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A Child’s Frailty

5 February 2007

Isaac is at the age now when his height is just about perfect for banging his head on the corners of tables, and his combination of overconfidence and lack of general coordination places him in situations where he can fall from heights that can hurt him as he climbs into his high chair on his own, or onto the chair by the sink in order to wash his hands, or onto the bathroom toilet to get his toothbrush. In truth, his balance and coordination are better than I give him credit for, but I’m his dad and it’s hard for me to let go and not be so protective. I know that a blow to the head at his age, or at any other age can be life threatening, and sometimes I worry, perhaps a bit too much. When I was in college, in my freshman year, a freshman girl who was rushing a sorority and who drank to the point of losing consciousness, passed out while walking down the street, fell and struck her head on the curb, killing her instantly.

What’s been haunting me lately is this image in my head from an event that happened around twenty years ago; I was playing mud football with a bunch of friends (most of them older than I) at the grade school near my parents’ house, and for some reason there were local kids hanging out around us as we played — a kid that was perhaps 11-12, I think perhaps a younger one around 8-9, and a very young boy … just about Isaac’s age, around 2 or maybe 3. The guys that were there playing football with us, the older ones, were maybe 17 or 18 years old (I was 14 or 15), and full of competitive testosterone. At one point, one of these older guys gets the ball, and feeling the impending tackle on his heels, starts to sprint, and notices only too late that he’s got the young boy directly in his line of approach. He’s got moments to react, and makes the decision to jump over the boy. Well, he doesn’t quite clear him, and as he’s attempting to clear the boy, one of his feet catches the boy in the front of the forehead, and slams him back. At this point, all action stops, and we all huddle in. I’m young, I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I remember that things didn’t seem right. Being teens, and perhaps less responsible than we should have, we’re of course looking to cover our asses in this situation, so we send the boy home with his siblings. There’s a noticeable goose egg rising on this kids forehead, a thick rectangular red gash about two or three inches long and about a half-inch wide – the shape and dimensions of our friend’s cleat. To this day, I have no idea what happened to that boy, and if he was okay or if something more sinister developed from that incident. As a parent, I’m outraged at our own irresponsibility, and at the irresponsibility of the parents who let their children take out their two year old without supervision. As a parent, I’m frightened of that sort of thing happening to either one of my boys. We’re such fragile creatures, and while we can bounce back from minor injury without a scratch left on us, it’s so very easy to cause permanent lasting damage. The fear of the dangers of the world can be paralyzing if you let it, and so we all ignore it and live our lives the best we are able — life is fatal, after all. What’s important is living each moment with meaning, alive to the possibilities and the actualities around us. To hide from the world is to die to it.

And so the ghosts of my past quietly amble through my life, silently pointing for me to notice what I should, what I can, what I could, what I shouldn’t, and what must not be. We’ve already had a close call with Isaac when he was just starting to walk, as he stuck his hand into live ash under the barbecue and gave himself second degree burns on small embers left in the cooling ash trapped on the catcher. We feared that he might have had permanent damage, but with a bit of Neosporin and clean bandages, he healed up without leaving any marks at all. We were lucky. Hell, raising a child from infancy to adulthood is a long string of lucky events, considering just how much we seemed genetically driven to put ourselves in danger. Childhood is nature’s proving ground, where the herd is culled of the weak and the unsuited, but to deny the tests are to deny life, and just as you can’t crack the shell of a chick lest you deny it of the strength-building exercise of birthing themselves, you can’t save a child from childhood. Scrapes are gonna happen, and there are blessings in a skinned knee.

Nonetheless, when I close my eyes at night, sometimes on the black screen of the theatre of my mind plays a silent reel of these moments, quietly warning to look alive, stay sharp, and be on my guard, lest history repeats itself and that which is most important to me is hurt. However, when I stay up until a quarter-of-two, mostly the lights go out and the theatre closes for the night — only to reopen for the dream time, but that, my friends, is another blog post.

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Parenting, Self-Flagellation