I confess I only cleaned the toilet and sink that night because the sitter was putting my daughter to bed later. I left the sink wipes on the windowsill.
The next night, my seven-year-old daughter used them to wipe her butt, instead of the baby wipes – the ones I keep in the bathroom for when she has diarrhea. She hadn’t wanted help wiping and hadn’t needed assistance in years, and I was working on a project in my usual supine position.
When I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I saw the cylinder of wipes on the edge of the sink, looked in the trash, and pulled out the ones she had used. Realizing my daughter’s mistake, my heart began to pound in a familiar tempo, my reptile brain flooding my body with fearful irrational queries.
Could chemicals from the wipes travel through her mucous membranes and poison her? I entered her room and tiptoed close to the edge of her bed, where she was sleeping peacefully. She looked fine. Was I really going to wake her up so I could check her butt? What were the dangers of an overly sanitized anus?
I called the Poison Control Hotline for the second time in her seven-year life. “You’re going to probably think this is funny,” I began, and then went on to explain the situation to the woman who answered.
“Watch for a rash,” she responded. “But she should be okay.” Before we hung up, she asked me if I had any other safety concerns. “Oh, only keeping her safe for the rest of her life,” I almost told her.
I went back in to check on my daughter again. She was still fine. To be honest, as ridiculous as it may seem, I was still almost as anxious as I was the first time I called the hotline when she was two and I was a 40-something rookie mom.
The difference between now and then, besides many more gray hairs, is that now I can look back at my earlier mom self with a sense of hard-won humor and compassion from five years of on-the-job experience.
At two, my daughter’s innocent exploration at times caused me concern. The specter of choking hung heavy on my list of things that could lead to her untimely demise. It was right up there with playground pedophiles and psycho-sitters.
One day I handed her an open package of seaweed to eat in our living room and went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, I helicoptered back in to see what she was up to. Her small, soft cheeks worked as she chewed. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The problem was seaweed isn’t that crunchy.
“What are you eating?” I asked her, panic fluttering at the top of my ribs like a ragged-winged moth.
“Mmmmm…popcorn!” she exclaimed, from her seat on our living room couch, its beige surface mottled from layered spills I was too tired or lazy to clean.
Seaweed snacks caused my mother to question my sanity. I could understand her perspective. She was raised on meat and potatoes in a poor Dorchester, Massachusetts, neighborhood, where seaweed was something you played with at Castle Island, not something you fed your kids for the outrageous sum of two dollars per precious organic package.
“It’s good for her,” I told my mom when I caught her skeptical stare. “It has iodine.”
But that day, there was nobody there to judge – or to help. I squeezed my daughter’s cheeks to find the source of her “popcorn,” glimpsing several small, transparent pebbles rolling on her tongue. They weren’t popcorn.
I had always taken care to remove the small white packet of preservative labeled, in faded blue letters, “Do Not Eat,” from her containers of seaweed, but had neglected to remove it this time. She had torn open the white packet the size of a Chiclet, exploring, as children do. My reaction was outsized, as if she had guzzled lye.
Poisoned! My daughter was poisoned! I scooped her up under my arm, ran into the kitchen, and held her over the kitchen sink while I rinsed the pebbles out. With the other hand, I called poison control.
“My daughter just ate the packet from a package of seaweed!” I told the woman who answered. “Will she be okay? What should I do?”
“You wouldn’t believe how often we get this type of call,” she said, with saintly forbearance. “It’s silica in the packets – sand – which is used to absorb moisture. Your daughter will be fine.”
Sand. It was just a tiny harmless sandbag. I sagged against the pantry counter in relief as my amphibian brain crawled back under a rock. Then I carried my healthy, happy, alive daughter back to the living room couch and sat down heavily. It turned out she was fine.
And guess what? She still is.