Accidents happen, even to the most vigilant parents. SPOILER: Everything is fine!
It was only a matter of time. My older son (age 6.5) is quiet, thoughtful, introverted. He does move through the day in constant motion, reminiscent of the Duracell bunny adverts – a fact that always perplexed his nursery teacher, who couldn’t understand why he never managed to use up his energy, no matter how much he powered through the day – but I wouldn’t call him wild. My younger son (age 2.5), on the other hand, is more of a risk taker. A bit of a daredevil. My wild child. I’m sure a lot of it is just down to his nature, but some can also be accredited to what I refer to as ‘younger sibling syndrome’. Whatever his four year older brother can do, he can do too. Or he thinks he can. And more! “Mum, look at me!” he shouts, from the top of an 8 foot climbing frame, having followed his brother up while I had my back turned for just a short moment. Or “Mum, I’m coming!”, seconds before he throws himself down a fireman’s pole in reckless abandon, confident someone will step in to break his fall, whilst his older brother still sits at the top of the pole silently quaking in his boots, before retreating. So it was only a matter of time, before something happened. Except he wasn’t even being reckless this time. And the climbing frame he was on, was age appropriate.
It was supposed to be a nice, quiet morning in the park for us. We’d just dropped his big brother off at school. The weather looked promising. We headed to our local playground, armed with snacks. It wasn’t busy at all, despite the sunshine. Lots of space to climb about, without being jostled. Without the anxiety (on my part, not his) that someone would knock in to him and send him flying to the ground from great heights. He’d navigated the climbing structure by himself at least half a dozen times in the past, since this is the nearest playground to our new house. Always with me hovering next to him, trying hard not to be a helicopter parent but failing miserably. But he never needed me. So, in the name of not being too overprotective, this time I sat on a bench close by. I watched him as he very carefully navigated his way up a ladder. As he sure-footedly ran across a bridge. As he confidently picked his way across the balance beam platform, just as he had done many times before. And as he suddenly lost his balance – did he get distracted? was he over confident? I don’t know – and stood teetering on the edge of the platform, arms flailing, unsuccessfully trying to grab one of the side ropes and then falling right between them, in slow motion. Of course, it wasn’t in slow motion. It just seemed like that. The whole incident took just seconds. But despite sprinting off my bench the moment I noticed him faltering, I wasn’t fast enough. He landed with a thud, face down, smack on the ground below as I was still running towards him shouting “Vorsicht!!” (Engl: careful).
After a sickening moment of silence, the screaming started, which I took as a good sign. At least he was alive and hadn’t broken his neck. By this point, I was by his side, pulling him in to a big Mama Bear hug. All first aid training had obviously gone out the window, because I know I should have checked him before moving him. We sat there beneath the climbing frame for what seemed like hours – it was minutes – him crying, me trying very hard to stay calm and not cry. I finally managed to check him over. There was an imprint of the rubberised playground surfacing on his forehead which, by the way, is a lot more bouncy than it looks, thank goodness for that. If it had been tarmac, it may have been an entirely different story. And luckily it was the 5 foot climbing frame and not the 8 foot one. But there was no blood, no broken bones. He could move his head and neck okay. He had dirt between his teeth, but the teeth were still all intact and accounted for. Two other mothers came running over to check if we were okay, to offer water, cookies and reassurance. He didn’t want water or cookies, I gladly welcomed the reassurance. That he would be okay. That I wasn’t a bad mother. I found myself justifying why I’d been sitting on the bench instead of hovering near the climbing frame, ready to catch him if need be, and one of the other mothers said she had been taking a step back that day for the first time too, just like me. It didn’t make me feel any less guilty though.
We transferred back to the bench, and there I sat holding him until the crying died down to a whimper, and eventually stopped. I phoned our doctor’s surgery to explain what happened and ask whether I should take him in to be checked over. They said if he showed signs of being sluggish or started vomiting, I should take him to the hospital. Otherwise I could just monitor him, as with no other physical injuries that’s just what the hospital would tell me anyway. After a quick consultation with my husband, who said pretty much the same thing, I decided to spare ourselves hours of waiting only to be told what I already knew. By this point, my boy was asking me to put him down, and no sooner said than done he was off again, ready to get back on that horse. The experience hadn’t put him off climbing, and moments later he was shouting “I can do it all by myself!” – this time I was ready to catch him as he threw himself down the fireman’s pole. With reckless abandon. My little firecracker.
The whole incident left me a bit shaken, but although he complained of a sore forehead and knee for a couple of days, the fright we both got seems to have been the biggest and most lasting injury. It’s a baptism of fire I could certainly have done without, but it also most certainly won’t be the last time. When we were telling daddy in the evening, about what had happened, my boy said “I fell off the beams. At the playground. Mummy catched me.” Except I didn’t. But in his mind, I did. I may not have caught him as he fell, but I was there fast enough to hug him, and comfort him, that for him, that’s what he remembers. That for him, I did catch him. That mummy was there when it mattered. Maybe I can start feeling a little less guilty now.