Thomas and I were at preschool Kindy Gym and the session had just started. I patted my pocket and realised I had left my phone in my bag, on the other side of the room. I wasn’t expecting any important calls or messages so decided to leave it there and give Thomas my full attention. We had a great time playing together and I enjoyed being present, not distracted by the pings & buzzes of my phone.
When I eventually did look at my phone, once Kindy Gym had finished, I saw a series of missed calls from my older son’s school and my husband. I looked at the times on the screen – they’d been trying to get hold of me for almost an hour. My heart started racing – what was up? I set Thomas up with his lunchbox and listened to the first message. It was the school principal himself calling, asking me to phone him back “urgently regarding Jake”. Feeling jittery, I tried calling the school – no answer. I tried calling my husband – no answer. There was nothing to do but keep making calls until I got through to someone.
Eventually I got hold of my husband. “Don’t worry, Jake’s fine” was the first thing he said. (Don’t those words always seem to imply that there is something to worry about?) He told me Jake had hurt his head and they were in my husband’s van, driving to the hospital. “His head!” I exclaimed in alarm, imagining copious blood, screaming pain and serious concussion. I didn’t ask for details, I just wanted to get to the hospital and see Jake as quickly as I could.
Thomas, bless him, was in a particularly co-operative mood. I hurriedly packed up his lunchbox and told him Jake had hurt himself so we needed to go to the hospital. You can imagine the onslaught of questions that prompted. I answered them patiently as we speed-walked to the car. As I drove, we said a prayer for Jake & all the people looking after him. I wondered what kind of state I would find him in but resolved to keep myself together, no matter what I found. I searched for a place of steadiness within and focussed on it.
When we got to the waiting room at the hospital, I saw Jake sitting on my husband’s knee, a bandage around his head, a miserable expression on his face and his complexion an unnerving shade of greyish yellow. I gave him a careful hug. “You got a big fright, didn’t you?” I said and he nodded sadly. “Are you ok, Dake?”, Thomas asked him.
Thomas was getting tired and we decided it was no use all of us being at the hospital. I’ve got the stronger stomach for blood and medical procedures so my husband transferred Jake to my knee (when did he get so big?) and took Thomas home. As we sat there in the waiting room, Jake’s colour started improving and he began chatting a little. He told me that he had been playing tag with his friends and had run into a wall, knocking his head. I looked at the red sign the staff had put on the counter to save themselves numerous enquires – it said the wait was “more than 2 hours”. “This is a child with a head injury, why are we still waiting?!” I wanted to shout.
Fortunately, a nurse appeared with an ice-block not too much later and asked us to follow her to an examination room. It turned out that the school staff had done such a great job caring for Jake’s injury that there was nothing more to be done except to put a clean bandage on top. I had been unsure how I was going to get Jake to co-operate if stitches were required and was very relieved he didn’t have to go through that too. We were soon sent home for a quiet afternoon.
That evening, as I was drying Jake after his bath, he told me that, when his head was bleeding at school, it had felt like water coming out of his head and he had been scared because he didn’t know if he’d be okay. I realised that he had genuinely believed he could die and I felt dreadful that I hadn’t been there for him in what must have been the most terrifying moment of his life so far.
Having had a significant blow to the head, I kept Jake home from school the following day. In the morning, we had to pop out to drop Thomas off at kindergarten. At kindy, the same one Jake had attended when he was younger, the teachers were pleased to see him again and fussed over him kindly. After we settled Thomas in, we went to a bookshop to get Jake the next book in a series he’s been reading – I figured he needed something to do if he couldn’t run around and jump on the sofas like usual. Once we found the book, he wanted to browse the shelves for a while and we pointed out interesting reads to each other. As we wandered back to the car, he said “I like having time just you and me”. He told me the same thing again later in the day. “I do too”, I said, “Hanging out with you is one of my favourite things to do”. Since he started school, we haven’t had much time for just the two of us and it was a reminder to make dates more often.
Before heading home to relax, I took Jake to a café for a fluffy. (For those of you not in New Zealand, a fluffy is a child’s drink of warm, frothy milk, made with an espresso machine, usually served with chocolate sprinkled on top and marshmallows on the side). As I watched him sip his drink, a chocolate moustache above his lip and the square of white bandage crooked on his head, my eyes filled with tears. I felt just how deeply I love him.
I understood in that moment that pain (physical and emotional) is inevitable in life and I won’t always be able to protect Jake from it. Not only is it impossible, it’s not my job to protect him from it all. It’s through pain that our children will learn things and discover their own strength. Sometimes the only thing I will be able to do is acknowledge Jake’s pain and sit with him through it. There will be times, too, when I won’t be there (like when he was injured & panicing at school) and I can only hope that, at those times, he knows I am coming to him as fast as I possibly can.
Our children’s pain often feels worse than our own, doesn’t it? As parents, we learn and discover strength through enduring their pain as much as we do our own. If we didn’t let it grow us, our children’s pain would break us (or so it feels) and we would be no use to them then. On this occassion, I learned that my place of steadiness within is always available to me and I was reminded to have more dates with Jake, “just us”. I wonder what Jake feels he has learned through the experience – I’ll ask him tonight.
Unfortunately, there is likely bigger pain to come for Jake – a variety of diappointments, perhaps a more serious injury, a broken teenaged heart… I can’t say I invite these times ahead but I won’t live in fear of them. Whenever I see the scar on Jake’s forehead, I will be reminded that he and I, both, can survive, the pain ahead and, even, allow it grow us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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