We passed a milestone as parents this past weekend: first trip to the emergency room with Sarah, who got second degree burns on her palms after trying to climb some metal bars at the playground on a 93-degree day (we at first thought it was the slide, but retraced her steps and realized the real culprit). It was shocking and scary and frustrating, but I also felt a new, completely unexpected feeling: detachment.
Sarah will be two in September. Now, two is an age I’ve heard about ad nauseam: Ah, the terrible twos! Followed by the extremely annoying term threenager (apparently three-year-olds are total bitches). But I have a question: why does no one talk about the super-injury-prone age of one?
At 22 months, Sarah can walk, run, and climb just well enough to be constantly covered with bruises and scratches. She understands us well enough, but can only communicate the very simplest ideas: she wants maa–her word for milk–she wants to go to the pool, or, denied that, she plaintively asks, Baaa?–her word for bath.
She has no idea of the most basic dangers. During our trip to Wyoming, we did a mad dash to urgent care because she placed her hands in a door jamb and got her fingers pinched. I was holding her at the time and heard a cracking sound that lodged in my throat. I panicked as she cried, handing her over to Scott and wringing my hands and wailing as others gave her ice and looked for urgent care locations. I struggled to pull it together, finally bundling her into the car, naked in a diaper, and riding with her into town.
While we returned with her clothed and shod (I at least brought clothes with me) and a verdict of parental overreaction (it was the wood that cracked, not her little fingers, she was fine), I was ashamed of my extreme distress. After all, I’m Sarah’s parent: I’m supposed to be calming her and getting her to safety, not falling apart.
Compared to the finger pinch, the burns on her hands were much more gruesome–giant, angry blisters destroying her tiny little palms. It was the sort of injury you see and wonder, Will that leave a scar? But I did manage to hold it together, sitting with her in the back seat of the car while Scott drove us to the hospital. I thought about her little fingers in Wyoming and pushed my panic down, smiling and telling her that everything would be just fine, we were going to the doctor right now to make everything all better.
Weirdly enough, it worked like a charm. Sarah calmed down and laughed while we sang our ABCs together (her new favorite song). And the more I talked to her, the more I believed that everything would be fine. I stopped looking at her burns as a scary injury, or an indictment of my parental skills, and saw it as an accident that we were going to treat as quickly anas possible.
In the days after her grand ordeal, Sarah has done the following: tipped over in her tiny deck chair onto a brick patio, tumbled down the back porch steps, banged her head (while goofing around) into a wooden stair, and rammed her head into a wall (again, while goofing around). Today, she tripped during a visit to Sid’s new middle school and hit the floor.
And while I cringe at every tumble–and try to watch her ever-more carefully, I swear–I’ve noticed that new steel in my nerves as she hurls herself into my arms, crying Mommy! and I murmur, I’m sorry, everything will be okay. Because I am the parent. And I am going to buy that silly baby a helmet.