When Bruce was three months old we took our first family vacation to Colorado. I use the term vacation loosely because we were attending a family wedding and inundated with in-laws, plus I quickly learned that vacation with a baby should really be called, “your everyday life, but worse due to travel, sickness, unfamiliar places, and throwing off of sleep schedules, in a beautiful place that you can’t really enjoy due to round-the-clock nursing.”
On a particularly gorgeous but chilly September day in Vail, my husband was gracious enough to get me out of the condo for a hot stone massage, and it was blissful to have some me-time to zone-out and feel pampered without the wail of a baby to interrupt. After the massage I felt relaxed, peaceful, and well-oiled, but I didn’t hang around in the spa, as I knew I needed to be back for Bruce’s next feeding. During the five-minute drive home I felt calm and quiet with no trace of anxiety or worry. So what if Bruce is up six times tonight? I can handle it. My mother-in-law’s incessant and irritating baby-talk to Bruce? No problem.
I walked in the door and saw Dean and Bruce hanging out in the living room. While leisurely taking off my coat, I inquired about their afternoon. Dean rattled off about them taking a walk outside and enjoying the cool weather. Still in a blissful state of peace, I smiled and reflected on what must have been meaningful and poetic father-son time. As I walked over to them, all feelings of tranquility immediately evaporated once I saw Bruce, prone on the floor, with bright red cheeks.
“Oh my God, what’s wrong with his face?!” Body tense, face panicked.
“Oh, it’s just a little red from the wind, I’m sure it’s fine.”
“He wore his hat didn’t he?!” Cat’s paw reared back, ready to strike.
“Well I didn’t need one, so I didn’t think he did either.”
“How long were you out?!” Blood pressure rising.
“Uhh … about 45 minutes?”
“So you took our bald baby out in the sun, mid-day, at high altitude, for 45 minutes, WITHOUT HIS HAT?” Resisting urge to scream at husband.
Despite Dean’s assurances that all was fine, I found myself hysterical, with all traces of the afternoon’s massage long-gone. Bruce’s first sunburn turned out to be a non-event, despite my rampant googling, constant checking on him, and several calls to our pediatrician’s office, but I was annoyed with Dean for the rest of the week for being so careless (he eventually agreed with me that yes, Bruce should have had a hat on). I mentally fumed that Dean just doesn’t think of the details for keeping Bruce secure, but thanks to my careful watch, he will always be safe.
Boy was I wrong. In the 14 months that lapsed since then, Bruce has had three major incidents, under my watch, that I shakily walked away from thinking “what if.”
Incident 1. When Bruce was around four to five months old, he often sat in a little chair to help him learn to sit unassisted. I could strap him in, and put a little tray attachment on with toys. One weekend afternoon I strapped him into the chair, which was sitting in the middle of an overstuffed chair-and-a-half chaise that I was folding laundry on. I admit that I had actually put Bruce in all sorts of places I probably never should have in this chair (the kitchen island, the dining table, the bathroom counter), for reasons now I can’t even contemplate. I walked the ten feet away to gather more laundry, and heard crying. I turned around to see Bruce on the floor, still strapped into his chair, except they are both on their sides. He cried, and I cried, but all was well in a matter of minutes. How he shifted his weight, tipped the chair, and it rolled off the chaise, I’ll never know. But I know I never took my eyes off him again (or put him at any height) when he was in that chair.
Incident 2. Earlier this summer, when Bruce was a little over a year old, we were playing on the bed in our bedroom. Bruce was laughing and giggling and I was running around to all sides of the bed making faces. He was having such a good time that I felt the need to capture it on camera. I saw my phone on the dresser a few feet away from the bed, noted that Bruce was squarely in the middle of the bed, and went to grab it. I turned around and was fiddling with the phone trying to get the focus right when Bruce stood up, turned around, and threw himself onto one of the large Euro-sized pillows against the headboard. What happened next occurred in slow-motion, as he rolled sideways (the wrong way) off the pillow, tumbling down to the hard-wood floors of our bedroom, landing perfectly prone on his belly, cheek down. He cried, and I cried, but all was well in a matter of minutes. How he didn’t smack his forehead on Dean’s bedside table not two inches away on his way down, I’ll never know. But I know I never leave the bed when he’s on it, even now, when he’s fairly capable of getting down on his own.
Incident 3. Last Sunday, I was at the park with my 17 month old cherub. We had been on the swings and playing with our soccer ball and decided we wanted to move over to the kid-sized wooden train. Not wanting to take the ball with me, I walked in a slightly divergent direction so I could toss the ball into the stroller before we moved to the different part of the park. Bruce toddled toward the train, and toward the foot-high black plastic barrier around the portion of the park we were in to keep the wood chips in place. As I walked to catch up with him, he reached the barrier. I picked up my speed as he shakily stepped onto the top of the plastic barrier. My trot turned to a sprint as I watched him go down head first (again in slow motion) and disappear. Making matters worse, I saw a dad watching this all unfurl not two feet from him, yet he didn’t make any move to grab Bruce as he tumbled down. I reached the edge and peered over expecting the worst. There he was, lying on his back in the green grass, looking a bit stunned, perhaps even a bit proud of himself, but otherwise unruffled. I swooped him up, but within seconds he was insisting “down” to continue his trek to the train. I cried. How he did an apparently perfect mid-air somersault and didn’t hit the metal grate not one foot to his left, I’ll never know. But I know I don’t let him wander too far without me, even for a second, and I can’t necessarily trust another adult to help out in a moment of chaos.
In all of these lucky instances, my kiddo emerged unscathed, but I was mentally wounded and consumed with guilt. As I told Dean about each of these instances, he simply replied, “glad it wasn’t me, because you would have never let me live it down.” My mom and friends that I admitted my parenting lapses to told me not to worry about it. And while I appreciate that everyone is still confident in my ability to keep Bruce safe, I still replay these frightening moments in my mind. Perhaps our inability to shake moments that fear us to the core is to ensure that we have learned never to put ourself in that position ever again.
Even more terrifying is the realization that if these parenting fails can happen to me, they can certainly happen to someone else who may or may not be as conscientious as I think I am. Dean, our nanny, or my parents? Last week’s incident taught me not only to be more careful with my increasingly-mobile son, but also to be more patient and understanding when something may happen to Bruce under someone else’s eye. Realizing there have probably been some near-misses that my husband has wisely chosen not to tell me, perhaps it’s better for us to share and talk about those incidents so we can both learn from them, rather than fearing the wrath from each other (ok, just me).
I’m not above fault in this parenting gig, and I have a feeling it’s about to get a lot harder in a couple of months. Sometimes I need a good reminder that it truly takes a village to raise a kid, even if it’s only from shared minds and knowledge. Thank you to all of those who have been and continue to be my village over the past 17 months.