The sleepover started out so innocently. My 7-year-old daughter and her bestie, Sarah, stayed up late playing dolls and watching movies. They had pancakes for breakfast, and then we left to meet Sarah’s mum in the park. We have an extra scooter and helmet, so we let Sarah use the easier 3-wheel scooter and the spare helmet, and my daughter took the 2-wheeler.
Real talk? Scooters have always stressed me out. I’m used to taking my 3 and 7 year old kids out, but that sh*t is terrifying! They blaze off down the footpath, careening past people, sometimes getting dirty looks or a, “You better wait for your mama!” yelp from a Concerned Citizen. And, yeah, taking an extra kid on these flying death machines might have been a bad idea, in hindsight.
Scratch that. It was the worst idea.
Everything was going fine, until we made it into the park. That’s right, we safely navigated footpaths, intersections, train platforms. When we got into the park, my husband and I assumed the kids were safe(r), so we didn’t fuss when they rode a little faster. Except, Sarah took off like a shot, disappearing over the crest of a hill which had a generous slope on the other side. In her haste, she didn’t think to use the scooter’s brake (those heel-tap breaks, which I loathe). Like a bullet, she flew down the hill, wobbling worse and worse the further she got until–CRASH. SCREAM. SOB.
My heart stopped. I stayed behind with our 3-year-old while my husband ran to the girls. Passersby looked on with shock-horror as Sarah screamed louder than I’ve ever heard either of my own children scream. At first, I thought she was overreacting. Being dramatic. Come on, we’ve all seen a kid fall down and act like it was the end of the world when really it wasn’t. And that’s what I assumed. At first.
Even with the helmet on, Sarah was cradling a bruise above her eye that later bloomed into an intense shiner. Her elbow was scraped and bleeding. She said her ribs hurt. It. Was. Awful. My husband ran off for ice and bandaids from a bodega and I texted Sarah’s mum our location and let her know what had happened. While we waited, my daughter and I tried to console her, but Sarah just wouldn’t stop screaming. “It hurts, it hurts! It hurts so much!” She screamed and screamed. I’m still haunted by the sound of her suffering.
The thing is, she didn’t stop crying. Not after her mother arrived, not after some soothing ice and a few bandaids. She couldn’t seem to calm down. Poor thing, I thought. She’ll be okay soon, I thought. But when she didn’t calm down, and her headache worsened, her mother took Sarah to urgent care. I waited anxiously for updates. Dread coursed through me as the texts trickled in. Sarah’s head still hurts. She’s feeling dizzy. Lethargic. She just vomited. All of which are surefire signs of a concussion.
After that, they were sent to the ER for a CAT Scan to confirm the diagnosis. Her family stayed at the hospital for hours while doctors came in and out. A radiologist examined the scan, and they monitored Sarah’s condition until finally deeming it safe to release her.
This was one of the worst days of my life. A child–not even my own–had been concussed on my watch, and in addition to praying for Sarah’s health and recovery, it was just the most guilt-inducing, excruciatingly shameful experience ever. I offered to pay the medical bills. I offered to bring food, to clean their house, to run errands for them. Turns out, schlepping the kids to school wasn’t an issue because Sarah missed an entire week of school due to her headaches and fatigue. Not only that, they had to take her to the doctor for two additional follow-ups. The first, when blood was seeping into her eye, which led to the second: the doctor thinking she needed an arm X-ray. Luckily, the burst blood vessel in her eye was normal (albeit creepy), and Sarah’s arm was not broken. Halle-freaking-lujah.
Through all of it, Sarah’s mum was amazing. We are friends, and she didn’t once blame me (at least not to my face!). As an artist, she commented on how cool it was to have a scan of her daughter’s brain and an X-ray of her arm. She joked, “Thank god Picture Day isn’t coming up!” It was the kindest, most understanding reaction I could’ve hoped for, but inside I was dying. I still can’t forgive myself.
It’s been a few months since The Concussion Incident, and I’m still wondering “What now?” Do I avoid playdates forever? There is no f*cking way I’ll ever let a kid borrow a scooter again, but how crazy-careful do I become? Sure, I won’t chaperone a ski trip or ref a wrestling match … but do I turn into the most uptight mum of all time? I mean, bad things happen. Kids fall off the monkey bars and break their arms. They choke on chicken nuggets. Life can be full of harrowing surprises. I’ve decided that all I can do is be a little more cautious. Exert my right to say NO, even if I end up looking uncool around the kids. Because, being the uncool (but safe) parent, sure as hell beats the alternative.