I had a concussion once, as a small child.
At that time, we lived on a dead-end street, in a small town in New York. The kids of Concord Avenue all played together, that last generation of 70s and 80s kids who got to do stuff without constant adult supervision.
We meandered through secret backyard paths and built forts amongst rhododendron bushes. We knew the names of the neighbourhood dogs: Sugarfoot, Snowball. We went to the playground at the end of our street, alone, the littler ones supervised by the not-much-older ones.
One day, someone had the brilliant idea to attach a metal wagon to the back of a bike with a length of rope, and take turns pulling each other in it.
I remember sitting in the back of the wagon, probably the smallest child there, as one of the older kids, Alex, pedalled like a spin-class junkie, with me yelling “Faster!” while the wagon fish-tailed. I remember gripping the metal sides of the red wagon, and then the moment of horrified anticipation as the left-side wheels tipped up once, then twice, then completely, spilling me out headfirst onto the road.
The moment of impact is gone from memory, head hitting concrete and the left side of my body leaving layers of epidermis behind. I do remember the screams of the other kids, rushing off to my house to tell my mother. I’m sure my brother helped me hobble home, though I don’t remember that either.
I do remember sobbing as bits of road grit were washed away and bandages applied. I don’t remember vomiting or driving to the hospital, but those things happened.
I do remember being in emerg. Alarming images float up, of staff wrestling a man, wild and flailing, whom I learned a long time later was drunk, according to my mother.
There is the face of a brisk nurse who made me cry by briskly ripping of all of my Band-Aids, as my mother protested.
“Ma’am, I have to inspect the wounds,” she said. My mother didn’t explain to me for many years why a nurse might have to inspect a child’s wounds in the ER.
And lastly, I remember the reflection of my small face in some kind of mirror above me as I lay still to have my head X-rayed. There were no long-term consequences of that accident. It became one of my childhood stories, an amusing one. Kids, you know!
Last Monday I found myself in the ER with my Lark. The day had dawned grim for me, a day in which I couldn’t shift my mood from cranky to light.
I made plans to meet friends at one of our local parks. Lark and I were on our own, with the other half of our family 15,000 km away in Australia.
We’ll get out of the house, I thought. The day will get better.
But, when the time came to go, Lark, who is mostly pretty agreeable, suddenly refused to agree. With an epic stubbornness, she flatly refused to come to the park. She didn’t want to go to that park, she only wanted to go to a different park, one that I don’t enjoy much. (I once wrote about how disappointing this particular park was to me when renovated, here.)
I cajoled, bribed, and threatened, but she wouldn’t budge. So, with me in a bit of a sulk, we set off for her parkette of choice, and I texted our friends that we weren’t coming.
As soon as we got there, Lark immediately began climbing around on top of the climbing structure. This is something that all of the older kids do there, because this newer piece of playground equipment was designed to be “safe” and therefore is only two feet from the ground.
Please come down from up there, I said sternly. Not once, not twice, but several times.
Now, over the years, I have flown my parenting helicopter with extreme precision. I’ve been ready to swoop in and rescue. I don’t say this because I’m proud of it, it’s just a fact that I’ve had a very hard time watching my oldest, Bean, get hurt, because he has already suffered enough. So I’ve been watchful, ready, on high-alert.
That day though, my helicopter crashed. I was tired and in a bad mood and irritated that Lark wouldn’t stop clambering around where she wasn’t supposed to be.
As I stood only a foot away from her, I watched her climb up, lose her balance, catch at something on the way down, and then slam down on her face on the steps of the climber.
Horrified, I scooped her up while she wailed. Bruises appeared on her temple.
A mum friend from the area was nearby to help. She had an ice pack and relevant head-injury advice. I mumbled that I wished I’d been just a step closer to catch her. She said something along the lines of, If you were always there to catch her, she would never learn the consequences of her actions.
That is truth, right there. Although, it can be so hard to watch our children make mistakes, and be injured.
If I hadn’t fallen out of the wagon, I wouldn’t have learned that it’s probably not a good idea to ride in a vehicle attached to a bike by a bit of rope.
Lark has now learned that you shouldn’t climb on top of things that you have neither a firm grip on nor sturdy footing below.
She stopped crying and I carried her home. On the couch, she fell asleep and was difficult to wake. She woke and barfed. So, with a big sigh, we headed off to Sick Kids. We stayed in emerg. for about 6 hours. Doctors looked at her, we talked about imaging. She threw up again. She slept again.
And then she woke up. She picked up her markers and began colouring and making demands for food. She ate many snacks and chatted with a volunteer who I flagged down to help. She got out of bed and literally skipped down the hall. So we went home, and that’s the end of the story.
Kids, you know?