By: Tosha Woronov
The day changes in an instant.
Peter winces and draws his breath in sharply, like a hiss. I look over my shoulder to find our 4-year old hugging a concrete slab. I scramble to him, clumsy in the sand, and pull him from the rock. He’s screaming now. With gentle force and sickening dread I peel his tiny hand from his forehead. There is a cut so deep that for a moment I can see white. Pure, unblemished white just before black blood fills the crater there. “Oh god, Peter, his skull. I can see his skull.” “Is that even possible?” I think, as I turn him towards Peter. “Was that actual bone I saw?” Peter has him now, pressed tightly against his chest. The man from the blanket next to ours is suddenly there, thrusting a handful of already melting ice cubes at us. For a second I’m shocked by Peter’s rude response: “Can you please put them in something?” He’s just scared, no time for decorum. And this isn’t an ice cube situation. It’s not time to stop the swelling. This is about blood. So much blood. Somehow I find a clean towel in the beach bag and Peter presses it to Leo’s head. The blood immediately soaks through.
Quickly perusing our stuff –a bucket of shells, flip-flops, crocs, the big sand-covered blanket, a bag of snacks, our dog, I’m struck by the impossibility of getting to the car, to a doctor -in a town a good hour and a half from where we live. “Do I leave it all here?” I think, “who can help pack this up?” And then another thought, “where is my mother? Any mother! This is something for a mother to handle. Where is this child’s mother?!”
Then I get it. Snap into action. It takes 10 seconds to stuff everything into the bag so thoughtfully packed that morning. I do sacrifice the bucket of shells, shells painstakingly collected by Leo minutes before. And the football, the tiny football they had been tossing when this all happened, I leave that behind too.
Finally we’re moving, but it’s impossible to run in the sand. Like that dream I’ve heard about but never really had. You use all your effort, move as fast as you can, but you don’t get anywhere. The shoulder straps of the bags cut into my shoulder, and I’m yanking Charlie’s leash way too hard. Every few minutes I yell back to Peter, “Please run faster! You have to run faster!” As if he would dawdle! He has the hardest job: carrying 38 sobbing, scared pounds, all the while keeping his son’s forehead pressed to the towel draped over his shoulder. He tells me later that he was saying everything wrong, drenching Leo with a fresh wave of fear each time: “Don’t worry honey, it’s a small cut. It’s just deep.” “DEEP!! Waaah!!” “Oh no, it’s ok, the doctor will fix it” “DOCTOR!!! Waaaahhhhh!!!”
The car ride is unbearable.
“Don’t make me go the doctor!”
“Please let’s just go straight home!”
“I don’t want to hit a rock!”
“I was just playing football with Daddy!”
“Is it going to take a long time?”
“I’m so sad. When will I be happy again?”
Shh…shhh…shhh…it’s ok baby, it’s ok.
And the worst: “Will I need a band-aid? Please don’t make me have a band-aid!”
At this, Peter and I lock eyes in the rearview mirror. We’re thinking the same thing: “Oh, sweetie, that’s the least of your worries. You need stitches.”
Pete will tell me later that he had that scene from Kramer vs. Kramer running through his mind the entire time: Dustin Hoffman, single dad, rushing his bleeding boy through the sidewalks of New York screaming for directions to the emergency room where his boy bravely, through tears and clenched teeth, will have his head stitched.
As soon as we are at the urgent care, and there is no wait, and Leo is on the examining table, I can relax. And then the doctor delivers amazing news, directly to Leo: “guess how I’m going to fix your boo-boo, big guy! With magic, purple glue!” Glue? Glue! Peter and I lock eyes again and release huge sighs. They sure didn’t have that when we were kids.
So, of course he is fine. And people with kids of their own – kids old enough to fall down, break an arm, crack a head on a rock at the beach –are completely unimpressed. But for us, on that day, it was everything.
I am left for the rest of the night with a great relief because for a moment in time, my purpose is refreshingly clear. Nothing else matters. Except for his pain and his fear, it feels good.
I can soothe him.
I will comfort him.
He needs me.
Squeeze mommy’s hand.
You are so brave.
My big boy.
My big boy.