Ordinarily, I faint at the sight of blood. Or I freak out. Or both. You would think that I would be all the more the likely to do both when the blood that I’m looking at has drenched the front of my little girl’s shirt and puddled in the palms of her wee outstretched hands. Thankfully, on this occasion, I keep my wits about me. I manage to stay upright and conscious as my baby girl, not quite three years old, throws her bloodied, sobbing self into my arms and dribbles blood-streaked mucous down my back.
MOMMY *sob* I JUMPED *sob* BUT *sob* I FELL DOWN AND I HIT MY *sob* MOWFF!
I put her down and she opens her mouth to show me. Blood dribbles down her front, a thick red stream of slobber that drenches her shirt. Her tears streak down her face and wash little trails through the red stain on her chin. I wobble, a little, and swallow the cry of alarm that is burbling up in my throat.
AND NOW I’M ALL *sob* MESSY!
I drop to my knees in front of her. If I’m going to pass out I might as well be close to the floor, and in any case, I need to check to see whether she’s knocked all her teeth out. I take a deep breath to steady myself. Open your mouth, baby, I say. I need to see inside your mouth. I need to see your teeth.
She opens her mouth. Blood dribbles out over her bottom lip and splashes over her chin before dropping in midair, suspended in a thick trail of drool. I stretch out my sleeve and catch the gob, and then use the sleeve of the other arm to dab at her bloodied mouth. This is how I know that I am a parent: I do not faint, and I do not recoil at having my clothes soaked in blood and spit. I pause for a moment to marvel at that fact – I’ve seen this girl bloodied before, many a time, but not nearly so dramatically, and I wouldn’t have thought that I could handle it – and then scoop her bloodied little body into my arms and carry her to the bathroom.
I soak a washcloth and dab the blood from her mouth.
ARE *sob* ALL *sob* MY TOOFS *sob* THERE?
Yes, sweetie. They’re all there. The washcloth turns red in my hands. I rinse it under the tap and squeeze it out. I dab her mouth again, and rinse again; dab, rinse; dab, rinse. The cloth gets pinker, the water runs clearer. I can see that she’s cut her lip. This is how I know that I’m parent: her blood doesn’t rattle me, now that I know she’s safe, but this tiny wound cuts me to the quick. My heart seizes at this little injury, this tiny marker of her vulnerability. I kiss the tip of my index finger and gently press it to her lip. We’ll make it feel better, sweetie, I say. We’ll make it better. I pause and press her hand to my heart. You scared Mommy.
I *sob* BETTER NOW *sob* MOMMY… I *snorflesob* *mumble* AGAIN, MOMMY.
What’s that, sweetie?
I *snorfle* GOTTA TRY AGAIN MOMMY. I GOTTA *deep breath* GO JUMP AGAIN.
How I know that I’m her parent: I let her. I clasp her little hand and, together in our blood-stained shirts, we march back into the playroom and she climbs back onto the sofa and then – still grasping my hand – flings herself into the air. And I catch her. And then we clutch each other in a mess of blood and tears and snot and I whisper into her hair, don’t do that again when I’m not right beside you, okay? I don’t like it when you get hurt.
How I know that she’s my daughter: she puts her little hand against my heart. And I don’t like it when YOU get hurt, Mommy. She presses gently. I be careful. Then she pulls her hand out of mine and climbs back onto the couch, and – grinning a mad, blood-streaked smile – jumps again.
In this moment, in this bloody, messy, painful moment, I love being a parent. Blood and tears and pain and all, I love it.