal the trikes herself she hops on the back and clings on for dear life while some other three year old madly drives the thing.
(Yes, my resourceful munchkin has somehow gotten all the other kids to chauffeur her around the playground, but that is part of a different story...)
But you know preschool drivers these days. they just aren't reliable! With Angel clinging to the back of a tricycle it seems entirely possible that she will fall off, or that the weight of both kids will flip the thing as it takes a corner and a wheel gets caught in a sandy patch.
My mom used to have a couple sayings about the hassle of things like wearing seat belts and helmets and all the other things we do to prevent those "it's-never-happened-before-so-what's-the-big-deal" catastrophes...
"It only takes one" and...
"It's not how likely, but how bad."
That's the thing that makes me crazy when I see kids riding their bikes, in the STREET no less, without helmets on. Just because they've never had a bad crash before doesn't mean they never will, and it only takes ONE to drastically alter the course of their life and yours as well. Go visit a brain injury rehab facility if you think I am exaggerating. Brains are the least mend-able part of your body, and smacking your head is not like breaking your arm. I have seen this play out and I know the full extent of what I am trying to avoid! (I really am not a helicopter mother, I'd be happy to let her have adventures that lead to a broken bone that isn't in her spine or skull. I'll have to tell you about how I already let her break her leg...)
So I was chatting with the teacher and I asked if Angel had the helmet on the WHOLE time they were out on the playground. Yes. I explained that she only needs to wear it when she is on the bikes, and can take it off when she is doing other things. The teacher indicated that, since kids are back and forth to different areas, that would mean helping her with it on and off, on and off, the whole time. I got the feeling that this was considered too much hassle, it is easier to just make her wear it the whole recess time.
When we got into the car Angel's hair was still quite wet, and I told her that she only has to wear the helmet when she is on the bikes. She said "but when I was not on the bike I asked teacher to take it off and she said 'no.'" I was feeling pretty bad about this, imagining my poor child running around on the playground for an hour with a bike helmet on the whole time, and suddenly the words of that other child took on a new meaning...
"But why does she have to be different?"
Perhaps this child was not referring to Angel's unique shoes at all, perhaps she wanted to know why my angel girl was forced to wear a helmet at recess when no one else was.
And here is where my true dilemma begins....
Do I want to make Angel stand out more than she already does? Do I want her to not only be the kid with the "weird" shoes, but to also be the kid who has to wear a helmet just to walk around the playground?
NO! I don't want to subject her to anymore "one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others" than chance has already destined her to.
But do I want my magnificently clever funny child to struggle to relearn how to piece words together? Do I want to see her morph into someone who looks just like my kid but who has a completely different personality?
NO! I don't want her life's journey to be detoured by a head injury.
If I thought that I could count on the teachers to really monitor where she is on the playground, to jump up and get the helmet any time she heads for a bike, and to then promptly remove it when she moves on to the next playground thing, I would feel pretty good about a middle ground. However, I suspect that is asking too much of people who are paid too little to put up with the energy drain of 8-10 small people ALL DAY LONG.
I suspect this is an all or nothing thing here. Either she wears the helmet the whole time she is on the playground, or not at all.
So what is a mother to do?
* I want to clarify that I do NOT feel the teachers are not doing enough in this situation! Having worked in childcare myself, and indeed knowing how draining it is to spend the day with one small person who is in constant need of attention, I cannot even imagine how the teachers do it all day everyday with 10-15 kids at a time! I do not expect them to be on helmet duty on the playground, which is why I have a dilemma in the first place. Either Angel will need to go without the helmet, or will need to wear it the whole time.... Although I am intrigued by this idea some have mentioned of modifying the straps so Angel can manage it herself. I have actually been thinking of getting several helmets to leave at the school so that any kid can use one (at this preschool age kids still often think it is kind of fun to wear a helmet, so the kids may actually opt to if given the choice.)