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Wednesday, August 23, 2006  

Head Space

Some people have A Horrible Moment That Changed Everything. A few months ago, I almost did.

It was a weekend morning, and I got up to change, dress, feed, and hang with the munchkin while Trash slept in, for once. I'm not at my best at these times; usually at six-something on a Saturday I'm either still asleep or counting the hours until M. Small's nap -- and, by extension, mine.

So he'd had his breakfast, and he was just wandering around from room to room, as he does, with me behind him. The house is pretty well child-proofed by now, so it's easy and safe to give him plenty of space. As long as you're in the same room with him, there's not much trouble he can get into. For instance, the bookcases in his room are not just bolted to the wall; they're anchored to it, with brackets big enough to hold fighter planes stationary on the pitching flight deck of an aircraft carrier. There's no way he's going to pull one of those suckers down on himself, ever. I doubt that even I could pull one down without doing a lot of damage to not only my back, but also the walls. Possibly even the foundation.

Those bookcases hold a few other things besides books. The fourth shelf up holds some knickknacks, the baby monitor transmitters, a power strip in a childproof case, and this windchime thingy that has its own fan built in. Yes, it's kind of a tangle of cords, but he's not going to be able to reach any of them until he's old enough to know better.

In theory, anyway.

A week or two before, we'd been to Iowa, and brought a baby monitor with us. When I plugged it back in, I neglected to tuck the extension cord back into the narrow slot between bookcases, where M. Small can't get at it. So on this day, even though he wasn't supposed to be able to grab the cord, he did just that, and gave it a downward yank. And that windchime thingy -- four or five pounds of plastic, metal, and wood -- slid right off the edge of the shelf four feet above his head.

I caught it, of course, and M. Small never knew anything was amiss. He was kind of grouchy when I stuffed the cord away where he couldn't get at it, but he had no idea what a close call he'd just had. And he never will, unless I tell him (doubtful) or unless he reads this one day (even more doubtful).

It would have been a terrifying moment, had I had time to think about it before reacting. There was no way that thing would have missed his head, and there was no way it wouldn't have injured him. Possibly seriously, possibly permanently, possibly even fatally. But for no reason whatsoever, I just happened to be standing directly over him at that moment, as opposed to across the room. The thing came down, my hands went out, tragedy averted. I even had everything back where it belonged before my hands started shaking.

I can't stand to think about what would have happened if I hadn't been close enough, fast enough, lucky enough. And yet there are times when I can't not think about it. Because if I hadn't been close enough, I would have been replaying that moment in my head for the rest of my life, whether I liked it or not. If I hadn't been fast enough, that moment would have been the first thing I thought of every day when I woke up and the last thing I thought of early every morning when I went to sleep. If I'd been in a different room, I would have been permanently hearing that sound in my head: a crash followed by screaming. Or, infinitely worse, a crash followed by silence. And God knows what I would have seen upon rushing into the room. And then I'd be doomed to forever relive that moment, as if by running it through my head enough times, I could make it come out okay. Yet never succeeding, and never forgiving myself for letting it happen.

But I don't have to do that. It did come out okay. I have the luxury to have forgotten what day it was, for example, which is otherwise something that never would have slipped my mind.

I'm not going to forget that actual moment, when M. Small's life was suddenly in my hands before I even realized it. Because more than being fast, more than being close, I was lucky. So lucky. I could have been stuck in that moment for the rest of my life, constantly imagining a different outcome. But since I'm not, it only seems fair that I should make myself visit it once in a while. And be grateful that I don't have to live there.

And do a better job of keeping moments like that to a minimum in the first place. Because as grateful as I am that I can relive a moment like this knowing that it ended safely, I'm also grateful that it's the only one so far.

posted by M. Giant 8:54 PM 4 comments


Nearly thirty years later, my mother still feels guilty because my brother rolled of his changing table and broke his arm. He didn't even know it had happened until he recently said he'd never broken any bones and we filled him in.

I guess this is just one of those being-a-parent things - you are destined to always worry about what was or what could have been.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 28, 2006 at 7:45 PM  

My mother turned away for a moment with my older sister on the changing table, turned back and found she'd rolled over and fallen on the floor.

Not to go through that experience again, with me my parents acquired a changing table that had little walls on three sides, and my mother avoided turning away from it.

Until my then-two-year-old sister had some kind of crisis, and distracted her, and I managed (despite not being old enough that I could lift my head off the table by myself) to wriggle straight downwards... and fall.

Amazingly, neither of us was seriously hurt. Nor in any of the MANY misadventures we managed as children. (Well, my sister managed to get nasty burns over half her body, for which my grandmother felt tremendous guilt because she'd left a bowl of boiling water on a table she'd thought my sister couldn't reach, and I fell off my bicycle pretty badly a couple of times, but we healed.)

Kids are far less fragile than you tend to think they are. Of course, it's still vitally necessary to take strong precautions for their safety. The balance of parental paranoia and childhood capacity for getting hurt is such that if you're careful enough, your child will have many, many minor injuries, but not actually get maimed.

By Blogger Sami, at August 29, 2006 at 9:18 AM  

My three year old nephew fell backwards down a flight of stairs at Thanksgiving. I had no idea a pregnant woman (his mom) could run so fast. Luckily, she's a doctor.

We knew he was okay when Grandma came out to report that he was jumping on the bed and giggling while eating a marshmallow.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 30, 2006 at 4:47 PM  

I will never forget, for as long as I live, the sight of my then-18-month old son tumbling head over heels down the entire flight of stairs while I, 81/2 months pregnant, and not possibly fast enough, watched. The thump as he hit the hardwood floor at the bottom of the stairs, the swish as he slid into the baseboard with a final, tiny "bump." And then the terrifying silence before the heartwrenching-and warming-scream. He survived with only a broken leg. (And what a pitiful pair we were for those last few weeks--me huge and low pushing him in the stroller with his little leg stuck straight out, or lugging 30+ pound of toddler and cast, balanced precariously where my hip used to be, up two full flights of stairs for his nap)

Almost 5 years later, I still remember vividly the only thought in my head during the thousand years it took my son to fall: I am watching my son die. I thank the heavens every day that I was wrong.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 30, 2006 at 10:25 PM  

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