A Break
Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 8:20PM

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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