Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No guarantees

When I become a parent, I realized how tenuous life is. I find myself imagining all sorts of terrible situations that might befall my children—quite outlandish things that come unbidden to my mind when I’m drifting off to sleep or daydreaming. Accidents, kidnappings, incurable diseases, that sort of thing. In these scenes, I’m always one step or one shout too late. These waking nightmares became particularly intense after Dio was born, to the point that I had a hard time sleeping for a while because I kept worrying that someone was going to kidnap my children. My logical mind knew it was a bit silly, but my primitive brain--the part that controls instinctual responses and emits adrenalin--was on high alert. 

In real life, my children have never met with disaster. We’ve had our share of scrapes and falls, of course. And some really scary near misses—like the time a few weeks ago when Zari was riding her trike and I was walking behind her, pushing Dio in the jogging stroller. We came to an intersection. Instead of stopping and waiting for me, as she always had done in the past, she pedaled even faster. Right into the path of an oncoming semi truck.

Of course this story turned out happily. The truck driver saw her and stopped. A friend who was walking with me ran into the street and snatched Zari back onto the sidewalk. Another woman across the street had been watching and was running towards Zari as well, yelling at the oncoming traffic to stop. Afterwards, my mind replayed the incident, and I couldn’t stop thinking what if the truck hadn’t seen her? What if my friend hadn’t been there with me? What if what if what if?

This afternoon Zari and Dio were playing inside a tent on the living room floor. I was on the couch, reading a book. Dinner was made and we were waiting for Eric to come home from playing ultimate Frisbee. The sounds of play—talking, giggling, babbling, minor squabbling—suddenly stopped. Dio began screaming. Not the usual “you took my toy away!” scream, but a piercing shriek of pain. I opened the tent flap and saw blood all over Dio's face, shirt, and hands. Zari had been cutting paper inside the tent, so I knew that the scissors were somehow involved. Zari shrunk away from me and wouldn’t make eye contact. I had to quickly figure out a) where the blood was coming from and b) what had happened.

I looked at his face first. No active bleeding, no scissors in the eye or mouth or anything awful like that. Okay. Hands next: I saw blood flowing from his index finger. The tip of his finger had been cut off. Now, that sounds worse than it really was. More specifically—a piece of skin the diameter of a lentil was missing at the tip. I told Zari to run get a towel, but she wouldn’t move.

So I ran Dio into the bathroom and rinsed the cut off. He was shrieking and writhing, so we soon had blood all over both of us. I held a washcloth around his finger and opened the first-aid kit. I tried a band-aid first, but it soaked through and was dripping blood in just a few seconds. So I opened up a gauze eye patch, put it around his finger, and wrapped it snugly with medical tape. This was more complicated than it sounds, because he would not hold still. I ended up pinning him on the ground between my legs while I bandaged him up.

He needed lots of snuggles and nursing the rest of the evening. I put a new bandage on right before bedtime, since his old one had slipped loose. I hope the new one stays on all night. The bleeding is still fairly brisk when there’s no bandage applying pressure to the cut.

I never could get a straight story from Zari about how exactly his finger had made it into her scissors. She wouldn’t make eye contact with me for a long time. My guess is that it was an accident.

Even though I was only about three feet away, it still wasn’t enough to prevent the accident. Sure, I could never keep a pair of scissors in the house…but Zari has been using scissors quite competently for a long time. She enjoys doing “activities”—cutting paper and fabric, gluing on pompoms and glitter and googly eyes, tracing patterns, and using her stamp sets. (After today’s incident, though, I did explain that she can only use her children’s scissors, rather than my “adult scissors.” More for Dio’s sake than her own, since he’s started to imitate whatever she does.)

Part of being a parent is realizing that you cannot be there every moment. You cannot anticipate every eventuality. You cannot guarantee that your children will be safe and unharmed, or even that they will be alive the next day. That sounds a bit morose, but it’s a reality that hits me especially hard during pregnancy. I have to live with the knowledge that my baby might not survive. Although there's a very good likelihood that my pregnancy will continue to term and that the baby will be born alive and healthy, it's never 100% certain. I'm still working to find the right balance between hoping and planning for life and accepting the possibility of mortality. Or even just plain-Jane things like getting the tip of your finger cut off by your older sister.


  1. I think you take a healthy perspective. I often blog about situations with people I know that are complete helicopter parents, and who, I believe, are shielding their kids from really growing and trying anything new. It's rather sad, actually.

    But I know what you mean about not always being able to be there. Take, for instance, the other day when my kids were happily playing upstairs (I heard them, even!). Before I know it, there is a phone call. The neighbor across the street was politely telling me that my children were walking back and forth across the front porch roof from one bedroom window to the other. I wanted to die. LOL

    Thank goodness for the eyes and ears of others. :)

  2. It's interesting that those feelings became more intense after Dio was born. I find myself having a lot more of those types of thoughts after having my second. Not sure what that is.

    Maybe feeling like by having two healthy kids I dodged a bullet and that bullet is still out there, waiting to get me? Oddly, when I think about whether I want more kids, I often find myself thinking "Is it wise to tempt fate?"

    I also worry quite a bit about my son accidentally hurting his sister in a serious way. There's a big age difference, and hence a big size difference, between them, and I have these sort of waking nightmares of him doing something out of simply being a petulant four-year-old that would have lifelong consequences for all of us.

