Lesson 79: Listen to your instincts

I knew when I was pregnant that it might be my natural tendency to worry a little too much. And in some aspects, I do. But when it comes to social interactions and allowing him to explore, I have really surprised myself. I’m much more laid back than I ever thought I would be. I’m a safe place–he knows I’m there, and he checks in with me frequently. But I rarely interfere when he’s playing in a (somewhat) controlled environment such as a playground. But still, in the back of my mind, I’m always having to tell myself, Relax! He’s got this! My instincts are good, if a little over-anxious.

But there was that one time when I wish I would have listened to those over-anxious instincts.

A friend of mine brought her son to meet me and J at a fast food restaurant for an early lunch. We gave the boys lunch and then allowed them to play on the indoor playground. This particular playground typically kept me on edge because it’s small and usually full of children who are much older than my son–I always worry he’ll get trampled in the mix. But on this day, our sons (who are the same age) were the only ones playing. My friend and I were able to sit back and chat as they played. They were having a good time, but I noticed that J seemed a little hesitant of the slide, which was enclosed, had a twist in it, and was much larger than he had ever attempted. He watched my friend’s son go down it a few times, but still he held back.

Finally, I got up and asked him if he’d like to go down the slide with mama. I wasn’t trying to hover over him–I was trying to encourage him and show him there was nothing to be afraid of. We climbed up, I put him in my lap, and he loved it! That’s all it took for him to go scampering up and down, up and down. A few minutes later, I decided to climb on up and go down the slide with him again. After all, there were no other children, we had the playground to ourselves. What could it hurt? So up I climbed, with J and his friend trailing right behind me. I situated J in my lap, but his friend wanted to go down too. So, I shuffled them so that I had them stacked carefully on top of me, and the boys giggled with delight as we went down.

I sat back down and watched as my friend climbed up to take her turn. As I watched them climb up and saw them get adjusted at the top of the slide, though, my inner alarm bells started going off. It looked a little different from my angle on the ground than it had when I was up there holding the boys myself–and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but my gut was yelling at me to make them come down.

But I didn’t listen to it. Instead I convinced myself that I was being silly and over-protective.

It’s a slide, for God’s sake, I told myself. You just did the exact same thing that she’s doing. And nothing happened, why would it? Don’t be such a control freak.

So rather than asking her to come back down, I smiled, forced myself to relax, and waved.

As soon as I saw them come around the turn in the slide, I knew there was a problem. I watched as my son’s leg got caught between my friend and the wall of the slide. I met them at the bottom of the slide and pulled him off her lap. I tried to stand him on his feet, praying that it had looked worse than it actually was (he wasn’t crying, so it was easy to cling to that hope for a moment), but as soon as he tried to put weight on his feet, he began howling and I knew we had a problem.

I don’t remember much from that point except that I was calm. In an emergency, I’m a rock–on the outside.

On the outside I was reassuring my friend that it wasn’t her fault, I was calling my pediatrician’s office to find out if I should bring him there or to the ER, I was gathering our things, carrying him to the car, and buckling him into his carseat.

But on the inside, these words kept repeating in my head: I broke my son’s leg. I broke his perfect little body. Over and over.

I drove calmly to pick up my husband at work. He got into the driver’s seat and I scooted into the backseat, laid my head on my whimpering baby, and cried my eyes out. I kept sobbing to my husband, I’m so sorry! I broke his leg!

We took my son to the ER where they confirmed that his fibia was fractured, and they casted his little leg. Upon describing what happened, we quickly learned that this kind of accident is apparently quite common. So why didn’t I know about it? Why had I never heard of it happening before? Why didn’t somebody tell me?

Truth is, it wasn’t anybody’s responsibility to tell me. I should have known and, in fact, I did know. I just didn’t listen to my gut. I knew it looked absurdly dangerous from where I was standing, but I chose to be “Cool, Laid Back Mom,” rather than (what I thought was) “Helicopter Mom.”

Everybody kept telling me, it’s not your fault! Because that’s what you say, right? Your friend says I feel terrible I let this happen! and you say It’s not your fault!

But sometimes it is your fault. And this was my fault. My mama instincts told me to interfere, and I told them to back the hell off. I don’t need anybody to tell me it isn’t my fault–I will feel guilty about this forever. It doesn’t haunt me, I don’t dwell on it. I don’t blame my friend for it (after all, I did the same thing with her son–it could have happened when they were in my lap). It’s just one failure on the list of failures I’m sure to create as my son grows. I know that I’m a damn good mom, but I also know that to learn lessons, we sometimes have to screw it all up and then take responsibility for our actions. So I own this one, and I know that not only will my son never go down a slide in another person’s lap again, there will also never come a time when I refuse to listen to my instincts when they’re screaming at me. I might ignore the whispers, but the yells will be heeded.

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