I am a safety nut. I have one friend who actually calls me “Safety Sally.” Primarily, my nuttiness applies to my children, but I’m pretty personally nutty as well. We wear our seatbelts, sunscreen, and bike helmets. We take the lightening detectors at the soccer fields very seriously. If lightening even looks like a possibility, my children are out the pool before they can utter a protest. We also do not bathe or talk on the phone if lightening is in the area. I recently woke both children from a dead sleep, dragged them down the stairs and into the powder bath because a tornado warning had been issued for my county. My almost twelve-year-old son still does not ride in the front seat of my truck, which has a passenger side air bag. My children are driven the ten minute walk home from school, through our nice neighborhood, and past their friends walking to the their own homes. You get the idea. I’m the better-safe-than-sorry mom.
My family owns ATVs and I’ve reluctantly indulged my husband and my children in this risky activity. However, we wear helmets, goggles, gloves, long pants, boots, and chest protection at all times when riding. We ride on designated trails and avoid areas where the dirt biking crowd likes to hang. My children’s ATVs have orange flags that protrude several feet into the air behind them as they ride. They have wristbands that are connected to the keys that will kill the engine the second they have an accident. I still worry, but have done all I can to mitigate the risk.
“Safety Sally” was created in two ways. The irrational fears I have came from being raised by a mother who is, indeed, afraid of her own shadow, mysterious one-in-a-million diseases, bizarre lightening out of a clear blue sky, and many other things that have yet to happen in the history of mankind, but are sure to occur at any second. The real, logical, and common things I am afraid of came from being raised in rural East Texas. Young men die a lot in East Texas. I don’t know any other way to put it. They do. They hunt, they boat, they drink, they drive. They don’t wear hunting safety vests, life jackets, or seat belts. And when they drive, they drive fast. As a young girl, it didn’t take me long to notice that every time one of these types of tragedies occurred someone, usually the mother, lamented the fact that if only the deceased had … (insert worn a safety vest, life jacket, or seat belt here). It seemed so simple, at least to me. I don’t live in a bubble, but I mitigate the risks of the world whenever I can.
Last week, my family received a heartbreaking reminder about what can happen if risk is not mitigated. My uncle and seventeen-year-old cousin went on a routine fishing trip. I dare anyone to find a more experienced boater than my uncle or a child who spent more time on a boat than my cousin. They knew what they were doing. They were not drinking. Another boat was not involved. A thousand times they had been fishing on this lake and returned safely. A thousand times since my cousin turned twelve (the legal age for going without a life jacket in Texas) they had not worn life jackets. A thousand times life jackets in the boat’s storage compartment accompanied them. But on this day, this one day, they needed their life jackets. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says that ninety percent of boating fatalities in Texas are not wearing life jackets. Six people drowned in single boat accidents on Texas lakes in March, including my uncle and cousin. Not one was wearing a life jacket.
We will never know for sure exactly what happened. But this we do know. At some point during their return trip to shore both left the boat and entered the water. Both drowned. The experts have told us that without life jackets they had almost no chance of survival. The search for them began three hours after they left the boat. The search for my uncle continued for five days. It took ten days to find my cousin. If you won’t wear a life jacket while boating to save yourself, please wear one so that your family does not have to stand on the shore of a lake wondering where underneath all that water your body might possibly be. Please wear one because there are people that will miss you when you are gone. People that are not done loving you. People who will never be the same without you. Wear one because you love someone and they love you back.