Heart, Dropped.

February 18, 2007

When WonderBaby was not quite four months old, she fell off of her change table. Well, fell isn’t quite the right word. I can’t say that she jumped – she still being in her infancy at the time – but there certainly seemed to be an element of will in the flight that she took. I had just bent down to retrieve the diaper, which – along with the baby wipes and the butt cream and the rectal thermometer and all manner of paraphernalia necessary for the tending of baby nether regions – had been flung to the floor in the frenzy of bouncing and struggling that was and is characteristic of WonderBaby’s toilet rituals, when it happened. And in the split-second that it took for her to fling herself off of her change pad and into mid-air, it seemed that I spent an eternity lamenting my terrible, terrible parenting skills: if only I had belted her down, if only I hadn’t bent over, if only I had kept a hand on her, if only I had three extra hands, if only, if only…

In the next fraction of a second, I threw out my arms and lunged forward and caught her, like a football, inches from the hardwood floor.

My heart still pounds when I think of it.

WonderBaby has, in the year and some weeks since that first dramatic fall, pitched or hurled or tumbled herself off of and onto a variety of surfaces. She’s an explorer, and an adventurer, and there ain’t no mountain (or chair or table or windowsill or bookshelf) high enough to deter her from her quest to conquer her known universe. There’ve been more than a few head bonks along the way. And with every thud, thump, bonk and bang, I have become more and more blasé. Pick her up, dust her off, kiss her head, sit back and watch as she climbs right back onto the rocking horse.

Until this weekend. This weekend thrust me right back into the abyss of heart-pounding panic and soul-searing self-recrimination. This weekend, we faced blood, and the emergency ward.

The blood wasn’t actually the worst of it, although it seemed pretty bad at the time. WonderBaby was performing her usual dining room table acrobatics on Saturday morning – against the futile pleading and grasping of her mother – when she stumbled and banged her mouth; there was a shout, and there were tears, but it all seemed fine until I noticed that her chin and neck and chest were covered in blood. Drenched in blood. Oh holy mother of shit, I thought, she’s knocked out her baby teeth or bitten off her tongue and I AM GOING TO HELL. But I didn’t freak out, not totally. I could tell that she was fine – in the broader, she-has-not-broken-her-head scheme of fineness – that it was just a matter of figuring out what had been cut or bitten and pressing warm wet cloths against her mouth and administering kisses and mopping up the blood. My heart did not pound or spin, at least not at a speed that exceeded posted limits.

When, however, today, she flung herself out of a shopping cart and landed, with a dull thud, on concrete, on concrete, my heart spun – it spins, it’s still spinning – with all the force of a cyclone and very nearly burst the confines of my chest. It was only a moment, a split second – I was right there, I was keeping near, because she kept trying to climb out, she’s so good at climbing out, and in the split second that it took for me to turn away to quibble with the husband or he with I about some banality or another it happened, something happened and all we heard was the thud. And then, silence, for what seemed an eternity.

And then we were both there, on the ground, pulling at her, clawing at her, encouraging her screams, willing her to scream more, louder, because the screams were better than that terrible moment of silence, that moment that was just a moment ago that felt like forever when she just lay there, when she lay there, silent, on the hard hard concrete for only a second but also for an eternity. And then, grabbing her, both of us at once, and squeezing her between us and moving, quickly, together, one body, away from the cart, abandoning the cart and ignoring the eyes, the looks, the stares – I know I know I know I know I am terrible I let her jump I wasn’t there it’s all my fault bad mother bad mother bad mother - and hastening for the car.

She was calm by the time we arrived at the ER. By the time that we were ushered into Pediatric Emergency, she was fussy, and belligerent, and determined to make full use of the available wheelchairs and stretchers and bedpans for her own amusement. We sat, exhausted and diminished, while she dismantled the waiting room. She seemed fine, but we, we were not, we having clearly revealed ourselves as bad parents, the worst parents, negligent parents, our daughter having been hurt – for the second time in one weekend – while in our care. As my husband put it later, it felt as though we were made to wait in that waiting room, under the harsh glare of the lights and our consciences, for the sole purpose of sitting and thinking about what we had done.

