Licking it off the grass

One day, back when I was teaching, I overheard a lunchtime conversation between colleagues. A fellow teacher had just met a students’ parents for the first time that morning. She was remarking that the meeting had been enlightening because the behavior of the parents went a long way in explaining many of the behaviors that she had observed/endured from the student. The slightly flamboyant reading teacher who sat with her at the table leaned toward our her and drawled, “Well honey, they don’t lick it off the grass.”

There have been times since when I’ve seen parents and children together and have been reminded of his words. I remember chuckling and then going about my day. After work, I drove home to my child-free house. Back then, I was still young and had assured others that I was never going to have children.


Fast forward to today: no longer teaching, no longer living in the same place, no longer married to the same man, no longer childless. Suddenly, I am the parent being contemplated by teachers and other professionals. When they see my son do they think, “Well, he didn’t lick it off the grass”?

For some reason, I thought of these words today. I supposed it was because we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of a nurse from the county health department. The home visit was prompted by the results of Philip’s recent blood test.

My son has lead poisoning.

Saying this makes me want to cry, to bury my head in shame. How did we let this happen?

Since I was pretty much a useless wreck yesterday at work, and came in late today due to the appointment, I shared the diagnosis with the others in my department. Everyone is asking the same question: where did the lead come from?

I wish I knew. How can one reduce exposure without knowing the source?

There are a few suspects in our situation:

  • The water pipes: Lead is often used to solder the joints. The nurse recommended running the water for a few minutes before using it for drinking or cooking. She also suggested using cold water as minerals (including lead) can settle in a hot water tank.
  • Peeling paint: We rent our current house, and it had been freshly painted before we moved in. However, there has been some chipping and peeling. Philip is drawn to this imperfections in the surface like a moth to flame. Did he eat some of the paint? It is possible.
  • Our mini-blinds: Philip has broken and nibbled on bits of the blinds. The blinds are all new, installed after we moved in, but that may not get us off the hook.
  • Dirt: When the nurse asked if there was any exposed dirt near our house, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There has always been a grass-less spot in our backyard. This is where we put Philip’s sandbox. The area has increased because Roscoe will get into a digging fit. The dog digs up the earth and then Philip plays in it. I thought it was a beautiful partnership. I let Philip play outside all summer long.
  • Random items: If you haven’t read this post about the diverse items that Philip has put in his mouth, you might not understand why I can’t narrow down the possible sources: toys, books, and a myriad of other items. The good news is that yesterday’s x-rays did not show any foreign objects remaining in Philip’s abdomen.
  • The air we breathe: If there is lead in any of the items mentioned above, the is also the possible presence of lead dust in the air. The nurse educated us on the need to wipe off and remove shoes before entering the house. When cleaning, she instructed us to always wipe down surfaces with a wet cloth instead of a dry one to avoid sending more particles into the air. We ended up with three different pamphlets on proper cleaning protocols.

How did Philip get lead poisoning? We still don’t know. It’s quite possible that Philip literally licked it off the grass. The next step in the process will be an inspection of the home by the state. Instead of Philip getting x-rayed, our house will be scoped out. In the meantime, we are adding supplements to his diet that should help to remove the current lead from his system.

And no more licking the grass.

He wasn't really tasting the grass. He was popping a bubble with his tongue.

He wasn’t really tasting the grass. He was popping a bubble with his tongue.

December 14, 2013 update: I’ve recently had some visitors to this post, brought to the blog by searching for the phrase I used for the title. Welcome!
Since there has been renewed interest in the post (no matter how unintentional), I thought I would link up with the Yeah Write Weekend Moonshine Grid. That way, I can share the good news that Philip’s most recent blood test, while still showing elevated lead levels, came back ten points lower than a year ago. Now that we are in our new, lead-free home, I can only hope he will improve faster.


33 thoughts on “Licking it off the grass

  1. Hopefully it’s not too difficult to clear his system of it and the inspectors are able to locate the source so you can prevent it from happening again. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.


    1. Thanks for your kind words, Deenie. To top off everything, we had to start another round of antibiotics today since his sinus infection never cleared up. We are looking forward to Philip getting back to full health soon.


  2. Wow. What a challenge. I do hope you can get to the bottom of how it happened and that the explanation is one that you can then control. Good grief. Wishing you success.


  3. My son was diagnosed with this as well. Three months after his first test he was retested, his level the second time was less than half. This would be good, except that what is considered an elevated amount was changed earlier this year, from 10 to 5, so it is still considered high. Apparently, when I was a kid the “Elevated” level was set at 50. We’re constantly cleaning everything!


    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. We are feeling a bit overwhelmed as our son’s level is 23. I hope the vitamin supplements, dietary changes, cleaning, and caution help reduce the level quickly.


      1. I hope it works out ok for your son and family!

        I guess I had thought it was a problem that was eradicated years ago, not really being as concerned as I should have been when he was playing in the dirt. I wish I had known more about it earlier.


        1. I know what you mean. I assumed that, if the house had new paint, we were off the hook. I’d never heard anyone mention the hazards of dirt. Heck, I ENCOURAGED my son to play in the dirt to his heart’s content.
          Of course, I can only assume that dirt is to blame. We won’t know more until after the state’s inspection/assessment. For now, I’m going to treat the dirt as a culprit since that seems to something I can control.


          1. I think the problem is dirt too, I used to think the parents were going too far when they discouraged their kids from “getting too dirty”, or saying things like “that’s dirty, put that down”, but now I at least see their point.


  4. I’ve been reading your blog for many months now and I think you need to know that you are a good Mom and you do what is best for your son. *hug* Phillip will be okay and will get better. You know about this now and you will move forward….


    1. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last year, there is nothing quick about this. Two weeks before we moved out of that place we rented, the state had finally sent in the grant manager to do an assessment for the abatement. We’ll see no benefit from it, assuming that the visit resulted in any action yet.


    1. Unfortunately, even when we knew the source, the abatement wasn’t completed prior to us moving out. The only thing we could do was keep him out of the back yard where the soil was contaminated.


  5. I have never heard that phrase before about licking the grass. Funny.

    During the years when we have rented, we have often had to sign a page in the lease regarding lead. Because they are not allowed to use lead in paint anymore, I assumed that it wasn’t a problem. I was not aware that it has so many sources. Thank you for the information. I am going to pass it on to my daughter, who has two little boys.

    I’m glad to hear Philip has improved some since you first learned about the lead poisoning. I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been.


    1. I’m glad you’ll pass the information along. Philip put things in his mouth (still does) longer than most kids due to his sensory issues. That increased his exposure. It’s still good if your daughter knows that the problem can still be relevant. As long as her children are being screened, she should be okay.


    1. There was lead in the upstairs paint and other spots, but we assume that it was the contaminated soil in the backyard that was the main source of our problem. Once we stopped letting Philip play in our backyard, his levels started going down. I know Philip ingested dirt while playing, so it was our only choice.


  6. I’m certain you’ll get this figured out. I often wonder, if some of these tests were around when I was a kid, I probably would have been in isolation so I didn’t contaminate the other kids. Once my brother and I painted each other with barn paint. And I turned out fine. And I turned out fine, And I turned out fine.

    My 3 boys are distinctly different. I wonder if their teachers see parts of me in all of them?


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