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Crossing over the comfort zone

This month Growing Up in Santa Cruz published an article by me about Beach Safety. I have to admit that I was not comfortable with one aspect of it. As every parent in Santa Cruz probably remembers, we had a horrible tragedy here last year. Some children were playing in a sand cave at Natural Bridges Beach and it collapsed, killing one child and gravely injuring another.

Besides the fact that I am a parent and have brought my children to that beach many times, the tragedy was even more personal to me because another family in my daughter’s homeschool program was there and it was their daughter’s cousin who was killed. I never want to hurt people’s feelings when I write about them, and in this case, I felt doubly wary about it. But on the other hand, sand aspiration is something I had been concerned about for a long time before this event, and I was shocked at how few parents knew about it. Although rare, a few people, usually children, die of inhaling sand every year. Most of the children who die are not playing in deep caves – they simply lie down in a hole they dug and sand falls on their faces.

I admit that I am that obnoxious parent who goes up to other families and tells them when their kids are doing something dangerous, but somehow it felt less anonymous to put that information into an article. But on the other hand, I felt that ignoring last year’s tragedy would convey something else – perhaps they would think that I was blaming them.

So I included it, and got some thoughtful advice on the wording of it from the aunt of the boy who died. I just received word today from the editor that she’d received a supportive note from one of the families involved. I hadn’t been thinking about how that issue containing my article is out there now, but that feeling of wariness rushed back to me when I read the first few words of her note. I was so relieved that the family felt that I’d not been judgmental, and that my article was a public service. That’s certainly how it felt to me, but I was concerned.

Every time there is a tragic loss of life, everyone around has to wonder what they did wrong. When it’s a parent, and the parent does something wrong that leads to their own child’s death, I just can’t imagine how awful that is. There was an article in the Chron about a woman who left her baby in a car and the baby died. She said that people would tell her that they would never do such a thing. We can all hope that, but everyone makes mistakes. I remember the time a woman was driving down Highway 1 with her baby in a carseat on top of her car. The CHP had to be extra cautious not to scare her when they started to pull her over. Luckily, her child survived. And in my own sleep-deprived state, I read the article thinking, wow, I can imagine myself doing that.

Those of us whose mistakes are of the common variety, which might hurt a person’s feelings or lead to loss of money, are just plain lucky. We all make bad decisions; we all forget things, even the most important things in our lives. “There but for the grace of God go I” was something I remember adults saying when I was a kid. That’s what I feel when I read other people’s mistakes, and I hope that when I write about them, this feeling comes through. It’s a tough call: writers do their best work when they cross over the comfort zone into something else. But words can hurt, and it’s something we have to keep in mind.

Posted in Culture.


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