Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lead Paint Perspective

This is my last lead-related post, I promise. Probably. But the past weeks of dealing with lead paint issues again has been interesting in terms of my response to the whole situation.

When Eleanor had an elevated lead level at her one-year check-up, I was so worried about her. I also spent a significant amount of time being neurotic about how it meant that I was a terrible mother who couldn't even keep her own child healthy. My therapist tells me I have a problem with "downplaying the positive" and I would say that's absolutely true when it comes to parenting. I take for granted anything I do well, as something surely all parents do, not even worth mentioning.

Instead, I focus on my shortcomings as a parent. I look at all of the times I get frustrated or tell her I can't play right now or give short answers like "Because I said so" instead of really addressing her questions about the world. It's so much easier for me to see what I'm doing wrong, instead of what I'm doing right. And the whole lead issue played right into that tendency of mine, and reinforced every negative comment I had ever told myself about my ability to be an effective, loving mother.

It took me a long time to get over that, and to not be so completely ashamed that my daughter had an elevated lead level, when almost no other parents we spend time with had an issue with it. The biggest problem with lead, in a neurotic sense, is that the effects are not always immediate. So I can spend years watching and waiting, attributing any of her possible shortcomings in school or bad teen-aged behavior to being a side effect of the lead poisoning that I didn't prevent. It's all my fault.

But I did get over it and come to terms with the situation. We've done everything we could to resolve the situation, and now I don't spend too much time wondering about the long-term effects, if any, because there's nothing else to be done.

And then, of course, that whole Pandora's leaden box was opened again with this house painting situation. But I've been shocked—absolutely shocked!—at how well I've handled it. So much less neuroses the second time around! To be fair, I'm sure a lot of that has to do with 1) it all started with our neighbor's house, not ours, and 2) at this point, we don't know that Eleanor's lead levels are elevated again. We are hoping that we've done enough to prevent that; Eleanor and I both have doctor's appointments next week. So if either of us get tested and the results are high ... well, at that point I probably might as well call this blog "Lead Ledger" or something like that.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't happen, though. The other big difference between last time and this time is knowledge. Last time, we had no idea what was going on, what we should do next, or even where to go to get this crucial information. We kept running into dead ends, contacting people who never got back to us or couldn't (or wouldn't?) give us the information we needed ... we spent a lot of time getting absolutely nowhere. Meanwhile, during all the fruitless phone calls and misinformation, that loop of "You're a terrible parent!" kept playing in the back of my mind, and every time I was put on hold I had another opportunity to sit and visualize all of the ways my lack of knowledge and inability to protect my child was ruining her life, now and in the future. (Yes, yes I was a lot of fun to be around.)

This, out of all the factors, is what has changed the most between last time and this time. We called the EPA to report the contractors on a Wednesday. Over the weekend, Keith and I cleaned the house inside and out. On Tuesday, lead abatement contractors cleaned the outside of the house and declared it lead free. (Or as lead free as any place in an aging, inner-ring Cleveland suburb can be.) I went from total panic to near resolution in under a week. The main reason for that difference is that, this time, we had the knowledge. We knew what steps to take next, and how to handle things.

This may sound strange, but I've actually found this second experience to help get some closure on the first time. I can apologize to my younger, freaked-out self. I know that you did the best you could. I know that it wasn't all your fault. You tried so hard to prevent the problem, and then fix the problem as soon as it arose. It is okay to blame other people sometimes, because all of that responsibility really shouldn't have been on your shoulders. And look! This time, we handled it so much better. Well done.

Let's just hope there's not a next time.


Karen said...

Eleanor is very lucky to have you for her mother, you do an incredible job and she is an amazing child!!! (I know how much you love exclamation points). If you ever doubt that, just give me a call and I will be happy to remind you.

M. Lubbers said...

I'd just like to point out to everyone that Karen is actually my mother-in-law. So if I'm getting credit from my MIL, I must be doing something right!;)

But really, Karen, you are always so supportive and encouraging, in good times and difficult ones. I hope I tell you often enough how much that means to me and Keith. And the next time I'm worrying about my mothering skills, I'll give you a call. (So, talk tomorrow?;)