That's just like my children

UCL course: 
MA Reception of Classical World
Entry: 

Guilt. Parental angst that I have had to deal with and lay to rest. My kids, now 8 and 6 and safeley (?) living in a Victorian house in London, were born and grew up in a 1941 Californian ranch-style house of architectural significance (featured in 1944 Sunset Magazine) which I bought from the family who built it, inheriting all the original fixtures and fittings, including battered kitchen cupboards and drawers which I had repainted. But the undercoat - an acquamarine matt paint you see on bare wood in Mexico - turned out to be high in lead, and the process of opening and closing the drawers and cupboard doors, over the years that my children were crawling, produced quantities of fine, highly dispersible dust. I knew there was lead in the house because my daughter had once chewed her windowsill (through the topcoat), enjoying the sweet taste of lead. We had her tested at the time and she had a lead level of 1, on a scale of 0-9, 9 being the level at which behavioural impact is indicated and intervention required. On preparing my house for others to live in, I had to replace the kitchen cupboards, and discovered the paint used there was unusually high in lead. So I knew lead was present, but never investigated how much, until we were actually leaving the space, by which time the kids were 7 and 5. This is hard to forgive, despite a Vancouver pathologist assuring me a level of '1' is within 'normal' range. Their levels should have been 0. And the City of Long Beach has its own advisiory, which places 'significance' in levels as low as 4, not 9. To help cope with this, I remind myself I grew up breathing in lead fumes from petrol cars in the 60s; and my Mum's toys from the 1930s, which I am sure are lead-bearing, have been played with by generations of children. We did survive: and my children's lead levels may not be as bad for them as some of the other stresses they've been exposed to for which I am far more directly responsible (shouting, losing temper, displaying hatred for their father and vice versa). So the object, for me, asks if I can forgive myself. It conjures my own and others' philosophies of parenting, and above all the many ways there are of thinking about the question of what it means to 'take care' of a child: medically, physically, epidemiologically, statistically, psychologically. You tell yourself things are 'within the bounds of acceptable' as a parent because you crave that to be true; in fact you by definition will it to be true, as your anxieties are always telling you there's a problem (lead, mold, electromagnetic rays, exposure in utero, that time she fell off the kitchen counter and bumoped her head). I let my kids eat lead because I told myself it was fine. 'Everyone has lead paint in their houses'. 'Everyone has these cars - they can't be dangerous'.