  3. I remember getting a lot more worried about obscure risks starting with #2 and #3. Not that I didn't have obscure worries before, just that they seemed to intensify with multiple kids.

    Not sure why. Something about feeling spread thin and not being able to supervise as thoroughly, perhaps? About not having enough arms for 3 or 4? About maybe not being able to rescue them all in a disaster? About not being "enough" to handle it all? Or perhaps just more cognizant of our inability to control things? I don't know.

    I also had a recurring dream with #4 that I would forget her and leave her behind somewhere....in a carseat I forgot to actually put IN the car, at a school event, etc. I spent a lot of time counting noses to help counteract the fears from that dream!

    One of the harder parts of parenting is knowing how much to hover -- trying to prevent disasters -- and how much to let go. Those stupid dreams don't help much, do they? They just make me want to hover more.

    I am glad all was okay with Dio's finger.

  4. I have long had a theory that the third child brings some sort of trouble. Difficult birth, illness, something. It is true with many people I know. It ended up being true with me as well.

    With my third child's birth, we were basically struck by lightning. Things happened in such a way that caused him to have HIE which caused his death.

    Afterward, I have been so protective of my older children. I am usually comforted by odds. The odds of bad things happening are pretty rare. Now, I have been on the other side of those odds. The less than half a percent side. Sometimes I think "it already happened to me, I couldn't possibly be struck again". I know that is not true.

    Now that I am pregnant again, obviously my protective instinct has gone into overdrive. I think it is normal for a woman carrying a child to feel that way. You are a steward and protector of you baby and your children. Sometimes you can protect them and other times you cannot.

    Sorry, I think this is the first time I have commented on your blog, maybe second, but I have been reading since before Dio was born. :)

  5. Sorry about Dio's finger. Poor baby.

    I just have the one child so far, but I still haven't figured out how to deal with the fact that death suddenly matters in a way it just didn't before I had him. No one told me that mortality might burst into my life in a whole new way with a (perfectly healthy) child. I did not see that coming.

    I also know what you mean about worrying-self vs. rational-self. When I catch myself doing a pre-sleep panic, I tend to have this odd little internal monologue like I'm my own mother: 'Now, I don't think this is a great time to think about mortality, when you're all exhausted and supposed to be going to sleep ... So just put it away for now.' Sometimes it makes me chuckle at myself, which is at least non-panicky :)

    For me, just being tired and overextended makes this stuff much worse. Of course, there's not much to do about that when you're parenting two small children and growing another one--but try to be kind to yourself.

  6. Glad to hear that everything turned out ok in the end. My husband and I have one son, and are eager to have another one. Somedays when my son falls down outside, or runs away while we are shopping at the mall, my husband and I start to think "The two of us already have our hands full with one, how can we possibly keep TWO safe!". I know people do it everyday, and both my husband and I are one of three. I like the way that your brain works in a whole different way after you have kids. I worry about things I NEVER did when I was single, or when I was married! Nice to remember that I'm not the only one.

  7. maybe you should take the old testament approach - you cut off dio's finger, and then he gets to cut off yours. eye for an eye, finger for finger.

    this reminds me of the "bloody murder" game that our aunt and uncle played growing up - i hit you as hard as i can with the croquet mallet, and then you get to hit me as hard as you can.

  8. I definitely can not handle certain shows or movies since having children, it just hits too close to home.

    I go through periods of time of fear and concern. My friend's son died right before he turned 5. My son turns 5 next week. It weighs heavy on my mind and makes it seem more real that I could lose him.

    I am glad that Dio's finger is OK. I hope you can find the balance of worry and faith. It can be a challenge.

  9. A week and a half ago in my town, a 2 year old little girl was hit by a car and killed. She was in a crosswalk holding her mother's hand, a car had stopped to let them cross and another car rear ended that car and pushed it into them. What is the most frightening thing? That mother was doing EVERYTHING right... and she still could not protect her daughter. I don't think we can truly allow ourselves to dwell on these things, or we'll miss life completely.

  10. I must say I can understand where you are writing from. I did not have any of the irrational fears, and I agree, they are so real, the heart races, the pulse quickens, that I have had after #2. Even the irrational I can't save them both moments. After disussing with my mom, she faced the same thing after #2 as well. After dealing with multiple pregnancy loss, mortality is something I still have issues with. Each pregnancy is full of fear, fear that yet again, I will lose this one too. But somehow we deal with it, and keep going. Keep hoping, praying, anything to get through the days and months. Glad Dio's injury was not too severe. I can see the same thing happening in my house, with a 5 year old and a 9mo old... Just can't child proof enough without becoming bubble mom...

  11. I have actually relaxed with three kids; partially, it's because they look out for each other, but partially it's because I was a complete helicoptering wreck with the first, because of all the cesarean-based nonsense I couldn't save him from at the hospital. I think that messes with your monkey brain in a way that no one has identified but a lot of us feel at a primal level.

    I'm sorry about Dio's finger. But I'm fascinated by Zari's reaction. Might want to work with her about practicing dealing with emergencies. As in, "If mama yells, here's where the first aid kit is, and here's where the towels are, and and and..." Rowan and I do drills on this kind of stuff.

  12. Great post.

    We recently had a scissor incident. Not involving another person, so not at all scary like yours. Instead my daughter gave Charlotte, her Waldorf doll made by her grandma, a haircut. Still, we had a discussion about what it's okay to use scissors on.


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