What if you get one chance, but only one chance, to get it wrong, to make THAT mistake, he asked, and this was that chance, that mistake?

And later, after the doctor had said that it seemed that she hadn’t hit her head, at least not hard, and that she seemed fine, that we just needed to watch her, keep an eye on her (those eyes that so fatefully strayed): did we dodge a terrible, terrible bullet? Did we get lucky? Did we get away with something? THIS TIME?

We’ve been beating ourselves up ever since.

We know – I know – that we can’t protect her from every bump and tumble. That even the best parents look away at the wrong moment, sometimes. Loosen their grip, trust that the safety belts will hold, trust that the safety belts are just in case and that it’s no big deal if they’re missing or broken and that even though you never leave child unattended it’s okay if you look away for just a second, just a second.

But, oh, holy Mary mother of God, that second, that second is all that it takes and once that second passes you can’t snatch it back. And then it doesn’t matter, whether you were bad, or good, or a little bit of both.

The blood, I could handle; I know that motherhood, parenthood, is a river of blood and spit and shit and tears. I know this; I expect this, however hard it gets. But that silence, today, when I looked away, when she fell, when the world stopped – the silence overwhelmed. I know that it was nothing (although we are still watching, we will not sleep, listening for her to stir, listening for her breathing, reassuring ourselves that she is fine); I know that we will go through this again; I know that – given WonderBaby’s daredevil nature – we will probably go through something like this many times over. I know that my heart will pound to the point of bursting again and again and again. And I know ( I pray) that it will all be fine, more than fine.

But how do we do it? How do we calm our hearts? Do our hearts ever calm? Or do the hearts of parents always beat harder, faster, always threaten to burst?

It’s no wonder we drink.

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    { 87 comments }

    Tania (urbanmommy is so 2006) February 19, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Like we’ve discussed many times, having a baby opens you up to a whole new world of hurt. The worry parents feel for their kids is like no other emotion, no other experience really. I’m glad WB is OK, although I’m not surprised, she is invincible, that girl. You and Bad Husband however are not – watch out, that little one could very well kill you.

    Tania (urbanmommy is so 2006) February 19, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Emily’s mother’s red washcloth idea is brilliant!!

    nonlineargirl February 19, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    No, it never stops, does it. From those first moments in the car with her, my husband sure that every driver was out to crash into us now that we had a baby along, to the kids running and jumping and crashing to every other thing – cars, boys, sex, drugs… (My mom, when I’d go out as a teen, used to tell me to have a good time and protect myself from AIDS.)

    Christina February 19, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Thank goodness she is OK. And it’s true – that silence after the thump is the longest period of time in a parent’s life.

    When Cordy backflipped off the couch this past summer, landing on her head at a weird angle, that silence seemed to last forever. And when she wouldn’t move after that, I was convinced that my split second of negligence would result in a wheelchair bound child. But toddlers are tough little things, and she was fine.

    Try not to dwell on it. The image in your mind of her falling to the floor will probably be with you for a long time, and it’s more than enough punishment. Sadly, parents are human – we can’t be there for everything, even though we try.

    mo-wo February 19, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    I am often amazed at the physical abilities of my children. No. That is an understatement. I am always in awe of the physicality of my children.

    Over and above the terror of their errors in developing strength their very inclination — their drive for the physical bewilders me. It is something lost from my own childhood; if it ever was there.

    I try hard to enjoy it but I am too much a nerd. It is fantastic. WB is a wonderful example.

    Heather February 19, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    So glad she’s okay. Does me telling you not to beat yourself up about it help? You really shouldn’t – she’s a wiley kid and it can happen in a blink of an eye. If it’s any consolation I climbed a stone and concrete fireplace when I was a year old and (surprise, surprise) beaned my head pretty badly. Our family Dr. wasn’t in that day and they did a through look over of me thinking I’d been abused (my poor mum!). I turned out (mostly) ok.

