It was just another “empty nest” breakfast on a Sunday morning; my husband and I peacefully enjoying our coffee and conversation, when we were interrupted by my cell phone ringing. Although I didn’t recognize the number, with a kid at college and two living in NYC, I answered because, you know, it’s most likely one of them calling from a random phone they’ve managed to get their hands on even though they are duct-taped and blindfolded in the trunk of a kidnapper’s car.
AND…sure enough, while duct tape and kidnappers weren’t involved, it was one of my kids calling for help:
Him: “Mom, it’s me.”
Me: “Hey, whose phone is this? Did you lose yours again? What’s up?”
Him: “Mom, no I didn’t lose my phone. What’s dad’s birthdate?”
Me: “What, why? Where are you? What’s the problem? Whose phone is this?”
Him: “Mom, I’m at Urgent Care..”
Me: (obviously) “WHAT??? WHY??? WHAT HAPPENED? WHO IS WITH YOU? WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT?? WHAT??? HUH???”
Him: “Ok, mom, calm down. I’m fine, well not really, I’m sort of dying.”
Me: “WHAT?? WHY?? WHAT HAPPENED?? WHAT??” “What do you mean you’re dying?”
Him: “OMG, Mom…ok, listen. I got hit in the eye with a water balloon. I’m at the Urgent Care at school. I need dad’s birthdate for insurance.”
Me: “A water balloon? Huh? Are you ok? How did this happen? Can you see?”
Him: “Yes, a water balloon, no I’m not ok, someone hit me with a water balloon and I can’t see anything, my eye is swollen shut.”
This conversation went on like this for a while and eventually, I got my answers.
He had indeed been hit by a water balloon….LAUNCHED FROM A THREE PERSON SLINGSHOT AND MOST LIKELY TRAVELING OVER 60 MILES AN HOUR FROM A DISTANCE OF ABOUT HALF A FOOTBALL FIELD AWAY!
After a CT- scan and other tests, we found out that he had a concussion, an orbital blow out fracture of his eye socket, a bad hyphema, and a broken nose. There was a possibility he might lose the eye, or have permanent vision loss. He missed two weeks of school, resting with his head at a 40 degree angle, my husband and I had to fly down to stay with him at my parents’ (thank God they live by his school), we took several trips to eye doctors at fancy hospitals, and by the end, blessedly most of his vision has returned and this episode in our lives has begun to come to an end.
But, along the way, I learned a few things about myself, about how we as parents dealt with our son being injured. It was eye opening (forgive the pun):
1. I don’t want to be told how lucky we are: I know that we have been incredibly lucky as parents. If this is the worst thing that happens to us with our kids, we should and do consider ourselves fortunate. I get that and I understand that others have not been so lucky; that there are those burdened with continual health issues, traumatic injuries, cancer diagnoses, even loss of life.
However, I’m here to say that hearing how lucky he was that it wasn’t worse; that he didn’t lose his eye, or that his vision came back as well as it did, didn’t make me feel better.
I understand now that when we say to someone, “he lived a good life,” or “it could’ve been so much worse” or “just be thankful they caught it in time,” although we are well -intentioned and what we are saying may even be true, it may not come as much solace. I am greedy and I am selfish. I want him perfect again. I want it never to have happened, for him never to have been in pain, never to have been afraid. As a parent whose kid has been hurt, I am embarrassed by the number of times I wished one of the kids with him had been hit instead.
I understand it could be worse but, in the thick of it, I don’t want to hear about it. At least, not yet.
2. All the air really can get sucked out of a room: When the doctor told us that it was possible our son would be legally blind in that eye, all the air LITERALLY left the room. I’m rarely struck mute and I’m not easily brought to tears, and if my son hadn’t been in the room with us, I would’ve lost it. I do know that I didn’t hear another thing the doctor said after that. I don’t remember asking any questions. My hands were clammy and all I wanted to do was protect my child and hit the doctor.
3. Friends and family save the day: When this happened, our lives were put on hold for about a month. Our friends and families were amazing. They called, they prayed, they checked in and they offered to help in any way they could. It is at these times that you learn about the importance of the support system that you have. It was a fantastic lesson for my son as well. For him to see how many people cared about him and were interested in hearing about his recovery went a long way. Those people in your lives who reach out when you are scared, feeling very alone and very vulnerable are treasures. Take care of those relationships and remember how their support held you up should they need you one day.
4. Our vulnerability is staggering: As parents we love every hair on our kids’ heads. We don’t want them to experience pain, fear or sorrow and we do everything in our power to protect them from all of it. Unfortunately life is full of all of it and there is very little we can do to build walls around them that are high enough or strong enough. Experiencing the lack of control I had over this situation and understanding that I can’t protect anyone kept me up nights.
At 3:00 am I imagined endless “what if’s.” What if it had hit him in the chest? That could’ve killed him. What if no one had been there with him when he starting throwing up from the concussion? What if he’d never woken up? What if he had lost his eye or his vision?
Then, I got worse…What if he had been in a car accident and had a brain injury and broken bones and internal injuries or worse? I was barely handling one eye and a concussion. What if he was missing, or someone hurt him on purpose?
Experiencing a small dose of what it could be like if something really horrible happened and recognizing my inability to keep it from happening made me want to crawl into one of those doomsday preppers lairs with all of the people in the world I love and stay there pretty much forever.
5. There’s a new normal that we somehow adapt to: Eventually you calm down and things strangely get back to normal. Or at least a “new normal.” It’s not the same, and I’m not sure we are the same in some subtle and not so subtle ways. We go home. He goes back to school. He makes up lost work, and he carries on. Maybe he doesn’t see as well, maybe the color of his eye never gets back to normal, and maybe that scar on the cornea is permanent.
Maybe I can’t pretend it all never happened and I can’t put him back together exactly the way he was before. But maybe our relationship has grown closer. Maybe he understands the vulnerability and the randomness of the world and appreciates how his parents guard every hair on his head with a sort of sick intensity.
Maybe we all realize how our lives are intertwined with others and how fortunate we are to have the friends and families we do. Maybe now when we hear of other’s misfortunes, we consider our words of support more carefully and we can empathize more fully.
Maybe we consider ourselves very lucky. Maybe we understand now how nothing else in this world is as important as the people you love. Maybe now I’m ready to put everything into perspective and consider us lucky. Maybe. Or maybe in another month or so…
It is my hope that most of you have never experienced anything more than life’s occasional boo-boos or lessons that you were able to fix on your own. But if you have, please share!