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Ziplock Bag Ice Packs: One of the best lessons we can teach our kids is to choose good friends.

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Photo by Ryan McVay

My son plays first base on his baseball team. Last week, the catcher threw him the ball in an attempt to pick off the runner at first base. Somehow, despite having a glove on his left hand, as the batter slid head-first into base, my son’s thumb was bent backwards, hyperextending it in the glove.

I have learned through the years not to run onto the field the first moment my sons are injured. I know to let the coaches and trainers evaluate my kids before I worry. I let it play out and, even as a pediatrician mom, only involve myself if I’m needed.

I remember my other son getting hit in the back by a wild pitch around age 9, knocking him down. As he stood up, he found me in the stands to give a subtle shake-of-the-head “no” as he looked in my eyes. “Don’t come out here,” his eyes said. I didn’t, and I even waited until bedtime that night before asking if he had blood in his urine from the baseball pitch to the flank.

Anyway, back to last week’s thumb injury. My son got the batter out at first, but as soon as he stood up, he threw his glove off and grabbed his thumb. He looked like he was about to throw up with pain, which is unusual for him. He bent over clutching his throbbing thumb, and the coach went to check him out.

I could tell this was an injury that wasn’t going to resolve by the next inning, and that my son was actually in significant pain. I got up from my stadium seat and went to find him an ice pack and some ibuprofen.

As I approached the dugout for ice, my son’s friend was standing earnestly at the counter. Not on the team, this friend had come to watch his buddies play baseball. I heard him ask, “Don’t you have a Ziplock bag or something? I need the ice in a Ziplock bag, thank you.”

Increasingly nostalgic now that my daughter is leaving for college, I smiled as I turned and left the dugout, walking back to my purse for the ibuprofen. I actually had tears in my eyes when I watched my son’s friend pass him a Ziplock bag full of ice into the dugout.

The beginning of my parenting years were filled with me choosing my kids’ friends. I visited multiple daycares and found the one that had the positive energy I was seeking for my babies while I worked. I liked the parents who taught respect and kindness, trusting they raised children who would value the same.

In elementary school, I encouraged friendships with kids I enjoyed being around, the parents of whom are still my best friends today. The goal was never to be in the “popular” group – whatever that means. I tried to teach my children that “popular” to me means that kids from all groups like you. I stressed to my kids that they don’t want to peak in high school.

Part of the anxiety of getting to the middle- and high-school stage is that we parents lose some control over our kids’ friendships. My own children are in public schools in a huge city, and they could be friends with just about anyone. They have brought home kids whose parents I don’t know, whose backgrounds I don’t know.

What I have found as the years pass is that my kids have great taste in friends. On their own, they have chosen friends who, at 12 years old, will get them a Ziplock bag full of ice when they have a thumb injury. And those become friends who will comfort them when they don’t make a team in middle school. Or tell them they look “fire” when they’re feeling insecure about their outfit. They have friends who will tell them the truth when they need to hear it, or change the subject when it’s a truth they don’t need to hear.

In high school and beyond, these Ziplock-bag friends will be those who keep their deepest secrets when there are things they don’t want parents to know. The friends who will find them a safe ride home from a party, and then write to check on them. Take them out for dinner to get over that guy or girl who breaks their heart and tell them the ex doesn’t deserve them. Celebrate their promotions and success.

I have my own Ziplock-bag-with-ice-pack friends, too, and they know who they are. The ones I call and tell the real-me stories, because I know they won’t judge me or my parenting. The ones who bring lasagna before I know I need dinner for my family. The ones who send articles before I know I need to read them. I’m beyond grateful for my friends, and beyond grateful that my kids are choosing the same type of friends for themselves.

So to the mom of the kid who got the Ziplock bag ice pack for my son, thanks for raising a Ziplock-ice-bag kind of son. I will try to raise my children to be the same type of friend, the friend we all need. For that particular thumb injury, I wasn’t the one to give my son the ice pack. But even better, I got to see that my son is surrounding himself with friends who will get him an ice pack when I’m not there.

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