Elisabeth Röhm’s Blog: Ringing the False Alarm
Elisabeth Röhm, best known for her role as Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order, is in the middle of a very busy year.
In her latest blog, Röhm — mom to 3-year-old Easton August with fiancé Ron Anthony — finds her imagination running wild after a situation at summer camp, but wonders if being a little paranoid isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to kids.
Have you had any false alarms with your kids? Have you jumped to conclusions before having the full picture? Elisabeth wants to know.
Paranoia will destroy you, as they say, but when it comes to our kids, it feels like my new natural state of mind.
In general, I’m a very rational human being (or so I think, although I’m not sure what others would say on this matter!) who sways towards peaceful conflict resolution. I certainly don’t have a room with political theories taped to every square inch of the wall space. When it comes to my personal and professional relationships, I don’t assume the worst — quite the opposite actually; I tend to expect the best.
These days however, even when it’s as innocent as Easton coming home and telling me she was pushed by another child at school, I’m like, “Who, what, where and tell me their mom’s name and digits.”
Then of course I come back to reality and try the other tactic of helping her to protect her body and express her feelings to her friends or the occasional bully in a confidence-building and productive manner.
How do we control our vivid imaginations when it comes to our kids, PEOPLE.com readers? What’s the healthy dosage of anxiety and anticipation of potentially not-so-kosher scenarios that occur when they are out of our supervision?
I certainly don’t want to project a fearful existence on to my child but when it comes to Easton, my instinct lately has been to jump to conclusions that lean towards more of a negative spin on things.
I’m not enjoying this newly-discovered paranoia. But I am thrilled to be feeling the fierce mama lioness in me! It’s only right.
Most recently, it’s emerged in living color due to Easton going to several day camps over the summer with people who I don’t know that well, despite my third degree interview style. Although I grill the staff during drop-off and pick-up to hear about the day’s events, I still worry about her when she is with strangers, which is appropriate. New people, new scenarios, new judgment calls, etc.
Not to mention I put a little fear into anyone dealing with my kid, which can’t be a good thing — or can it? No matter — my philosophy is, “Deal with it!”
It’s my job to protect my daughter and although I don’t want to project paranoia onto everyone, I want to take the proper precautions and not be one of those parents that just takes off right after drop-off or pick-up without a full report.
Note to my mommy friends here on our blog: I’m not like this at her school so much these days, but the new environments this summer have made me go a little overboard some might say. I say, “Deal with it!”
However, it all went to an entirely new level two Fridays ago when I picked her from her final day of camp. Of course, it always happens on the last day, right?
So I picked her up from her local beach safety/surfing/yoga/awesome summer camp that I had extensively researched and heard only the best things about. Friends’ kids attended the camp all summer and had raved about it, not to mention a mother runs it. On top of all that, I’d done my daily third degree.
Easton only attended the camp for a week and all seemed well on those first days. I’d get there and I couldn’t tear her away. She’d be nibbling a healthy treat or engaging in some physical activity. Until that last day. Duhn-duhn!
I got there and she had a change of clothes on that were slightly damp and too thin for the foggy and cold afternoon it had turned into at the beach. She was milling around without adult supervision and was slightly shivering. I asked her why she had changed her clothes and she told me that she had fallen in the ocean. She wasn’t even wearing the cardigan that I had provided in her backpack!
Nope ladies, there didn’t seem to be enough care of the situation for my taste. Not at all. No counselor approached me upon my arrival to explain the day’s scenario. I realized it was the last day of camp so I tried to be cool and say to myself, “This is a beach camp … things happen. She fell, it’s to be expected.”
Anywho! Easton was cold, tired and really happy to see me, so I decided to scoop her up and get her home for a warm snack and some rest. I thought better of making a big deal out of it, even though I was slightly pissed by their lack of concern. Shame on them. But I figured we should go home and chill out as she seemed to have had a bit of a rough day.
At home she started to do the oddest thing. She kept running to the bathroom saying she had to pee, but then once we would get her situated on the potty, she’d say, “I don’t have to pee” very innocently.
This scenario would happen over and over for the rest of the day. She also would squirm and jump around like she had ants in her pants before she’d run to bathroom to pee and then not pee.
