I became a nurse, and then a nurse practitioner, long before I became a mother - 14 years before, to be exact. Prior to that, I worked as a baby sitter, a lifeguard and a live-in nanny. All of these jobs were great preparation to be a parent. In fact, I don't know how I could do it without all that experience.
In nursing school, as well as in any nursing job, you've got to be organized. I had the good fortune to work with some very experienced hospital nurses straight out of nursing school. They taught me to write down everything I needed to do and check it off when it was done, double-check medication doses, communicate clearly verbally and in writing, prioritize and organize - all while keeping a sense of humor and perspective.
Keeping a sense of humor and perspective was important, since we were taking care of seriously ill and dying patients on a medical/cancer/ AIDS unit of the hospital.
That experience of taking care of very sick people means I don't get flustered about the minor injuries that befall my two toddlers. I figure all those bumps, bruises, scratches and scrapes are all in a day's work for them. They regularly fall into the raspberry bushes, bonk their heads on the kitchen table, tumble off the sofa and trip on the sidewalk - nothing an ice pack, soap and water, Band-Aid or hug can't fix.
I try to save my energy for worrying about the really big things that seriously could hurt or kill my kids, and figuring out how to avoid them. I'm a big believer in children wearing life jackets and learning to swim, but those things are never going to take the place of an attentive adult close by.
Teaching kids respect for and fear of fire is a challenge. Candles are lovely, but we won't light any with young children in the house. Our fireplace will stay stone-cold for the next few years, unless we can find an absolutely child-proof barrier to keep the kids away from it. Our backyard barbecue is surrounded by a portable fence to keep the small people away from the heat.
My husband is the one who is ever-vigilant about keeping the kids away from electrical cords and outlets. When we moved into our new house, outlet plugs went in before the dishes were unpacked.
My kids are quickly learning not to approach strange dogs and to ask the owner's permission before petting any animal.
I have never actually had to use the Heimlich maneuver to prevent a child from choking, but I'm alert and ready when my son crams his mouth full of peanut butter sandwich.
Then there's the constant struggle to get my 11/2-year-old daughter to stay seated in a grocery cart. First, there's the search for a cart with a functioning seat belt. Then, there's the fancy handiwork needed to get the child in the seat and the belt on. Despite all this, she still manages to stand up on the seat the second I step away from the cart. So, the lesson is: Keep a firm grip on her leg at all times.
Also, a firm grip is needed in parking lots and near the street. We're going to be holding hands when we're in parking lots or near roads for many years to come.
Nursing schools emphasize the prevention of illness and injury: Immunizations, good hand-washing habits, routine check-ups, the importance of a healthy diet and plenty of sleep, and safety at home and away.
If I had to design a parenting education course, I'd emphasize exactly the same things.
Kathryn B. Brown worked as a registered nurse and a family nurse practitioner before coming to work for the East Oregonian. She and her husband live in Pendleton with their two toddlers.