Thursday, June 1, 2006

The blame game

Tonight Josh fell out of the bathtub. I turned around for no more than five seconds, and he fell right out of the tub onto the cold, hard tile floor. I was trying to open a new canister of Gymboree bubbles. Josh was impatient. He kept pointing to the canister and saying “Buh-bles!” The more I struggled to get the industrial strength blend of aluminum foil and glue off the rim, the less success I had. 

So I went to the sink to rifle through the drawers looking for something sharp to puncture the seemingly impenetrable seal. I opened the cupboard (one one-thousand…), reached for the key to the bathroom door (two one-thousand…), drove the sharp end through the middle of the round foiled opening (three one-thousand), quickly moved the whole operation over the sink as I saw pent-up glycerin bubble up and seep over the edges of the container and down my fingers (four one-thousand…), and suddenly heard a small splash, a thud, and a loud cry. I turned back to the tub and saw Joshua sprawled out in a wet awkward pile between the tub and the toilet. I was not more than two steps away. I leaned forward, scooped him up, and covered him with towels. I rubbed him, bounced him, reassured him, and cried with him.

When I had finally consoled him, I grabbed the leaking bubble container, took Joshua back to the tub, carefully set him back down in the suds, and began to blow bubbles. Silent tears fell down my face.  I sat on the toilet leaning back on the wall behind me and blew bubble after bubble until they swirled around the bathroom and out into the hall. And as they lofted to and fro, carried by the barely perceptible airflow, moving up or down or simply disappearing, I wondered how I could have let that happen, how I could have endangered my child so recklessly, how I was responsible for every bruise. And I reveled in the irony of that moment because it so loudly reminded me that anything can happen to him at any time. 

That’s a thought I contend with every day. I am constantly making judgments about his safety: how close to follow when he runs down our relatively quiet street, how long to let him jump on the bed when I can’t be on both sides at the same time to prevent a fall, how big the chunks of chicken should be so he doesn’t choke, or how often I should wash his hands. The list goes on and on. 

It is this very list that I run through every day—every hour of every day while I simultaneously try to forget that anything bad can ever happen. Because if I let myself imagine—even for just a moment—that speeding car rounding the corner or the loud boom his head would make as it hit the tile floor or any of the hundreds of other horrible thoughts that keep mothers like me as hypervigilant as possible, I would simply go crazy. I would pull the covers over my head in the morning and never get up, never get Josh up. I would make him spend all day every day in his SIDS-approved crib, safe from viruses and bacteria, UV rays and harsh soaps, choking hazards, speeding cars, swimming pools, sharp objects, neighborhood dogs, cell phone radiation, artificial colors and preservatives, noises louder than 60 decibels, the ill effects of television, toxic mold, sexual predators, and especially his well-meaning but obviously incapable mother. He would never learn, never explore, never discover, and never thrive. But at least he would never get hurt. And I would never be to blame.
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