On Saturday, Otto needed to be on campus all day for a workshop, so the kids and I were left to fend for ourselves. No matter—we slept late, lolled around in our jammies, and about three hours later than we normally have breakfast, I made the kids some French toast out of homemade bread.
[“Mom, this is the best French toast in the history of French toast,” Monkey said, mouth crammed full and syrup dribbling from the corner of his lips. I know he’s a suck-up, but it’s still nice to hear.]
After, I did the dishes while the kids played on the computer. I suggested we think about going on a bike ride together, and they seemed to find that a pretty exciting prospect, so I laid out a plan whereby they could do a few necessary things (homework, practicing piano) while I did a little work, and then we’d get ready to go.
Everyone agreed and set to work.
Eventually we’d all completely our tasks, and I pumped up bike tires and strapped a canteen onto the back of my bike, and we set off on our ride.
“You go first, Mama,” urged Monkey, and I laughed.
“Um, no. I go LAST, so that I can keep an eye on the two of you.” Chickadee immediately began to argue, because Monkey goes too slow if he’s out front, but if he’s behind her he runs into her, and it was all very tragic and sad and finally I promised her that if SHE went first, I would make sure Monkey wouldn’t run her over.
She started out, and we came behind her. I stayed back with Monkey and shouted to Chickadee that she should wait for us at the end of the street. “Okay!” she called back, pedaling away.
Our street has just the tiniest dip of a hill at the end, and although I was too far back to do anything about it, I was close enough to watch as Chickadee pulled on her brakes at that incline… wobbled… and then pitched forward over her handlebars and landed in the street, bike crashing down on top of her for good measure.
“I’M COMING!” I yelled, standing up on my own pedals, heart pounding, scanning the intersection to make sure she wasn’t in danger of being run over, trying to keep all of the what-ifs at bay and the terror out of my voice. I was absolutely, completely, 100% convinced she’d broken at least one bone. My brain was spinning as I tried to figure out how I was going to get two children and three bikes and a serious injury back to the house all in one piece. I found myself wishing that Otto was there with us.
By the time I reached her, she was crying and bleeding but had managed to scoot out of the road. I got her bike up off of her and asked her to turn over so that I could have a look. She complied, holding both hands out in front of her, limp. I took a very deep breath before surveying the damage.
Both palms were raw and bleeding and embedded with asphalt. But they were still attached, and there weren’t any bones akimbo. I exhaled and hugged her. She was banged up, but nothing that was going to send us to the hospital.
Just as she’d surprised me with her new stoicism twice last week already (first, when she got her chicken pox booster without flinching, and then, giving a repeat flinch-free performance when getting her ears pierced), after a few minutes she agreed to walk her bike back to the house. We sent Monkey up ahead and walked our bikes, side by side, me trying to murmur soothing things that didn’t sound anything like “by the way, I am going to have to dig all of that dirt out of your wounds when we get back,” and her limping along and trying not to get blood on her bike.
Of course, once back, that was all history. The worst feeling in the word is watching your child get injured when you’re too far away to stop it. The second-worst feeling is being the one inflicting the pain in the name of “care.” I tried to be gentle, and I tried to keep the pain to a minimum; but there is simply no easy way to clean and debride a dozen road-rash wounds. She sat on my bathroom counter as I worked with the cotton balls and tweezers and clippers and she wept and I tried to hold it together and just get it done as quickly as possible. I praised her bravery and told her over and over how lucky she was that she hadn’t broken anything, and she cried and cried and apologized for ruining our ride.
I was okay until she apologized. It was that single act of concern for the rest of us that made ME cry, because GOOD LORD, KID, I’m picking chunks of road out of your hands, and you want to apologize that we didn’t get to go riding? STOP BEING SO SWEET.
At long last she was cleaned up and bandaged and slightly less pitiful, and she retired to the couch with a book while I finished cleaning up the swabs and wrappers and other paraphernalia from our amateur surgery.
I remember thinking that it was turning out to be kind of a crappy day.
At about the same time that that was happening, a man went on a shooting spree not far from Otto’s building. I didn’t find out until later, of course, but as the story unfolded I found myself glued to my computer in disbelief, searching for updates, listening to the police scanner, and thinking that hooboy, I’d take MY bad day over the bad day this was ACTUALLY turning out to be, any time.
Otto was safe, but I was still VERY happy to see him when he arrived home that evening.
I have no words for this sort of violence. I cannot explain how it makes me feel, to have something like this happen so close by, affecting people I know. Otto teases me about my general shunning of the newspaper and habit of ignoring the news, and I try to explain to him that I do it because it’s too upsetting to me. I know the world is full of evil; I don’t need to read about it every morning over coffee. Something like this cannot be ignored. It happened right here. It has rocked our community. It has rocked ME.
This morning as I sent my family off to their days at school and work, Chickadee was covered in bruises and scabs. I hugged her gently, trying not to put any pressure on her injuries, but for longer than usual. Monkey and Otto got extra hugs, too. I don’t know how to let them walk out the door, knowing what I know, without begging them to just stay here, safe with me. But somehow I let them go, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.
I would give anything, anything at all, to go back to that moment when I thought that watching my child fly over her handlebars was the most horrible thing that could happen that day.