posted December 10, 2008

Saturday morning, I woke up with Johnny asleep in the crook of my arm, as usual. I lay for a long time watching him breathe, watching the perfection of his little face; the curlicues of his nose shapes, his little bow of a mouth, the whorls of his ears. The morning was so new it was still dark outside, but light enough to make out these features. I let myself bathe in my maternal love for this perfect little boy, so lovely, so cheery, so good-tempered. He woke up and stretched backwards, his little fists next to his ears, and then he opened his eyes and smiled at me, hiccupping with giggles. I was thinking about something I’d recently learned from a child psychiatrist: that babies have such undeveloped nervous systems that they literally depend on their parents to provide that calming effect for them. And the nervous systems of boys are actually much more delicate than the nervous systems of girls. For this reason, this doctor recommends that boys co-sleep for longer than girls. I was thinking about all the times as a child I went to my parents for reassurance over my many fears: fears of tigers, monsters, robbers, avalanches, rattlesnakes, Bad Guys, hornets and the abominable snowman in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

At six forty-five I got hungry and carried him, still dozy, downstairs with me. Usually at this point, I put him in the neglecto-matic while I make my eggs, but this morning, I wanted him close for some reason. Like a new lover, I wasn’t ready to let our sweet night of connection end. So I got out one of our baby carriers. I may have already mentioned this earlier, but I am a disaster at baby wearing. I have been shown countless times how to work our many varieties of baby wraps, and I seem to fail at all of them, but none worse than on Saturday morning, when I “froggied” Johnny’s legs and placed him, back against my stomach, into the easiest sling of them all, except somehow I missed the pouch. Thinking Johnny was secure, I let go and he fell from the height of my chest prone onto the floor with a thud. And then he produced the longest, most horrible scream I have ever heard. My baby turned red, and wailed, huge wet tears spewing from his eyes. I immediately picked him up and sat on the floor, trying to comfort him, first with my breast, which he didn’t want, and then just holding him and rocking him and cooing to him. But he was inconsolable. I called the emergency pediatric nurse who told me to get him to the ER right away. By this time, Tom had come downstairs and found me, blind with my own tears, trying to change Johnny’s diaper.

“I dropped him!” I sobbed. “We’re going to the hospital.”

And Tom responded the way the world’s number one best husband would respond:
“Oh, honey,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. “He’s going to be all right. Babies are made of rubber. But I’m so glad it was you and not me who dropped him.”

But even though Tom did not yell at me, I was yelling at me. How could I have done this? What if he were really hurt? What if his neck had snapped? What if he suffered brain damage? As I sat on the floor holding my screaming baby, I knew this much: no matter what, I would love him. Crazy promises to God went through my head, to save him in exchange for…for what? Even as I was bargaining, I knew God doesn’t work that way. So I just vowed to love bigger. And try to pay attention more. And no matter what, to grow.

Fortunately, we live across the street from the hospital, so I bundled Johnny up against the 21 degree cold and raced over. They took his vitals as he continued to scream. The doctor, a young guy with a goatee, repeated what my husband stated about babies being made of rubber and looked in Johnny’s ears. “Kids fall out of swings all the time,” he said, putting away his stethoscope.

Sling,” I said. “Not swing. He was on my body—I was standing–– and he fell off.”
“Oh,” said the doctor. “Well, that’s quite a fall. I’m going to order a CT scan.”
I started to cry again.

“Just to make sure.”

The doctor called Johnny “Boo boo,” which calmed me down a little, and Tom and Lila arrived which calmed me down even more. Then the nurse brought us some black tea and I felt almost able to handle the situation. Then Johnny stopped crying and did a double take as if to say, “Well, hello! It’s you! How marvelous to see you!” and started talking to me in his current language that sounds like, “Euh, Euh! Euh Euh!” and I knew he was fine.

The nurse wheeled us through the hallways of the hospital to the CT scan room. We donned lead aprons and I was instructed to keep Johnny still for the photos. He cried at first, not liking to have his little neck encumbered by the strange pillow situation, but I sang “Hush Little Baby” to him and he went back to staring up and me and smiling.

He was pronounced the cutest baby of the day, which didn’t mean much since he was the only baby there and it was 9am, but still. He was. We waited and waited to be told the CT scan was normal, and by that time I didn’t need the results. The young doctor came back in and said, “Okay, now just to be safe, we’re going to do an X-Ray.”

“No,” I said. “We’re not. But thanks.”

He sputtered a little, and then admitted that we didn’t really need an X-Ray and bid us farewell. I wrapped us up again and we crossed the street and found Lila and Tom playing “Hostibal” with Lila’s Groovy Girls. There are five Groovy Girls and most of them are named Joanie and they are all doctors. They all had special beds that could roll. I told them the good news about Johnny’s return to himself and general OKness and then I sat on the couch and called my parents to tell them about the adventures of the morning.

“Oh, sweetheart!” they both exclaimed, each one on an extension. “That’s the worst thing in the world.”

“The thing is,” I told them. “I spent that first hour so mad at myself, so miserable, so worried, and I kept thinking, ‘if only I’d stayed in bed a few minutes longer, if only I had put him in the swing, if only I hadn’t turned on NPR which might have distracted me.’ I mean, now that everything is fine, I’m actually glad I got to just spend two uninterrupted hours cuddling my boy and making faces at him. But if he’d been seriously hurt…”

And they shared with me the stories I already knew, about my sister’s various trips to the hospital, how there’s no fear like the fear of your child being injured. We talked about Thanksgiving, about how great the election was (again), about how great Lila and Johnny are, about the cold spell we’re having. I told them for the millionth time since I became a parent how grateful I am for all they did (and do) for us girls.
I hung up the phone and realized this forty-something mom of two had just used her sixty-something parents to calm her nervous system, and I smiled. And then Tom and Lila and Johnny and I bundled up once again and braved the cold, determined to seize the day, walk into our little town and say hi to our Saturday buddies and face our next fear (Lila’s first haircut) with as much grace and gratitude as we could muster.

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  1. How scary for both you and Johnny! I can only imagine. When Hannah was two, Frank took her to daycare and she fell down the stairs in front of him (12 wooden steps down to the daycare room in the basement of a house). I had the same reaction as Tom – I was glad it happened to Frank rather than to me! Glad to hear everything was fine.


  2. fortunately, they are tough. things like that happen all the time, but that never makes them easy. my “little one” – the youngest – and we still call him that even though he is 6’4″- was the one who had always seemed to have accidents. the most memorable one happened when he was 18 months old and careened into the corner of a coffee table, splitting skin and flesh right above the eye. (picture a boxer’s wound). we rushed him to emergency room where they quickly concluded he needed stiches and strapped him into a “papoose” to hold him steady. then came the needle with novacaine – and this 18 month old let loose with words that had never before emerged from his mouth. every swear word in the book – and i mean every – in a non-ending stream. the doctor and nurses were laughing so hard, they had to stop what they were doing. “where did he learn that?” they asked me. “His mother?” i weakly replied.

    john r

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