The holiday season is upon us – and for my military family, we’re feeling the impact this year. For our tight-knit family, the holidays mean a moment to relax, unwind, and reconnect with each other, days to dine together, and opportunities to learn family history and stories from one another. These are days in which new family memories are made – and they are simply amazing. But this year, we’re not together. Our loved ones are living in a place that we consider home, some 2,907 miles away!
It’s not easy for us, but it never is. Throughout the year during deployments, families like mine sacrifice time with their military family member, which in my case is my husband. We sacrifice our peace of mind knowing someone we love works in a dangerous occupation. And as part of our commitment to the military, we also sacrifice friendships and closeness with our communities and extended families, plus a stable and consistent home life, each time we move across the country to a new base assignment.
These psychological and emotional stresses, while common for military families (and for many others living many miles away from loved ones) seem to be magnified during the holiday season, since they are times meant to be celebrated with close friends and family.
As the winter holidays approach, Santa Claus and Elf on the Shelf are on the minds of many children who celebrate Christmas.
Many parents’ thoughts also drift there, but for different reasons.
Parents of young children wonder whether they should promote the myth of the jolly old man in the red suit or that tiny, habitually rotating curious elf, while parents of older children wonder what they’re going to say when their child asks for the truth.
Underlying both of these questions is a larger one: Is it good for kids to believe in things like Santa Claus? As a developmental psychology researcher, I say yes, because there are benefits for cognitive and emotional development (as for Elf on the Shelf, I’ll get to that in a moment).
Lately, my husband and I have taken to calling our son “Turkey.” I can’t really pinpoint what started it, but he’s at that age (almost 2) where the nickname just fits (parents, you know what I’m talking about). Speaking of turkeys, those majestically hideous yet delicious birds, there’s nothing that would ruin a good post-feast coma like my little Turkey spewing masticated turkey all over his mother (ahem, me). Fortunately, there is a cornucopia of tips, tricks, and guidelines all over the interwebs for preparing a safe (and delicious) holiday spread.
Foodborne illness (or colloquially, “food poisoning”) can happen any time of the year as a result of improper production, manufacture, preparation, cooking, or storage of any number of foodstuffs. Using the Center for Disease Control’s Foodborne Outbreak Online Database, one can see that foodborne illness outbreaks linked to various preparations of turkey have been significantly higher in the months of November and December, and that’s no coincidence since it is the holiday season where turkey dinners are a mainstay. Among the bacterial culprits involved are Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium perfringens, and several species of Salmonella. We can, however, take the following steps in our own kitchens to prevent post-turkey trauma by these little terrors through the proper storing, prepping, and cooking of those holiday meals, and by an appropriate storage of leftovers:
When I was five years old, my neighborhood held a July 4 block party. I still remember snippets of the warm, sticky evening vividly. There were games for all the kids to play, and tables full of hamburgers, hotdogs, and sugary treats I ate with abandon, as my parents were too busy socializing to notice.
And then came the most thrilling part of the night. One of our neighbors handed all the kids a sparkler. I felt so lucky and happy to hold that spectacular, flickering stick in my hand. It was a mesmerizing, nearly magical moment. That is, until the sparkler fizzled out. To keep the fun going, I searched around for another sparkler, and snatched up one lying on the grass. The sparkler was no longer visibly burning, but the end I picked up was still searing hot. I can still remember the throbbing pain as the intense heat burned my fingertips. In an instant, my glorious July 4 evening came to an end. The pain from that sparkler lasted for days, causing blisters on my thumb, middle and pointer fingers.
While that injury didn’t cause long-term damage, the pain was so intense that I suspect it’s why I still remember the evening with such clarity.
Decades later I now work at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and I learned that sparklers – that celebratory stick often considered safe enough for young children to hold – burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, wood burns at 575 degrees, and glass melts at 900 degrees.
Between my personal experience as a little girl and as a professional at NFPA, the thought of having my boys hold a sparkler is unthinkable. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) 2012 Fireworks Annual Report showed that in the month around July 4th, sparklers alone accounted for two out of five of the emergency room fireworks injuries.
Beyond sparklers, I would never let my boys use any type of consumer fireworks, nor would I let them go anywhere consumer fireworks are being used by other people. They’re simply too dangerous.
According to the CPSC report, three out of five of the fireworks injuries were burns, while one-fifth were contusions or lacerations. Two out of five people injured by fireworks were under the age of 15. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for the children under five, followed by children 10 to 14 years of age. Males accounted for 57 percent of the injuries overall.
Of course, I still plan to enjoy and celebrate July 4 with my boys just like everyone else at my town’s public fireworks display, which is put on by trained professionals. It’s the safest way to enjoy fireworks. And let’s face it, they’re more spectacular than any display you’ll see in someone’s back yard.