This was a completely new behavior. I started to get a little worried and shall I say slightly paranoid, to say the least. Of course I kept my worries to myself, not wanting to sound the alarm quite yet; attack the mom who ran the camp or have people hung.
My first thought was that maybe they weren’t diligently taking the kids to the potty during the day, which at worst can cause an infection down south and at best, perhaps anxiety about going to the bathroom in general. Truth was I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, so I waited until the following day to monitor the behavior.
It continued the next day. My very close friend watched Easton for a few hours on Saturday while Ron and I tried to shed a few pounds at Bikram yoga. When we came home, the first thing she said to me was … exactly! “Easton kept jumping around in her pants, squirming and having to go to the bathroom urgently and then not having to go.” Weird?!
I was fuming! I thought, “Now I’m not the only one noticing. I’m not paranoid.” Something was not right. And while I began to jump around from the more mild conclusions to the most horrific, my friend — who is also a mother — had a very specific thought in mind. Hers was more measured than where my imagination was running.
She said, “They probably left Easton in her bathing suit too long at camp. That can cause bacteria … you know, itching and discomfort.” I wasn’t so sure about that theory. I was concerned about far worse circumstances.
At that point I had lost perspective and was being very reactive (of course not in front of Easton). Mind you, I do this all the time when it comes to Easton’s well-being.
I immediately called her doctor to try to make an appointment for a full-on exam, explained the scenario … and to my surprise she chimed in with my friend.
“This is very common in the summer months, Elisabeth, what with the constant pool and ocean use and long durations in bathing suits,” she said. “Kids get rashes, irritations, bacteria and sometimes urinary infections. Don’t worry, just put baking soda and vinegar in her bath for a few days and see if goes away. If it doesn’t, then come in for a test.”
I’m like, huh? Why isn’t anyone as worried as I am? And don’t get me into Easton’s Dad, who thinks I’ve absolutely lost my mind, what with my imagination running wild.
Well to wrap it all up, I’ll say that we have determined that all is well, although it was a brutally long holiday weekend fraught with anxiety, fear and — in my opinion — a healthy dose of PARANOIA.
The discomfort went away significantly after a few days of those special bath concoctions, although not completely. We went to the doctor who confirmed that there was no infection or anything else to worried about, if you know what I mean. I sigh with relief.
I’m still pissed that the camp left her in her bathing suit for so long all week that it caused her discomfort. And then to top it all off, they didn’t even bundle her up after being in the cold ocean for too long. I say “BOO” to this camp! And yes, I’ll Yelp about it!
Look, as far as I’m concerned, terrible things happen to children all the time. I would rather sway to the side of being overly cautious than so cool that I miss signs and don’t recognize and question the most minor of behavioral shifts in my child. Trying of course, all the time, not to project fear onto Easton.
I’m happy to suffer my runaway imagination if it can identify something dangerous, like a person hanging out at the park that really shouldn’t be there, and prevent a potential incident. I think it’s my job. So what’s with the dads being too cool to get all worked up into a frenzy? That drives me nuts!
I mean, sometimes it’s helpful to have a more rational voice in the household but mostly, I just don’t relate to the lack of fear. I’m always saying, “Yes Ron, things can happen and most importantly things can happen to her.” A dose of paranoia would do him and all people good I say!
I realize I can go a little overboard, what with the heart palpitations and sick stomach all weekend at the thought of anyone harming my baby. Let’s just put it this way, that camp is lucky that my cocktail of paranoia doesn’t mix with irrationality. I’m a pretty sane person, so my inner mom beast didn’t emerge and all they really had to deal with was my not-so-positive Yelp!
I know paranoia will destroy you as they say, but when it’s entangled with motherly instinct it serves to protect, right?
I know you will relate, ladies. Maybe your imagination doesn’t run into the darkened streets and bad neighborhoods as mine does, but I’m sure you have had a scare or two. Tell me, have you written that email or made that call before conclusions have been drawn? I’m sure you have. School, camp, daycare and on and on. No one does it quite like Mom and Dad.
Tell me about your false alarms. May they always be so.
— Elisabeth Röhm