Most of us parents go through life fearful of the might-bes, the things that could happen if we are not vigilant enough. Most of us, though, do not dwell on these thoughts, because if we did we’d be sitting in a soft-edged hospital room where we could receive the help we needed. We’d drive ourselves crazy.
I do this from time to time, if I am pre-menstrual or have had too many glasses of Pinot Noir. I fear the worst. I imagine horrific scenarios of disaster and disease, I am nauseated by the thoughts of losing anyone I love, especially my children. Ray is my strength and comfort at these times, as our family optimist (yes, those who know him might be surprised by this, but he really is, for all of his gruffness, a half-full kinda guy). He lets me fear, then grounds me, reminds me that it is, mostly, all right.
And then, there are those times when the worst almost happens, is a hair away from happening, but because God or Allah or Mother Earth Spirit decided “no, today is not the day”, that “worst” becomes a tearful miss. Like today.
Ellie was dressing up. She does this, a lot, like many little girls. Her favorite thing of all her dress-up wardrobe is fancy shoes. With three girls, we have quite a few pairs to choose from. Sadly, they are all plastic, skiddy things, treacherous on hardwood floors. So after lunch, here she came, dressed for the ball, proud in her three-year-old way that she got everything on where it should be, facing the right direction, and matching, thank you very much.
She started downstairs, and just as I started to admonish her: “Sit down, those shoes are too slippery–”, slip, slide and down she went.
A few full-body rolls smartly down the basement steps, the ones with no railings to stop a child from plummeting 10 feet to the concrete floor below. Then she slid, headfirst, another half-dozen steps. I sprinted behind her calling “It’s okay, I’m here, I’m here!” though I wasn’t anywhere near her, my beautiful daughter in danger and I could not sprint, my slippery slippers preventing me from getting all that caught up. But maybe my voice, my presence comforted her, because she stopped herself soon enough and sat up, just as I caught her, that flat metallic taste of adrenaline in the back of my mouth, the cloying taste of fear paralyzing me now that she was in my arms. I caught her and held her and she said, “It’s okay, I’m okay. That was a big bump!”
I laughed, agreed, and told her I needed to hug her for a few minutes, the fear of what might have been still heavy on my skin. She could have twisted and snapped her neck; she could have gone off the edge and cracked her head open on the floor. She could have been gone.
But I held her and breathed her Ellie-smell. She did none of those things. She is here, she is okay. It took me a while, but I let it go. I know can’t control what might be — I can prepare, I can be cautious, but in the end, I can’t protect my kids from everything. I can’t always protect my kids.
You can bet, though, for the rest of the day, I made everyone sit down when descending those basement steps.