Last Wednesday, my wife had meetings that kept her at work late, so I was scheduled to bring them to her classroom at 3:00 for the parking lot swap. We've done The Swap countless times over the years. In fact, the kids love going to the classroom with all its interesting toys and whatnot.
I was getting the kids dressed with about half an hour to spare -- a personal best, I might add. After zipping William's coat, I told him, "All right, you're free to go." As he turned to run, the toe of his shoe clipped my own ever so slightly and sent him, face first, into the brick of the fireplace hearth.
It was one of those Six Million Dollar Man moments in which my brain calculated his trajectory almost instantly, and thrust my hand towards him as he fell in slow motion. I never caught up, and watched his head bounce off the bricks with a horrible sound like a wet bag of sand.
He began screaming immediately, and as I flipped him over I saw his right eyebrow had been sliced in two. Grace, who was sanding next to us, saw the blood and began shrieking. I rushed to the bathroom and grabbed a face cloth and pressed it to his head to stop the bleeding.
I had a conversation with myself. "What do I do?" I asked.
"Call an ambulance." was the answer.
"But he's still conscious. I doubt he has a concussion; he just needs stitches."
"Call an ambulance" I heard again. "Right," I said. "Let's call an ambulance."
By the time I got off the phone, Grace had stopped crying. I told her, "Grace, honey, William fell and he has been hurt very badly. We've got to take him to the hospital so the doctors can help him."
She started wailing again.
I called my wife's school and asked for her. "She's in a meeting," the receptionist said. "I'd like to talk to her, please." I said in a stern tone. "Oh, is this an emergency?" she asked. I wanted to say, "You don't hear the two wailing children in the background and my less-than-friendly tone?" Instead, I said, "This is her husband. I'm taking our son to the hospital."
She put me through.
The paramedics arrived and took a look at my poor boy. They dressed his wound nicely and comforted the three of us the best they could. William had stopped crying. "You can probably drive him yourself," they said. "I mean, you can come in the ambulance, but he's quiet now and there's nothing further we'd be able to do on the ride."
So we got into my car and drove to the hospital. My wife was waiting inside. The doctor suggested that mom take Grace outside of the ER while William was stitched up, which they did. The nurse wrapped him up in some sort of contraption that resembled a velcro cocoon and put a drape over his face with a cutout for the gash in his head.
To say he disliked the local anesthesia is an understatement, but we got him talking about the wagon-wheel sized cookie, buckets of juice, 10lb brownie and whatever else I was going to give him as soon as we were through. As the doctor stitched him up, a nurse holding his head and me holding his hands, face covered with the drape, he suddenly said,
"I gotta get out of here."
He started crying again and I tried not to (in fact, I think the nurse did). How I hated being one of the adults holding him down there. I mean, I'm glad I had my hands in his, but still.
Afterwards, I did indeed give him the world's biggest cookie in the hospital's front lobby, all the while snapping pictures of my wounded boy with my phone and mailing them to family. Then I bought him stickers. And a stuffed animal. And read six books at home. And gave him chocolate milk. And...you get the picture.
Life is about change. Our jobs change, the house gets a new coat of paint, I look different than I did ten years ago, family and friends come and go. The one constant is my role as a parent. Every now and then little reminders pop up, like tripping over a pile of wet towels, heavy with lake water as they dry on the deck. Sometimes the reminders are more dramatic, like scrubbing the stain stick on the dried blood that fell from your child and stained your shirt.
No matter what else happens, I have a son named William and daughter named Grace. The rest are minor details.