    Mommy-Like Days February 19, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    You can see how we’ve all done this, right? Somehow “let” (ie witnessed) our babies’ falls. I remember when I thought I was the only one who had forgotten to buckle my baby into the car seat before taking off–good to be in community on these issues. Everyone’s forgotten to strap in the children sometime, and we’ve all endured falls. I’m reliving the worst of my daughter’s now, and even though we’re well past the 48hr “keep an eye on her” window, like by 6 months, I still feel it.

    mothergoosemouse February 19, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Oh my god, yes.

    I’m so glad that WB is okay. I know the panic and the guilt, and like you, when those accidents happen, I blame myself for growing blase.

    Robbin February 19, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    When my son was nine months old he threw himself out of a shopping cart onto the linoleum floor of a sporting goods store, and narrowly missed landing on his head. I thought my heart had stopped. He was fine, but I shook for two hours afterward.

    Much More Than A Mom February 19, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Oy vey my dear – you had me freaking out just reading about it so I can only imagine what you both must have felt. We’ve had a little blood and many goose eggs in our nine months and I fear, and yet I know, there is worse to come.

    flutter February 19, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Sounds like SHE could use some booze! Calm down, kid!
    Poor thing (you). I am glad your little heartattack is ok. She sure is cute

    PunditMom February 19, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    I’m so glad everything is OK. I reminds me of the moment when R. was a toddler and another mother assured me that frozen mini bagels wre the SAFEST teething treat, because toddlers could not bite off a piece and choke. That is, except for R. Who did. And did start to choke and turn blue and the scenario flashed through my head that I would have to call D. and tell him that I had allowed our perfect one year old to choke to death on a bite of a frozen bagel. Thank God I managed a semblance of the baby Heimlich and all is well … but you’re right, that moment, that silence — the most horrific in the world.

    Mrs. Chicky February 20, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Oh my Christ, that’s scary. But there is no way, NO way, that a parent can keep their eyes on their child every second of every day.

    Give Wonderbaby a kiss and know that you’re a good mom, no matter what she throws herself off of.

    mf2ltl2l8 February 20, 2007 at 2:58 am

    I would be WAY to scared to try to have a drink for fear that if sober such a thing happened, wtf might happen if I caught a buzz?

    I managed to make it through my now 14 yr old’s toddlerhood with only one blood leak. She hit the corner of a table with her brow and it bleed a lot! As I was cradling her, the blood ran in her ear and my mom freaked me out royally for a second trying to tell me she was bleeding from her ear.

    She broke an arm 2 summers in row once she was older though. Her 11th and 12th summers. Unsupervised… on her bike.

    I am somewhat less paranoid with my 5 month old then I was with my first but other things freak me out. Yesterday, laying on the bed getting a clean diaper, he somehow got his baby nail clippers that I just used and layed way over to the side in his hand and they went straight to his mouth…

    Choking is my biggest fear!!!! He may have actually dropped them in the direction of his open mouth as I yelled “aahhhhh”, but I swatted and they flew across the room and safely out of his reach. Coulda been a freak disaster.

    Laural Dawn February 20, 2007 at 8:06 am

    For some reason Blogger always eats my comments when I try to comment here.
    But, according to my mom, this is exactly what I was like when I was a baby/toddler. I was always hurting myself, climbing, etc. But, I made it through (and now I have a toddler who is much like this.)
    But, here’s the thing.
    I put my son in gymnastics. It sounds silly, but they are teaching him how to fall safely. It’s amazing because they teach them just ways of falling safely. I’ve noticed a big difference – less bruises, etc. He’s still really risky, but I’m beginning to feel like he’s a little safer. Maybe something to try in the theme of if you can’t beat em, join em.

    Michelle February 20, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Oh my god, my heart stopped beating just reading about it!

    BOSSY February 20, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Bossy can relate – those moments are more effective than a defibrillator.

