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Bumps and Bruises

A short while back a distraught father wrote to the Dads List relating a frightening incident: one of his 5-1/2 month old twins fell from the kitchen counter to the floor below while still buckled into her bouncy seat. One trip to the ER and a set of X-rays later and the infant was fine - Daddy was not.

He felt like a failure, like it was his fault; the sound of his daughter's cries ripped his heart out and he was not coping well at all. His words, not mine. This anguished Dad promptly gave himself the "Rotten Father of the Year Award."

We have all felt or will feel that way at one time or another, and the parents on the Dads List were quick to relate their accident or near-accident stories, to offer words of encouragement and support, and to share their own anguish.

The highlights of those stories:

  • A dad, a 5 am feeding, a two-week-old daughter, a set of carpeted stairs, a bottle, a slip, a fall, a crash. The baby he thought he killed was screaming but all right. Dad, on the other hand, needed to sit on a pillow for nine months.
  • A mom finishing the lunch dishes, a five-year-old waiting outside, a one-year-old standing on a couch looking out a third-floor window and talking to his big brother. Mom hears a noise, but when she investigates, the room is empty: no one-year-old. She discovers that the screen had given way and he had fallen out. A passerby calls 911, a crowd gathers. Mom wants to cradle her baby in her arms -- despite the risk of further injury -- but somehow resists the urge and leaves him still, until the ambulance comes. The child's skull is fractured in two places but he's home from the hospital the next day. He is now a healthy, normal four-year-old. Mom suffered from nightmares and still cannot tell the story without getting upset.
  • One dad had several incidents with one child who: fell down the stairs at eight months; rolled off the bed and under the changing table; crashed to the floor when the hammock chair they were swinging in broke loose from the ceiling, alng with a potted plant that smashed to pieces on dad's head.
  • Another dad, while living in the Philippines, found his daughter and two neighbor boys aged three and four poking a two-and-a-half foot cobra with a stick. A live cobra! Dad managed to bludgeon the snake with his "always at hand" machete, even though he hates snakes and had the s--- scared out of him.
  • Then there was the dad who spent the night at the hospital after finding his daughter with a mouthful of staples.
  • Several dads wrote in with stories of babies rolling off of beds and couches, kids tripping up and down stairs.

While this thread was running on the Dads List I took my five-year-old daughter Olivia out for lunch to a downtown bagel shop. After finding a parking space on the busy main street, I got out of my mini-van and walked to the other side to let her out. As I opened the door I saw her in the driver's seat opening that door onto traffic. I panicked. I don't know what I yelled, but whatever it was, I managed to get her to come back inside. Both of us were pretty shaken. After hugs, a lecture and "I'm sorry daddy yelled at you," we went to lunch.

It took me a few minutes to shake that "fight or flight" feeling, but gradually I began to enjoy lunch with this child who nearly made me mess my pants.

Now some of the wisdom from our members:

  • "We all have accidents. We need to do our best to protect our children. Most of all, we need to learn that these accidents DO happen."
  • "The thing that helped me the most in getting over my guilt and re-living the fear ... was talking about how I felt with my wife. Sharing with the list helps too."
  • "...the fact that it matters (the accident) to you so much is what makes you a good dad."
  • "Welcome to the club! I bet there's not a single one of us out here who hasn't been in your shoes."
  • "Stuff happens. Prepare as much as you can, take all normal precautions, and listen to that little voice that says things like 'You better go check on her'."
  • "Forgive yourself!"

The bottom line: When you have kids, you have accidents. Sometimes they get hurt, sometimes not. You'd best be prepared, because whether or not they are injured, one thing is certain - your heart will break.

© 2005 - 2012 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.