Monday, November 14, 2011

Falling (Part I)

            Just four entries in, and already I’ve broken my commitment to myself to write a post a week. Week four was bookended by two events of great parental magnitude, however, so I feel justified, at least a little, in taking the time to think things through. What I lost in time, I gained in material.
            That Monday night – Halloween, in fact – I came home from teaching to find the kids were still up. They were in their pajamas, at least, but still up past their bedtime, although I flattered myself that they had been waiting for me to come home before they would go to bed.
That might have been part of the reason, but so was the attraction of flopping face down onto our bed in a game our 8-year-old called “I’m a stick, I’m a stick.” It’s a trick she learned in gymnastics class and taught to the three-year-old. In class, they do it off the vault onto a high, thick mat, arms stiff at their sides, standing straight, letting the full weight of their bodies fall fearlessly forward. At home, the girls were using our queen-sized bed, standing in the center at the foot of the bed and falling face down into the pillows.
My internal alarm bells always go off when the kids start climbing, jumping, tumbling, or otherwise fooling around. I could say it’s maternal, but my partner is considerably less anxious than I am about such things. I am always the one to say, “No!” “Be careful!” “Watch!” so that even the three-year-old gives me baleful “Would you relax already?” glares. Maybe it’s a legacy inherited from my loving, superstitious Sicilian grandmother, who went through life wringing her hands over the disasters that were sure to come down upon us all at every moment. Or maybe I’m just a worrywart of my own accord, too distrustful, too much of a control freak. I must admit it looked like fun, the girls so confident in their bodies and in the bed that would catch them, just letting go and dropping down, then popping up giggling, with shining faces. And the older one was being so careful, making sure that they were in the middle of the bed, at the very end, where nothing could obstruct their soft landing.
“You each get one more turn and that’s it,” I said. “It’s time for bed.” The little one did her flop and stepped aside. Then the older one flopped and got up. “Alright, that’s it,” I said from my spectator’s spot at the foot of the bed, reaching out toward the two girls up at the head.
That’s when the three-year-old let go for another fall. It would flash unbidden across my mind many times in the coming days, that moment when the corner of the nightstand drove into the flesh above her eyebrow, leaving a deep, triangular gash that would need seven sutures to close. Again and again, I would hear the sickening thump and see the point drive home in a closeup that zoomed in much further than my actual vision would have allowed. When it actually happened, though, what struck me most was the moment when she was still falling, those two seconds when I knew something terrible was about to happen and I was absolutely powerless to stop it.
Fortunately, the Forefront of Medicine is just a few blocks away. She jumped up and down on the bed in the examining room of the  the children’s hospital ER, despite the nurse’s advice that she should lie still to keep the bleeding down, insisted on playing with the remote for the TV, and endured being bound motionless and stitched up as well as can be expected of any spirited three-year-old (meaning she cried and kept saying, “No, I don’t want to do this!”).
Her stitches are out now, and the wound is healing well. She probably won’t even have much of a scar, inside or out: she had a couple nights where she woke up with nightmares, which is unusual for her, but other than these instances of her subconscious working through the trauma, she seems to be her usual, irrepressible self. She’s even tried to play “I’m a stick” a couple of times, but I’ve put an end to that right away. She might be ready to take that risk again, but I’m not.