Jovie fell down our basement steps Wednesday night.
I was in the living room putting Lily's coat on to get ready for a quick run to the grocery store for a $1 can of green chiles to make dinner. Jovie was crawling around the kitchen - I could hear the slap of her little hands on the tiles, but I couldn't see her.
I heard a crash. Then thump, thump, thump, thump. Then a wail.
I could've sworn the baby gate was up. I still don't remember taking it down.
I left Lily and ran down the basement, saying "Oh god, oh god, oh god" all the way (sorry God).
Jovie was lying on her back on the carpet at the bottom of those 11 steep, wooden steps crying. Bart the cat was sitting next to her.
I scooped her up terrified that I was going to find broken bones or blood or massive bumps.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," I told her through tears.
I took her back upstairs and called the pediatrician. The office was closed for a holiday party. So I took her to urgent care, they told me to go to the ER.
"She could have internal bleeding or head trauma."
Brad, who'd met me at urgent care from work, took the wheel and we drove through rush hour traffic to the ER where we waited for 5 hours (a built-in observation period for head injuries, I was later told by the doctor).
"I thought the gate was up," I told Brad. "I'm so sorry."
"You're a terrible mom," I told myself.
Jovie had stopped crying within 10 minutes of falling down the stairs. She was cooing and smiling with other patients and visitors in the E.R. She flirted with the doctors who examined her at 10:30 p.m. -- three hours after her normal bedtime.
Save for a bruise over her right eye, she was unscathed.
I've checked to make sure that the baby gate is up at least 10 times today. I'm considering investing in an infant-sized helmet and a bubble-wrap suit for her. Have to do a better job at keeping my girls safe.
I've spent the day watching coverage on the school shooting in Connecticut. I was 17 when the Columbine massacre happened. I remember sitting in my high school journalism classroom trying to wrap my brain around how teenagers like me could murder their classmates. I saw myself in the victims.
But that event didn't prepare me for today, because today I'm a parent.
When you're 17 watching news that children have been gunned down in a school, you're scared and saddened and confused.
When you're a parent watching the news that 20 children have been gunned down in their school, you're horrified, irate and heartbroken. You spend the afternoon picking up your babies and holding them close when they'd rather be playing. You are grateful for the news anchor who's also blinking back tears as he struggles to report the story (see feed at right). You read the sentiments of others. You offer unsolicited thoughts to an old friend who just wanted to know your address:
I think everyone should experience being a parent -- the empathy it gives you for others and the overwhelming desire for the world to be a less ugly would make it less likely that these sorts of things would happen.
And you text your sisters, also mothers, and try to make sense of it:
Sarah: Those poor children Sue ... 18 kids*. I'm crying here. I wanna homeschool Pea ... I never get emotional about this stuff ... now ... now we have children of our own ... and ... we never had to worry about sending kids to school. Those poor parents. Right before ... Christmas. So sad.But you can't make sense of it. At least I can't right now. Those poor babies. Those poor parents.
Me: I feel the same way exactly. Columbine was the first think like this and we were in high school. The world just feels so ugly right now. Don't want my girls to have to deal with this crap. Terrifying.
Home-schooling the girls is tempting -- preferable to trading in that bubble-wrap suit for a kid-sized Kevlar vest. As these horrific incidences stack up it becomes harder to trust that my children are safe anywhere but here.
But on Wednesday night I forgot to put the baby gate up and Jovie fell down the stairs. She was in what should be the safest place in the world: Her own home.
I'm not sure the answer lies in retreating to my nest and preventing my kids from stretching their wings.
Right now, I'm just not sure about anything.
Photo courtesy of Widerbergs on Flickr