On Monday, I packed up the kids and headed to my sister-in-law’s lovely home for my niece’s 5th birthday and some good old fashioned cousin summer bonding. I arrived with 2 bottles of wine, one outfit for each of us (hooray for abusing my title of family to take over the laundry facilities!) and visions of lots of pool splashing, fart humor and, “She said butt!” tattle-taling.
We had been there for only five hours when, in the midst of dinner clean-up, we heard the sickening smack that indicates an injury. With seven children between us and neither of us strangers to the world of pediatric bumps and bruises, we dropped the dishes and ran to the play room. The cries were anguished. The culprit was a doll bunk bed. She climbed and fell. Not a high fall. Not an unusual injury for a busy, almost 18 month old, but, this injury was very different.
When I picked her up, her little eyes rolled and she went limp in my arms. I screamed. She awoke, went limp again and then, for the first time in my years as a mom, I lost all control to fear. I screamed to my sister-in-law, “CALL 911!” and other things I do not remember as I began the process of waking my daughter. I heard my sister-in-law in the background calmly but firmly giving the details to the dispatcher. “Baby, almost 18 months old. Passed out twice following a fall.”
The wait for the ambulance was the longest of my life as I held my daughter, her little eyes fluttering; her body normally never still, limp across my body.
They arrived and after a very brief discussion with the medics, we were off. Our very first ambulance ride.
During the trip, I gave the vital information. I called my husband and held my daughter on the stretcher. She had to be kept awake, a difficult task, during the 30 minute ride to the hospital.
In the last 7 minutes of the ride, she sat up and said, “Mama!” and something inside of me broke as I cried for the first time since the fall. The medic smiled. “This is a good sign.” I thanked the universe with my tears.
A CAT scan and tests and waiting and, long story short, she will be fine.
Just like that, human frailty and fragility and the luck of the draw. It is still so much to process. How we came through to the other side and how my baby is here with me and how life was moving even when it was standing still as I held onto her small chin so the big, scary machine could take a picture of her brain. Birthday cakes were being made and my children were with their loving aunt being bathed and my husband, over 3 hours away, sat on our couch with a neighbor awaiting word of our beautiful, baby girl.
Following release, I sat in the car with my saintly sister-in-law, who in the midst of finishing a two-tiered, fondant covered marvel, dropped her cake tools at 11:30 p.m. and drove to pick us up from the emergency room. I apologized for my terror induced screaming. I thanked her for her calmness. I put silent, throbbing thoughts of gratitude into every particle of air and life on the outside of my body. And, we laughed. Because the baby was complaining about her hospital vending machine yogurt bar and because laughter is the only release following an event like this that normalizes your core.
For three days, when she slept, I would quietly creep up the stairs to place my hand on her chest, wait for the soft, sleepy sigh or to see the rise and fall of her back. I followed her around like the crowned Queen of Helicopter Parenting and I scanned the internet for helmets for everyday use.
I let her color her entire body with markers and she may have had five packages of fruit snacks just today, but, I am so damn grateful to life and chance and fate and the swiftly moving planet and to cranial structures of steel and family and friends who love us and to laughter for cushioning the blow of momentary despair and to medics who held my hand and to the gorgeous birthday party the next day where we could all joyously celebrate beautiful, beautiful life.
And, we all ate cake. With sprinkles.