Both of them love to play baseball, though they both approach the sport from varying skill levels and interest. On this afternoon, our oldest, who is usually the most enthusiastic and also most skilled out of the two boys, was not so excited about playing. We also realized just before we left that he his right eye was slightly bloodshot, an indication that he has not been drinking enough water, and that a migraine is soon to follow.
We let our oldest lay down in the grass in the shade of a tree and told him to join us when he felt up to it. My wife and I then played for an hour with our youngest — our oldest joined for twenty minutes then needed to lay down again. When he decided to lay down, our youngest figured he needed to follow his older brother so, since my wife had been throwing the baseball like a girl (which is unusual for her) we decided to stand next to the boys and toss the ball around for a while longer.
Our youngest wasn't really tired or feeling ill, so after five minutes he popped up off the grass and asked if he could "go climb on the statue."
There's a statue at the front of the school grounds where we had been playing — a statue he and his brother had climbed on countless times before, so I said, "sure…go ahead. Just be careful. We'll be right here."
I've tried to have a decent balance between protection and giving the boys enough latitude to explore and grow their autonomy. The statue was not in a direct line of sight, but it was close enough to us that I was not too worried about my decision.
Three minutes after our youngest left we heard a high-pitched wail. My wife and I dropped our baseball gloves and went running. I was expecting to see our youngest lying on the ground near the statue. No. He was lying, writhing on the ground, on a walkway fifteen feet from it. Blood? No. Good. Severe swelling? No. OK. Something. Head? "Did you hurt your head?"
"No," he cried.
He was sobbing uncontrollably. And then the real worrisome phrase came out. "What happened?" He sobbed harder. "Daddy, what happened?" It became a mantra.
He not only did not know what happened to him, but he did not remember why we were at the school, or anything that had happened after lunch three hours before. We needed to go to the hospital.
A doctor doing triage on incoming patients dispelled out fears of sever head trauma when we first arrived at the Emergency Room. OK. But we still needed to know what happened, and that's what concerned me and my wife so much; we had no idea what really happened. We never saw it happen, and I think that'll haunt me for a long time to follow.
So three hours later a doctor finally sees our youngest.
"Mmm, hmmm. Yes. OK. Honey, does this hurt? Can you tell me what happened? What did you have for lunch today?"
She continues her questions, and our youngest has regained most of his memory except for about five minutes now.
"Honey, do you feel safe at home?"
Aw Christ. Not this again. I don't hear mothers of kids recounting these kinds of stories. And I know a lot of kids who are cruising around with a lot more bruising than mine, and mine come about their bruises honestly. Walking into coffee tables. Taking corners too closely. Jumping off beds. Light saber battles. These are boys in the Tom Sawyer kind of sense…well without the running away from home and other trappings. I've had doctors perform this line of questioning with my boys at least a dozen times in the past five years.
It doesn't help that we've moved twice in the that time, and the doctors were establishing a relationship with the kids, and with me. But still…what kind of comment is this on society that child abuse is this much of a concern? The irony is I'm about as far from being an alpha male as they come. I'm not about physical prowess, or controlling my kids with force, and yet when presented with a contusion like that which our youngest had, a doctor is compelled to determine how the bruise "really" came about.
The questioning did nothing but make me feel worse about having given our youngest that kind of latitude. He's only five. And he's a curious five.
The best we can piece together is that he was running around the sculpture and ran at full speed in between two support columns that hold up a roof that covers a walkway to the school. To corral the kids in the school on the walkway there is a 1/4" plastic covered cable strung tightly between all of the columns. The cable is right at the next level of our youngest, right where he now has a four inch long bruise / burn that looks more like a rope burn.
After being satisfied that our youngest was not afraid of harm coming from his mom and dad, the doctor asked if anyone else, any strangers, were near him when this happened. Holy shit. I had even considered this. What the hell was I thinking allowing him to be out of a direct line of sight?
Today I have to bring our youngest to his pediatrician for a follow up to make sure the wound is healing well. I suspect I or our youngest will be questioned yet again regarding his sense of safety in the home. Today I need to breathe deeply and understand that is just part of the climate in which we live…that there are many other people out there who do hur their children. But I also have to breathe deeply as I absorb the ramifications of the wake up call to keep a closer watch over this curious little fellow. He is the boy who will climb a rock face without first figuring out how to get down. He is the boy who will jump into water without first finding out how deep it is. He is the boy who will careen down a hill on a mountain bike without knowing what's around the next corner.
He is the boy I need to try to physically protect, until he is old enough to tell me otherwise…by law.
And through it all I need to learn how to breathe. I need to understand that as a stay-at-home-dad, someone not following a orthodox path, that I will always be under a different scrutiny. I also need to be confident in what kind of latitude I'm giving my boys to allow them to grow up with confidence, a sense of self, and a sense of how to keep themselves safe — physically and emotionally. And with that control, I also need to know how and when to let go, since I can't be with them everywhere, and I can't keep them safe forever; that's not my job. But the balance between all of these things often leaves me feeling very out of control.