    Antique Mommy February 20, 2007 at 9:16 am

    I was a Wonder Baby. My parent’s drank. It gets worse. We used to jump out of the second story window of our house. Yet we all survived. But oh, I know what you mean about wanting to turn the clock back and get a do over. It’s horrible. Parent’s make mistakes. It’s the other parents that don’t let you forget.

    Jenifer G. February 20, 2007 at 10:32 am

    The silence is the worst. I would take ear-piercing screams any day.

    We had two trips to ER in January (fractured foot and hand) and each time I felt the unspoken scrutiny.

    What kind of parent lets this happen twice?! (For the record, she was holding her Dad’s hand when her foot was fractured and sister dropped a very heavy not child-friendly toy box lid on her hand a week later.)

    Both of my girls are the daredevil types and coupled with the clutziness they have inherited, it is a heart-stopping combination.

    I’m with you, just how many near misses are we allowed? My oldest is six and I still have not figured this out, or figured out how to calm my heart.

    My best guess is we are in it for the long haul. Once on the parental duty I am guessing there aren’t many changes in the guard.

    *****
    Glad WB is fine…hope Mom is too in a day or so.

    megachick February 20, 2007 at 10:57 am

    backwards off a picnic table bench onto asphalt. lump on the back of her head. silence. terror. diagnosis: concussion. 2 1/2 years old. GUILT.
    prognosis: 5 years old and doing fine.
    the guilt’s still there.

    Jessica February 20, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Man, I’m so glad she is ok. My oldest used to do stuff like that, it’s a miracle he never broke anything. I’m so glad that phase is over. Makes me wonder about the baby though! I’m sure as other women have written we all damage our kids in one way or the other. Mason has a scar on his face because I let him go to the pool with a chicken pox mark not healed or covered. So there is something you probably wouldn’t have thought about and now you know!

    Kate February 20, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    My heart is totally pouding reading that story. My son fell off of our bed a few months ago, and it bothered me for days. He’s not a daredevil-type, just happened to be napping on our bed because he wouldn’t sleep in his crib, and I didn’t keep a better ear out to listen for when he woke up. It’s the worst feeling. But it’s like what you said about the silence. The silence is worse than the cries. He, thankfully, burst out crying as soon as I heard the “thud” of his land from downstairs, so in the back of my mnid, even though I was totally freaking out, I knew he was OK.

    Sorry to hear she took such a bad fall. Hang in there. On a lighter note, I hope she pursues a spot on the Olympic team for gymnastics because clearly she has no fear for mid-air acrobatics.

    V-Grrrl February 20, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Ah, the horrid silent moment when time stands still and all illusions of control, of sheltering our children from harm, of keeping them safe disappear.

    Diana February 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    I’m glad WB is ok.

    I can’t add much more than has already been said. You are not a bad mother. It happens, most often I think to the very best of us.

    I fell out of the cart – on my head – as a toddler. My mom still retells the story and still says it was the scariest of all of her mothering times. And then she jokes that it explains a lot. So look on the bright side, someday you might be able to look back and laugh at this with WB like my mom does. ;)

    lildb February 20, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    oh, sweet sweet sweetheart.

    no feel bad. please.

    kittenpie February 20, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Oh, god, how scary. It does happen, you’re right. Pumpkinpie has been significantly banged a couple of times, my sister broke her collarbone, as did misterpie and his sister. But it’s scary.

    To be honest, though, I’ve heard some pediatricians say they are almost more worried about kids who have no bangs and scrapes, because they probably aren’t getting enough exercise. It’s the peril of having not-fully-developed motor skills!

    Hope the poor little lumpy-headed thing is doing okay… kisses to WonderBaby (and hugs to you!)

    Rock the Cradle February 20, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Oh hug. big hug.

    The silence is totally terrifying.

    I think I have two opposing wishes, that at some point my heart will not stop, and that I will never get to the point where it doesn’t.

    Which leaves me back where I started, with my heart in my mouth.

