My seven year old son has recently developed an interest in running which always makes me smile a little because this is not something I’d ever expect from him. Like his mom, he’s a very firm believer in never exerting himself too terribly much.
Soooo…when he started asking to come along and run the track while my daughter and I are at cheer practice three nights a week, I happily let him.
He was like Forrest Gump…just running and running and running around that track and he swears he did ten laps one night. But then he realized he has access to the playground at the school next to the football field and has been going over there to play while I sit on my butt watching cheer practice and talking to the other parents.
He’s not super close by (maybe 3/4 of a football field away) but I can see him and every minute or so, I look over there to make sure all is well. He’s usually running around and playing with other kids or climbing all over an elaborate array of monkey bars. Of course that part makes me a little nervous because it’s a long way to the ground but I figure we all grew up playing on monkey bars and it’s good exercise for him so I just try to relax and let him have his fun.
Last week, while he ran the track and then went to the playground, I walked over to let him know I was going to the fieldhouse for a minute and would be right back. Upon my return, I again went to him to let him know I’d be over on the bleachers if he needed me.
As per usual, I kept an eye on him while watching the girls and chatting with the other moms and dads.
Well, I must have forgotten to look over for a more than a couple minutes because when I tried to spot him, he was nowhere to be found. It was dusk and I figured I just couldn’t see him and was getting up to walk over there when one of the coaches came over and told me the nurse called her from the fieldhouse and asked her to let me know my son was injured and bleeding.
I leapt up and walked super fast to the fieldhouse (I can’t run…an unfortunate side effect of trying to push out a baby for 2+ hours. I’ll spare you the details). When I walked in the the nurse was holding a gauze pad on his head and his hair was all matted with blood in the back. I was speechless and also feeling a bit faint as blood is my kryptonite.
“He’s going to need stitches” the nurse told me. I got the brief overview on what happened, thanked her profusely, scooped him up in my arms and hustled back down the field to grab my daughter and get him to a doctor.
He was a real trouper and went home and hour and a half later with a few staples in his head and a great story to tell everyone at school while I wrestled with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Was I irresponsible?
Should I have been there with him?
Who helped him?
In the car on the way home, I made him tell me in detail what had happened…
He was that only kid left on the playground and was climbing the ladder to the monkey bars. Some mulch was stuck to his shoe and he lost his footing. He fell backwards and hit his head hard on a metal pole.
He sat up and his head hurt really bad. He touched the back of his head and his hand was covered with blood. He got up and exited the playground onto the track.
He was crying and some man, most likely a football dad, asked him what was wrong. He said he was bleeding and the man took him all the way down to the fieldhouse where the nurse kept pressure on his head and called my cell phone, which I never heard and didn’t answer.
I didn’t see him get hurt.
I didn’t see him exit the playground.
I didn’t see him on the track talking to a stranger, albeit a kind, helpful one.
I didn’t see him go to the fieldhouse.
I didn’t hear my phone ring.
I kept trying to tell myself that kids have accidents. It happens. I was watching him as much as could reasonably be expected when you don’t want to be a total helicopter mom. I didn’t screw up.
But in my heart, I knew the truth.
I’d failed on so many levels.
If I had been watching him as well as I thought I was, I would have, at the very least, SEEN HIM leave that playground.
I wouldn’t have taken that small amount of pride in letting my little boy have some independence like I had at his age.
What if it hadn’t been an accident? What if some creep had talked him into going to see the puppy in the back of his windowless van and hurt or abducted him?
I’ve been over this in my head so many times and on one hand, even if I was right there, it wouldn’t have prevented his head injury.
But I took my eyes off him and that’s where I can’t come up with any decent rationalization.
I could say that we stayed gone all day when I was a kid; that my mom only ever had a vague idea of where I might be at any time and she sure as hell didn’t sit at the playground watching me play.
But I’m not sure I can use my own childhood as a valid excuse. We live in a society that expects us to be watching our kids every second; where stories of child abductions, assaults and murders are all too common on the evening news. We are afraid and perhaps with good cause—maybe successful free-range parenting is just a foolish pipe dream in this day…
I can’t help wanting my children to be carefree and not always under my maternal microscope. I want them to learn how to be in the world without me dictating their every move.
To be honest, I think my biggest fear is not, specifically, an injury or an abduction. It’s the fear of regret. I don’t want to make any decision that may end up haunting me for the rest of my life.
Tomorrow he gets his staples out and I’m sure he will soon ask to go back on the playground.
Will I let him go alone again?
I have no idea.