Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, February 19, 2016. 

momentsThere is nothing scarier or more upsetting for a parent than to feel helpless as he or she watch their child struggle with something they do not have the key to solve.

Last night found me wrestling thoughts of helplessness as I laid next to my youngest whose asthma flared up again a couple of days ago after a long dormancy. His breathing was my worry metronome.

Yes, for a while it did not bother him. As much as I would like to say that I almost forget it exists, that is not the case.

Whenever I pass by the hospital I think of it, whenever I see a cat I think of it (yes, it is cat-triggered yet ever new episode makes us wonder whether other allergens will become dreadful asthma triggers as well), and though I am not a pessimist by nature, the memory of his raspy breaths can easily demolish the earnest smile I could muster on a good day.

Something switches forever inside one’s heart when their child is born. You can’t quite identify it to put it in proper words but the short of it is ‘I’ll do anything to keep you alive and thriving’. And then, every now and then, we are put to test.

It’s humbling to realize how powerless we are when that happens. We turn to prayers and hope-building thoughts, we toss in our beds and renew the promise ‘whatever it takes’ and then we don’t let go, no matter what.

In my experience, the most important thing that happens when such occurrences bring us to our knees is to know that you are not alone. Many people are though and that is something no one should hide, but expose so it will not happen again.

As we went through a day of whizzing and monitoring the little guy, reaching for the puffer when needed, my thoughts traveled, as they often do, to all parents out there to struggle with not knowing what the future holds. We really are in this together.

There are degrees of uncertainty, as many as there are affections. There is though that common denominator that joins all parents: the worrying, the occasional relief just to get your strength back, the never-ending hope and the knowledge of how vital it is to not be alone as you face it all.

While some serious health problems occur just because and the cause is almost impossible to pinpoint, hence we resort to saying ‘genetic causes’ and leave it at that, while still not giving up the fight, others are avoidable and, worst of all, caused by human action. Irresponsible action that is. And that is simply unforgivable. That is something we need to know about, act upon and learn from.

Case in point number one: Flint, Michigan. If you’ve been reading the news about the town of almost 100,000 where people have been drinking lead-laden water for long enough to face serious health consequences, it is hard not to be horrified when you think of the dreadful reality that the parents of those thousands of children are facing.

Someone, somewhere (and it is not hard to know where as inquiries take place) decided to save money while putting people at risk. As always with any risks we take when it comes to a population group, the most affected will be children. Their small growing bodies can only take so much, and many of the consequences are irreversible.

Lead poisoning is one of them. Even small amounts can wreak havoc with a child’s body (with an adult’s too but the scale is different and for the scope of this column I choose to focus on children’s issues) causing irreversible damage. Ditto for unborn children.

A case that should serve as a reminder that our children are vulnerable and though resilience is one of their stellar qualities, they can only do so much when their health is becoming the subject of a Russian roulette game played by people who have the power to make decisions.

Case in point number two. The hydrocephalic babies born lately in Brazil and other areas of South America where a GM mosquito species resides and is being thought to spread the Zika virus, which many scientists believe to be causing the birth defects observed recently. Some environmentalists’ groups point to a pesticide called pyroproxyfen which was sprayed in order to kill the mosquito larvae in some areas as the culprit.

The answers are still not in, the debates are still raging. The reality that mothers of babies born with severe birth defects – many of them with limited access to funds that would help them care for their babies as they grow and face innumerable challenges – is a hard one to fathom. And the actual one they are left with.

The two cases and so many more remind me of these things: with our actions today we influence the fate of our children and their children. In how we plan our life and theirs we can make choices that honour the role we were given, as their protectors, to the best of our ability, and their defenders, in face of those who attempt to make bad choices.

It’s coming down to this: as much as we can, in raising our children – and the Earth village are all included here – we have to give it all. We have to keep our actions in line with the promise that matched the love we felt when we first laid eyes on our children.

Whether it pertains to digging mines or building pipelines, or to allowing the quality of air to increase as sales of new cars soar, there is but one way to do it right: the health of people comes first, children first of all.

In everything that we do at the community level, city and planet, we have to be mindful. Sometimes we really only have one shot to make it right. For them, for their future, for honouring ourselves and those who once cared the same for us.