Friday, June 08, 2012

Pain of your child's accident is felt in your conscience

From today's Briefing:

In a split second, Damm family summer plans drastically changed course.
A few hours after the final school bell, we headed to a neighborhood block party. I decided to stop by another family’s house first to say hi.
Our friends were setting up a new Slip ’n Slide.
When you’re 10 or younger, the allure of the Slip ’nSlide is irresistible. Both Cooper and Katie asked to try it out.
My instinct was to say no. They were dressed in play clothes, not swimsuits. We had other plans.
But then I thought, “It’s the last day of school. Summer is just beginning. Who cares if they get wet? Try to be a fun mom!”
So instead of “No,” I said something like, “You’re not really dressed for it. We’re going to the party after this. But I’m not going to say no.”
Those are words I will regret for weeks to come.
Katie kicked off her shoes and tucked her tunic into her bike shorts (creating a sort of 1950s swimsuit look). Then she disappeared from sight.
The next thing I know, she’s sliding down the Slip ’n Slide on her feet. In no time, those feet slipped out from under her body, and she slammed to the ground, flat on her back, neck and head.
She popped up and burst into tears. They were genuine tears of pain, not just dramatic tears of fear.
We coaxed her to sit down so that my friend Jenny and I could examine her. She continued to cry and insisted that her neck was broken.
I’m no doctor, but I could tell her neck was intact. But something was definitely wrong, confirmed by Jenny’s “something is wrong but I don’t want to frighten anyone” mom stare.
We administered Tylenol and an ice pack and headed to the nearest emergency room. An X-ray revealed the source of her excruciating pain: a broken clavicle.
Ever since, I’ve been feeling pretty awful. If we’d gone straight to the block party, we would have avoided the Slip ’n Slide altogether.
Or, if I had followed my instinct and refused access, we would have avoided the accident.
Or, after relenting, I could have walked with Katie to the Slip ’n Slide. I would have seen her designs to surf down the thin sheet of plastic on her feet, and I could have intervened, hollering, “Always on your belly!” And she would have slid without breaking her collarbone.
Instead, she’s enduring awful pain (“like a bowling ball filled with TNT inside my shoulder”), she’s missed her traditional first-week-of- summer tennis camp, and she’s sidelined from swimming until she has use of her left arm.
My pain is emotional. I feel guilty for not preventing the accident, and I’m arguing with myself about the merits of free-range parenting vs. helicopter parenting.
In general, moms and dads around me are too cautious and overprotective. I recognize that I’m often in that category, too — hovering more than necessary, supplying constant supervision and entertainment.
I’ve been deliberate the past couple of years about letting go when appropriate. I’ve been trying to trust more often that my children will apply our family’s values and rules to circumstances beyond my control.
That means they have more freedoms in the neighborhood (until a rule is broken; then the reins are tightened). That means that sometimes instead of declaring yes or no, I present facts and let them make decisions.
That means I sometimes fight my instincts, and the results aren’t ideal.
On the way home from the emergency room, Katie expressed tearful regrets about her one trip down the Slip ’n Slide.
“The good news,” she said as she caught her breath, “is that I didn’t break my whole arm. And I’ll never go down that thing on my feet again.”
No doubt there are more accidents to come. More mistakes to make. But the pain of this accident won’t be soon forgotten. At least not this summer.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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