Monday, February 1, 2010

When Nowhere Feels Safe.

Something upsetting happened to me this morning.

I was sitting at the dining room table, sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying the sudden quiet of having shipped the last rugrat off to school, when the doorbell rang.

At the gate stood a woman I didn't recognize. She introduced herself as my neighbor (you can tell we *don't* live in a very borrow-a-cup-of-sugar-y area). Then she promptly launched into what sounded like a practiced speech: Have you noticed the cranes that have been positioning themselves behind our houses? Do you know what they are for? Well, they're for the cell phone tower that they're planning to build. Right here on our block. And do you know how unsafe those are? When I lived in London, the same thing happened, and a cell phone tower was built in my neighborhood, and suddenly kids started being diagnosed with leukemia. Do you want to see the research? My husband is printing it out right now. You have little kids, I've seen them. Do you want to join me in trying to stop this development? Here is the number for the community management company. I have forced them to stop temporarily by telling them that I wanted to speak to the engineer. There is going to be a meeting at 10am, they've told me. We must not let this tower get built.

By the time I shut the door behind her, my stomach was in a knot. My own mother died of a rare cancer that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, and she was diagnosed with it 4 months after moving to a new neighborhood. The doctors estimated that her tumor was 3 months old. A 4-year-old girl on the same street also died of cancer about 6 months after my mom did.

In other words, if that lady was looking for someone to be on Team Overreaction, she'd rung the right doorbell.

I was instantly on the phone with the community management company. I threatened to go to the newspaper. I told them that every parent on our street was prepared to form a human chain in front of the designated construction area (too much?). I demanded that someone call me back by the end of the day to inform me of the meeting's turnout.

Four hours later, I called back again.

I was told that the project was probably going to continue, that it had been in the planning stages for the past 3 years.

I requested that the owner or president of the company contact me within the hour. Otherwise they'd be reading about me in the paper tomorrow.

We'll see how that works out for me.

In the meantime, when I went to pick up my eldest from school a few minutes ago, I saw, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, that there is a cell phone tower IN THE PARKING LOT OF HER SCHOOL. How had I driven past it for the past 5 months and never noticed it? And more importantly, HOW WAS I EVER GOING TO SLEEP AGAIN?

Now, if you're considering doing a casual Google search on the words, "cell phone towers" and "safe," let me save you the trouble. The propagandistic search results are nothing short of terrifying: "DEATH TOWERS," and "The Menace of Cell Phone Towers," to name a few. The lists of cancers are breathtaking. And the legal situation grim: when people have tried to fight the cell phone companies, one article states, the cell phone companies always win.

Which brings you up to speed on my current state of thinking, which is a frantic mix of anxiety, despair, and rage. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my rational self is waving its arms and shouting, "But what if the towers are actually safe?", and yet I can't hear it above the din of the more hysterical thoughts pinging about in my brain.

Let me just say that, generally, I am not the kind of parent who lives in a panic. I do NOT give the kids only organic; I do NOT stock the house with "all natural" cleaning products; I do NOT oppose the children getting their vaccines. Because generally, I trust that our government IS protecting us from the kind of toxins that would aggressively kill us (conspiracy theorists are pissing themselves with laughter right about now), and I believe that giving in to the Fear Mentality puts a mother at risk for becoming a walking, talking basket case. One who doesn't see the joy in life because she's always looking up to see if the sky is falling. I didn't want to be one of those people. I DO not want to be one of those people.

And yet. Am I not worrying enough? Should I have noticed that cell phone tower in the school parking lot ages ago? Should I be printing flyers and papering my neighborhood at this very moment, instead of writing to you? We playfully tease one of my best friends for not allowing the teachers at school to draw happy faces on her children's hands... but maybe ink seeping into delicate little girl skin is nothing to laugh about?

So many mommy roads lead me right back to my ever-present theological crisis: If only I believed in God, I could just say to him: Hey Lord, please keep my children safe from radiation and cow hormones and ink poisoning. Or, if you do decide to make any of them sick, please make sure they get a front row seat in heaven.

But I don't, not really. And so the buck stops with me. Me and the neighbor lady. The two of us against the cell phone company. Which is probably just going to put the tower up anyway. Probably, the only thing that will come of it is that I will give myself an ulcer from worrying. And that neighbor lady will move.

I feel like I am doing so much to take the best care of my girls, all day, every day. I devote my life to it.

And get somehow, today it doesn't seem like nearly enough.


  1. You'll be fine. Don't worry. Remember where you came from - lots of bad things to be exposed to from your hometown.

  2. Kelly Said.....

    I'd join you on "team overreaction!" I would be able to stomach the school tower, justifying it as the kid is only there 30 hours or less per week. BUT NOT WHERE SHE EATS SLEEPS AND BREATHES 24/7!