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Main | Our Holiday Card »

A Break

Our son broke his collarbone.

We found out three days ago.

He broke it three weeks ago.

So we’re feeling like great parents.

He had fallen off his bike when I was out with him and the twins, riding up and down our short street. No training wheels. A few wobbles. My hand on the back of his bike seat. “I got it, Dad.” I let go. He goes. And goes. And then a turn into the curb. A quick drop, and he’s on the ground. This has happened before. He cries. This has happened before. And he runs into the house in tears. This is new. I am too far away to do anything about it except get the girls to turn around on their Big Wheels and head home. They’re pedaling as quickly as they can. “Not too fast,” I say. Meaning it. But also wanting them to pedal faster. We get inside, and the tears have stopped. And he is fine.

Except when we hug him. It hurts when we hug him. “Don’t squeeze so tight,” he says. But then he is fine. Jumping, laughing, running. Being exactly himself. Except when we hug him. Because it hurts. But he is fine. We think he is fine. Isn’t he? Isn’t he ok? Are you ok? 

I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt. Just don’t hug me.

You get used to hugging your child softly. Barely holding on. Touching him so lightly so as not to hurt him. So lightly as not to need to hold him at all. You quickly change your behavior. And then you forget the bike fall. You forget that it ever happened. You forget that it hurts when you squeeze him. Because you don’t hold him anymore. And you’re too busy with work so as never to be around to hug him. Or think of hugging him. Too busy to realize that you’ve not held him in weeks. A month. Tousle his hair. A fist bump. A kiss. “On the cheek, Dad.” On the cheek. The forehead. Or not at all.

This is how it starts. The end of something. You forget why you started stopping. But then you’ve stopped. And there’s no reason to start again because it’s already gone.

I’m fine, he says.

And so it becomes that I am observing my son. Not holding him. Not having him climb all over me. But observing him. Reading him a story next to him in bed. He catches me when I read something incorrectly. “That’s not what it says.” I retrace my steps, knowing my error. He knows now, when I make a mistake.

He knows.

Lights off. “Five more minutes, and I’ll read to myself?” Five more minutes.

He can turn his light off himself.

His lights are still on when I come back 20 minutes later. He’s asleep. The book is on the floor. Lights off, leaving the book where it is because he never forgets where he stopped reading. He’ll start again tomorrow.

And then a lump appears.

A small red lump on his collarbone.

Does it hurt?

“No, I’m fine.”

We look at it. The next day, it is bigger.

“It doesn’t hurt.”

It looks bigger.

The next day, Friday. Karen takes him for an x-ray.

It’s broken. 

When did it happen? Three weeks ago, we have to answer. It’s been broken for three weeks, but we didn’t know. 

He’ll be fine. It will heal fine. I’m sure he will be fine.

He’ll be fine. That’s what everyone tells us. But I can’t tell myself that. I think I’ve lost the right to say that my kid will be fine. We’ll wait for the follow up visit this week. Maybe that doctor will know if he’ll be fine.

Today, he and I sat together watching TV. He was on the other side of the couch.

“Hey. Do you want to come sit beside me?”

“Sure,” he says.

He climbs into my lap. This gazelle of a child, all limbs and length. And he tightens himself up into a ball in my lap. And I wrap my arms around him. Not too tight. But enough for him to know that I’ve got him. And he snuggles in.

And I don’t want to let him go.

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Reader Comments (7)

Forgive yourself. You are beautiful parents who also happen to write beautifully. My mother would slather me in Vick ' s vapor rub. I couldn't breathe..I'd swell up...I'd have welts ....took her five years to figure out I was allergic. :)

March 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjenny hartin

Now I have a my throat. This could have easily been our family. Thanks for the reminder to slow down. To hug fiercely.

Tight hugs for all of you.

March 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAimée

Awwww, what Jenny said. Now you know he has a high pain tolerance. He IS fine, and this stuff happens. I hope it's the worst thing that ever happens (to him or to you). Let go of it; we do our best, and the next time we hope to do better. Love you guys.

March 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMir

Yes, what Jenny said, exactly. My mom has always been put off by sick people (she's from Connecticut) and this aversion extended to her children. Whenever my sister and I were sick with the flu she often joined in the vomiting festivities as soon as one of use relinquished the contents of our stomach, she also held us at arm's length and averted her eyes whilst blowing our noses. But she's awesome. The snafus that made her feel guilty are the very things we can all look back on now and laugh at, historically and uncontrollably. You're doing fine.

March 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

The day our family moved into student housing at Yale Divinity School, David and I were distracted and preoccupied. That's when Sharon, who was one at the time, decided to crawl out the open door. A few moments later we hear a thud, thud, thud, thud, pause. Thankfully she started to howl, because she had just tumbled down a flight of cement and steel stairs. A fall like that could have easily killed an adult. We felt so guilty. For the next several nights we'd wake her in the night and shine a flashlight in her eyes to make sure they would dilate. As you know, there is a happy ending to this story. No pain, no gain. Sadly, it's true.

March 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam Anderson

My heart goes out to all of you with big but gentle hugs. I hope the visit to the Dr. this week confirmed that your son will be fine and that his collar bone is healing well.

May 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

Chris, this was absolutely beautiful - exactly what we were intrigued to read when you mentioned the title in Cheryl Sternman-Rule's session at BTP2 last weekend. Parenthood is the most important job we will ever have and the only one for which there is no training!

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