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Should I Be a Helicopter?

Friday, October 28, 2011

By Alissa Butterfass

As I write this, it’s a Sunday night. My family is just back from a long weekend in Florida. In just three days, we found time to build sandcastles on the beach, splash in the pool, eat some good Cuban food and hang out with my cousins. I even got in two good games of Scrabble with Grandma. Aside from my 2-year-old vomiting on me during the turbulent landing at LaGuardia, it was pretty close to perfect.

Except for one thing...

Yesterday, when my older son M. got out of the pool, I noticed that his lips were a particular purple-blue, the same shade my own turn when I’m cold. Granted, it was a relatively cool, gray windy day, and so it wasn’t surprising that anyone getting out of the pool was cold. But the color of M.’s lips was so exactly the same that mine get—whereas both my husband and my younger son’s lips stayed their usual red—that I immediately got nervous. Could it mean M. has a heart problem?

Back in 1972 there was no advance warning for my parents that I’d be born with a heart defect. I came out of the womb blue and it was clear that something was wrong. Medical technology has advanced, and in 2005, when I was pregnant with M., I was able to have a fetal echocardiogram. Among other things, ruled out his having my defect, TGV.

Just to be safe, when M. was about a year old, we got his heart checked out. Not surprisingly, my little squirmer moved and fussed the whole time and it was a challenge to get a good read on any of the tests. Still, the cardiologist didn’t find any alarming results and that was that. Similarly, our gestational carrier got a fetal echo for our second son S., and that time we didn’t even bother with a one-year cardiac work-up.

So seeing M.’s purple lips made me wonder… Maybe I’m being too lax. We all hear about helicopter parents who worry and fret about every little thing their children do to an extreme. I certainly try to give my kids the best care, guidance and love possible without becoming so overbearing that I impede their growing sense of confidence and independence.

But maybe I should start hovering a little more than I do. Our boys are energetic. They love to climb, bounce, tumble and wrestle with each other. They’ve taken their share of bumps and boo-boos, and the medical advice we usually follow is “shake it off.” A hug, a kiss, an occasional Toy Story bandage and we’re good.

I know there’s a simple way to ease my worried mind about M.’s purple lips—just take him to the doctor—which I plan to do. But I’m not in a rush. I figure I can talk to his pediatrician at the next appointment and determine a course of action then. My parental instinct (and a cursory examination by my husband the ER doc) tells me there’s probably nothing wrong with M.

But how do you know? What is the fine line between appropriate concern and annoying worrywart? Making a big deal of nothing vs. treating a big deal like it’s nothing? Living in a bubble thinking nothing will ever go wrong vs. living in bubble wrap to protect from any impending danger?

I really hope we’re finding the right balance. And I can tell you now, if by chance there is a problem you’re gonna hear some noise—the sound of my rotors buzzing as I start to hover.


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