I’m not really good with blood. I don’t have hemophobia or anything; I just get a weird, squidgy feeling in my chest when I see wounds, and I switch instantly and uselessly into spectator mode. It’s bad enough that Husband has a longstanding joke that someday he’ll die at my feet, and I’ll just stand there watching because I’m constitutionally incapable of being useful during a medical emergency. I’ve assured him this will be the case only if the medical emergency he experiences doesn’t involve a bleeding wound. If it does, then he’ll die alone in the room I’ve just exited.
Sadly, having a strong aversion to wounds and being a parent are, from time to time, incompatible characteristics. If my husband bleeds to death in my company, then that’s honestly on him: he’s a grown man who knew what I was before he married me and therefore shares some of the blame for my woeful inactivity during his untimely demise, but also he doesn’t contain any of my DNA, so there’s no biological imperative for me to keep him alive aside from needing him, on a truly evolutionary level, to squash silverfish that appear in our house every winter.
But the kids are a different story genetically-speaking, so while I feel pretty complacent about my role in my husband’s future death, I don’t feel that same level of ease regarding any role I might have in the deaths of my children. It’s weird, I know, but I guess that’s just biology.
For a long time after we had kids, I didn’t have to think about this too much because, while the kids picked up the usual scrapes, cuts, and abrasions, they stayed pleasantly free of lacerations, gashes, and mutilations. Freedom from these things is the best possible scenario for everyone involved, I’ve discovered. That’s the kind of insight one gathers from years of experience.
I was extremely pregnant with Cancer when my peaceful, gushing-wound-free lifestyle came to a messy end, but rest assured this story turns out okay because the bleeder happened to be wearing all black on the day in question, which meant there were no visible, hard-to-explain stains. Positivity!
Husband and I were spending the day at his family’s summer home with Cap, Taurus, and Libra, who were seven, four, and almost two respectively. It was the first week of June, the time of year when we Midwesterners finally shake off the haunting paranoia that we’ve burned off the gas in the snowblower too soon but begin to develop a pernicious dread about the efficacy of last season’s sunscreen. (As you may already have guessed, spring in the Midwest comprises eight days of intense allergies bookended on one end by several months of biting cold and on the other by oppressive, mosquito-infested heat. In my area, all of that is the right time to wear flip-flops, which is perhaps proof that my determination to embrace positivity is a regional, rather than individual, characteristic.)
The day had been excellent: the children and I swam and kayaked while Husband caught up with family and friends we generally see only at the lake. It was a postcard: brilliant blue skies dotted with the occasional scudding puff of a cloud, hungry, darting swifts building nests under tidy, newly-erected piers, shrieking children diving and surfacing like hungry water birds…it was like a summertime beer commercial, only with fewer mirrored sunglasses because we’re not all total douchebags.
Taurus had run up to the house with her cousins for snacks, and I’d followed along dutifully, looking more than ever like the prow of a ship my mother had suggested because I was eight months pregnant with what I was beginning to suspect was all the babies (but turned out to be just one pretty big one).
The children had run from the lake to the stairs, from the bottom of the stairs to the top, from the top of the stairs to the house…I mean, there was a lot of running. I know some of you moms out there would have been like “hey, stop running,” but I was more like “holy crap, how many babies are actually in me right now,” so I didn’t tell them to stop running. Not when they reached the deck, nor the door, nor the kitchen beyond.
This has long been a point of contention between Husband and me: how close to catastrophe is too close? His answer is pretty universally everything is too close and mine is generally define what you mean by “catastrophe.” I wouldn’t say we’ve fought about this, but there have been times when something has gone wrong (e.g. a child has fallen down and skinned a knee) and Husband just assumed it was because I didn’t intervene appropriately (e.g. “…and you thought letting him balance on the basketball on top of the skateboard was a good idea? Didn’t you go to college?”). I’d like credit here because it’s actually very big of me to admit that sometimes my go ahead and try it attitude has backfired the tiniest bit.
All of this is to say that I didn’t stop Taurus from running, but something else did. Namely, the running kid in front of her, who skidded to a stop with a total lack of brake lights, which might have given my kid enough warning to stop but also might not have because she was still in that weird, klutzy phase between totally mastering walking and not quite mastering running. She bounced off the sudden stopper with enough velocity that when her head slammed into the wall behind her, she damaged the drywall.
At the time, I didn’t know about the drywall since my considerable bulk was still navigating the screen door leading into the kitchen, and I was somewhat distracted by how dumb it was to put stairs, like, anywhere. By the time I was all the way in the kitchen, Taurus was climbing to her feet in tears, and the rubber cousin she’d banked off of was consoling her sweetly and explaining that she hadn’t meant to knock her down.
I looked at my precious daughter’s tear-streaked face and did what came naturally: I pretended nothing was wrong. But something was wrong—namely me. And I was going to learn a hard lesson about my willful disregard for others’ welfare.
To be continued (explained?) in Blood, part 2…