    Anonymous February 20, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    I don’t usually comment, I just read. I have to comment on this. My son [Big Head Ed] and I tripped over the dog coming down the stairs one morning when he was only 4 months old. We hit the bookcase at the bottom, well HIS head hit the shelf! I was so SCARED! The silence is deafening! Then he screamed and cryed and I cryed! Then a trip to the emergency room where they treat you like abusers and check for all kinds of things! It was the worst day of our lives! Big Head Ed is now two and a half and OH-SO-SMART!! He can count to 25 frontwards and backwards!
    By the way, Wonderbaby is beautiful!!!

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD February 20, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Holy B’jesus. I’m so sorry. What a scare! OY. Great big hugs! xoxo

    Jozet February 21, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Prima did the same exact thing at about the same exact age.

    I remember it now as me standing across the store watching her fall forward and land face first, but in realisty, I was right there within grabbin distance.

    Yes, that moment of silence was the worst.

    I called my ped who asked a bunch of questions (did she pass out, was she throwing up now, etc.) and they determined that I should bring her into the office not because they thought she was hurt, but because they were worried about me being a wreck.

    But yes…to this day it takes everything in me to not take parents aside in the grocery store and say, “Please don’t let your child stand in the cart.” As if by doing so, I could undo the moment when my child fell.

    Thank goodness she was no worse for the wear.

    Damselfly February 21, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    And that’s why you call her Wonder Baby.

    Yow, that must have been terrifying. My little brother (10 years younger) fell out of a shopping cart as a baby and hit his head. He was OK, but my stepmom couldn’t get over it….

    tallulah February 21, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    And that is why my friends laugh at me and call me “over-cautious” and “freaky”.
    Your experience, and thousands of others like it scare the holy crap out of me!
    Thank god Wonderbaby is fine. Hugs.

    Jaelithe February 21, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    I hope you will still be writing this blog when she climbs Mount Everest.

    mamalang February 22, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Okay, I can tell from the large number of responses that you’ve had your it’s okay moment. But I have to share. My son is a lot like WB…he climbs, he jumps, he has no fear whatsoever of anything. WHen he was about wonderbaby’s age…he fell out of the cart at Target. And that silence…I was right there as well, but had turned my head for 2 seconds to find the other child…and BAM! Reading your post brought it all back. I still can’t be at Target and not remember and feel that little knot forming in my stomach. That was 3 years ago, and I still worry about what damage he may have caused. Seriously, how do they bounce like that?

    Mamacita Tina February 23, 2007 at 7:24 am

    So so I know you have like a million comments on this already, but I just have to add my own.

    My heart started racing as I read about what your family went through. How horrible!

    Parents, most of us anyway, do the best we can, and yes, our eyes will stray for a moment. That’s when our world can fall apart.

    I hate to admit it, but I’ve forgotten to buckle up my two year old in the car twice. TWICE! You’d think I would have learned my lesson after the first time. Thankfully, no accident to cause him harm. But I might have had a heart attack glancing back and seeing him lean forward enough to slide out of his car seat.

    Granny February 23, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    You probably don’t need any more reassurance and I’m late getting here.

    You’re right; the silence is the absolute worst. We’ve had more than one of those and I can remember the heart stopping terror and the seconds that seemed endless.

    These things happen. They’ve happened to me and to millions more like you and me. You could have been looking right at her and it still might have happened.

    Bellamomma February 28, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Hi, I just found your blog and happened upon this entry. No matter what you do, your kids get hurt because of the nature of childhood. They are exploring, they are testing their limits. Somehow I have been able to dodge the emergency room bullet but I have had my moments. Like when my daughter was 14 months old, walking and fell, bit her lip, and was COVERED in blood. So bloody she had to take a bath. The doctor had us give her ice cream, and we did not end up going to the ER but she has a little scar to this day on her lip.

    You are not a bad mother, not a bad parent, you are human and shit happens sometimes, even when you are doing everything you are supposed to.

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