A few weeks ago, I witnessed something remarkable. I watched a mouse run squealing into the depths a giant flaming bonfire, emerging from the conflagration seconds later carrying a baby mouse in its mouth.
A wave of awe and pity washed over my chest, carrying with it the distinctive sensation of understanding. The sinewy strands of motherhood bound the mouse and I; what began as merely interested bewilderment in the goings-on of a fire-walking mouse turned rapidly into empathy for a tiny creature who danced with death for the sake of her offspring’s safety. Standing next to the fire, watching the mouse scurry into the grass carrying what I hoped was an unscathed baby mouse, I felt as connected to that mouse as any human could.
Aside from presenting an entertaining story to share with my fellow partygoers, the mouse in the bonfire incident brought forth an example of how fierce the instinct of protection blazes within the being of mothers, mouse or otherwise. I dare not speak for the masses, but will proffer my own experience as a mother to illustrate: Until I became a mother, I didn’t know fear. I didn’t fully grasp panic, or heart-shrouding concern, or gut-filling anxiety. I was the master of my own universe, which ultimately revolved around me. Sick, injured or unhappy – I could deal with any of that, since I’ve spent a lifetime learning to cope with both minor and major discomforts. Yet now my every moment is consumed thinking about the wellbeing of another, a daughter, my offspring and a 17-pound chunk of my soul.
So I could understand why a mother mouse would risk her life to pluck her baby from the yawning mouth of harm’s inferno.
It comes as no surprise to me that mothers are typically the authors of some of a community’s most passionate dialogs, when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of their children. Take, for example, the issue of vaccinations. I had the opportunity to speak with many Telluride parents in the past weeks, in the interest of trying to convey the varying positions and opinions that exist locally on the subject of vaccinating – or not vaccinating, or partially vaccinating, or vaccinating on an alternate schedule – Telluride’s kids, for an article about the recently launched health-initiative focusing on children’s vaccinations.
Suffice it to say that those few hundred words did not begin to dig into the deeper intricacies presented by this issue, but rather offered a simplified examination of what is and has for a long time been a heated local topic among the community’s parents.
In my conversations with other parents, some of whom were doctors and nurses, and all of whom were keen in their explanations of their positions, I was witness to something akin to the mouse in the bonfire scenario. All of the parents I talked to, many of whom were not quoted in the article either because of a too-short deadline or due to concern over their names being printed, expressed fierce and well-thought-out arguments for vaccinating, not vaccinating, partially vaccinating, et cetera… and the most heated, passionate, and ultimately dedicated words came from the mouths of mothers.
In an attempt to open a dialog about vaccines (while dangling the newsworthy event of an upcoming community discussion centered on the subject), I threw fuel onto an already smoldering discussion burning within the community.
On one edge are the parents who vaccinate their kids and believe all parents should vaccinate their kids in the interest of the community’ health; on the other, parents who don’t believe vaccines present the safe pathway to health that they’ve been reputed to impart; and in the middle, as many variations of those beliefs as there are parents in Telluride.
I present this array of varying local positions on the subject using the example of a wide-ranging spectrum – many on the pro-vaccine side, some on the anti-vaccine side, and a plethora in between – not in an attempt to solve any immunization arguments, but rather to put a spotlight on what ultimately lies at the heart of this discussion: The health of the community’s children and local mothers’ (and fathers’) dedication to their kids’ wellbeing.
Regardless of which edge of the fire a parent stands on, we all stare into the same conflagration that represents a threat to our children’s health and safety. In this case, it’s vaccinations, or lack thereof. As Dr. Homer was quoted in the article, which ran Tuesday, Oct. 7, as saying: “The problem with immunizations is that you’re dealing with people’s belief systems – either you believe in immunizations or you don’t.”
It’s a fact that vaccines save lives. But it is also a fact that vaccines can cause side effects, sometimes scary ones. So there are parents who believe in vaccinating, those who don’t, and those whose beliefs rest somewhere in the middle. And yet, with all the variations of opinion, I am certain that every single parent’s decision relating to immunizations is ultimately based in what they believe is best for their child. That level of passionate commitment to their kids’ health is something a community should be proud of, regardless of which side of the fire its parents stand on.
I’m certain that any Telluride mother would run headlong into the blaze to protect her child – fathers, too.
After all, I can’t be certain of the sex of that baby-saving, fire-walking mouse….