I saw it happen, out of the corner of my eye, and I still didn’t know anything had happened. That’s how minor of a slip-and-fall it was. Or seemed.
My 9 and 11-year-old boys were playing some tennis. They were out of balls, and had to pick them up. It had rained the night before so the court was a little wet around the perimeter. “Be careful over there, it’s a little wet,” the coach said. (I think. I was playing Threes on my phone.)
And then I heard THAT CRY.
The cry that you recognize as belonging to your child, but makes you hold your breath, because it’s different. It’s not mad, it’s not sad, it’s not bored, it’s PAIN. The sound is new, but you understand it immediately.
I helped Connor into a chair. He was white, he was sweating, he could barely sob the words out.
Mom! I have to throw up! Mom it hurts so bad!
Mom! I think I broke my arm!
I knew he’d broken it. As soon as he said he had to throw up, I knew. So there was really no need for me to personally investigate the injury, was there? Why not transport him to the doctor and let a professional take a look?
But now the tennis coach was at my shoulder, more than a little panicked himself. “Is it broken?” he asked me, deferring to my infinite maternal wisdom. Since I was fortunate enough, as the child’s mother, to actually be there at his moment of injury, I of course had the honor of prying my son’s good hand off his injured arm and inspecting the damage first.
I understood that this was what was expected of me, and yet I paused for a few seconds (okay, thirty), hoping some grownup would arrive and take over, because I couldn’t possibly be the one who had to look first.
I feel faint at the sight of blood. I feel nauseous when I have to assess the severity of anything beyond a skinned knee (including my own). This is not a great character trait for a mother of three, but there it is. And yes, I have inspected some stitch-worthy facial injuries in my children over the years, but even that intense exposure therapy has not really made me any better at being Doctor Mom. When one of my kids falls down and cries, I throw it to their father or their Nana whenever possible. I don’t even look until someone else has assessed the severity of the injury, maybe put a nice Band-Aid on it first.
But Nana was not with us. Nor was my husband. And the tennis coach (and the small crowd that had by now gathered, led to us by my son’s screaming) were pretty clear on just who was supposed to be in charge.
“Okay, buddy,” I said. “Let’s talk a look.” And then paused a few more seconds in case anyone else wanted a crack at it.
This probably sounds quite selfish, but here’s the thing. A panicking mother is not at all a good thing for a child to witness. As Connor took his good hand off his bad arm, I was pretty sure I was about to see something like this.
and then I would have no choice but to do this
which would warp my child forever, right? If I freaked out he would freak out. Being the mother means you can never, never betray that sort of panic in front of your kid.
So the question was could I look and no matter what, not do that?
Yes. Yes, I could. As Connor revealed his broken arm to me I was more like this
which, I mean, I think that was acceptable, and then I didn’t scream at all because his arm was I-guess-a-little-swollen but that was it.
“It doesn’t look broken,” Random Passerby #2 said, once I had broken the ice and everyone had taken a look. (Where was he ninety seconds earlier?)
But a mother knows. I knew it was broken. I was afraid he was going into actual shock from the pain. Not that I know what the symptoms of going into shock are, but he was kind of staring without seeing and saying “It hurts so much oh my god it REALLY hurts Mom” over and over again and so it seemed like a possibility.
He never went into shock. I may or may not have given him approximately 36 Advil while we were waiting four hours to see a doctor and get an X-ray. Because you will never, no matter what, see blood on an X-Ray, I am fine with them, and I wish we could have just skipped to this part:
Connor and I shared a grim satisfaction in the confirmation of the fracture: well, I THOUGHT it hurt that much. And I was proud of myself for getting my child through a crisis without having a major crisis of my own.
My son’s prescription: four to six weeks in a cast. Mine (self-prescribed): I really do have to work on the can’t-see-blood-or-bones-hanging-out thing. I have a feeling I’ll be there again soon enough.