How to really love a hedgehog: parenting during adolescence
(Warning: Sharp times ahead)
Life: It’s fun until someone dies
By Sara Wright
Late yesterday afternoon, another mom and I chuckled tolerantly while our group of our 11&12 year-old girls took turns inhaling from a bright red helium balloon and cracking each other up.
This morning my inbox contains a press release warning parents about deaths from inhaling helium. I read with dread. Turns out that in Florida, the one state that tracks these things, nine of 38 inhalant-caused deaths in 2010 were from helium (or 20 percent). It appears that most helium-related deaths result from people sucking helium straight directly from the canister, which can rupture the lungs, or creating prolonged exposure so as to suffocate.
The worst that befalls mere balloon suckers is occasionally passing out,* but these folks can get injured by falling.
So…people have died from attempting to talk like chipmunks.
So… I’ve been the parent to (incorrectly) tell this group of middle school girls “Sucking helium isn’t dangerous like whip-its.” Yep. That’s me. But cut me some slack, I want to say. I remember the grandmother entertaining her grand children’s friends by sucking helium in the movie “Parenthood.” We’ve all tried it the way we used to play on real rocks.
My daughter and I came home from last night’s gathering toting balloons and pretty soon the neighbors were sucking helium too.
I admit that I did feel a little uncomfortable yesterday when one or two of the girls said it was dangerous, and the others kind of overrode them. I even said to my friend, the mother who later did her research and sent the press release along with an email, “It’s like inverse peer pressure.” Turns out, it was just regular peer pressure. And that little voice of discomfort: That’s one I need to learn to listen to. I’m embarrassed, too, because adults are supposed to know stuff.
When we were in middle school, a couple of our favorite comedian boys frequently said “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” My husband’s favorite “A Christmas Story” jammies sport the slogan “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.” We like to tease parents for paying greater attention to the real dangers than the real joys of living in general. But parenting is a tough line to walk. We need to both be responsible and lighten up. That and admit when we make a mistake. (“You know how I said helium isn’t dangerous like whip-its, well, actually, there have been a handful of deaths …”) But, before I move on to being the responsible parent (from the clueless one), I want to say how disappointed I am in The Red Balloon. I trusted you. The fact that you can die sucking helium really sucks.
This is the name of the 2012 press release from the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition:
Inhaling helium seems like fun until someone dies.
Actually, that could be a pretty good headline for life, now that I think about it.
I told my daughter that now that I recognize the danger, she’ll have to pretend to inhale helium for the school skit later this week in which she is to portray a chipmunk. (And, have fun on that fake rock, while you’re at it, kid.)
“You’re a fuddy duddy,” she said.
“Sorry,” I said. “It’s my job.”
*Unless you manage to somehow get inside the helium balloon.