We took our ex preemie, who’s now nearly 2 years old corrected (see The corrected age conundrum for more information about corrected/adjusted age), to the zoo for the first time ever this week. A combination of her medical needs and issues, as well as covid restrictions, has meant we haven’t braved it until now, but we finally made it. It was a great day and she had a brilliant time with her older sister and cousins. Until she fell off a little seat and cut the side of her cheek, that is.
It happened in a split second as these things always do. She’s a feisty little girl and always pushes my hands away from around her middle in order to assert her independence. I laughed as she did it and figured that maybe I am over protective and should let her do her own thing more often. My attention wavered momentarily as I caught sight of my husband trying to communicate something to me from the other side of the zoo play area. And then it happened. I flung my arm out to break her fall, but I was too late. She toppled headlong into a metal frame in front of her, catching her cheek on the corner.
Before I go on I should clarify that it actually didn’t turn out to be that bad. Yes she grazed her cheek and it looked pretty painful, but it could have been much worse. She naturally wailed for about a minute, but then caught sight of a slide she fancied trying and toddled over to it, the pain from a minute ago all but forgotten.
Surely every parent finds it tough when their kid hurts themselves, especially on their watch. You feel ashamed of yourself, don’t you; guilty that you let it happen, that you weren’t quick enough, that you didn’t preempt it. And it’s worse when it happens in public. The stares and commiserating smiles feel judgemental and critical even if they’re meant to be sympathetic.
I felt instantly sick and swallowed quickly several times in succession to try and fight back the impending tears. The blood drained from my face as our family friend approached me, drawn by my daughter’s screams, and asked, not if she was ok, but if I was. That simple question, those three tiny words Are you ok? The fact they were directed to me, and that I had to respond… I sobbed several of those very embarrassing loud and squeeky sort of sobs that rise and erupt and you have no control over them.
In an attempt to calm me down my friend unwittingly made the situation ten times worse. It’s ok. She’s ok, she said. But that’s just it. It’s not ok. It’s very much not ok. And what’s more, I’m not sure if it will ever be ok. I have watched this little girl suffer more pain than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. The lumbar punctures, the cannula attempts, the long line insertions, the intubations, the extubations, the morphine withdrawal symptoms. And every time she hurts herself now it triggers those memories and the negative feelings attached to them.
She’s tough. She can, and will, withstand pain throughout her life, as we all do. But it’s going to be seriously hard watching it happen. Especially the instances when I cause her pain through momentary lapses in concentration or errors in judgement. I wonder if it will get easier with time, maybe when she becomes more independent and starts getting the inevitable bumped head and grazed knees of a 5 year old. Maybe things will normalise and I won’t descend into tears every time she falls over. Maybe. Just maybe.