Picture this; a beautiful summer evening, blankets and a huge spread set up at Ravinia, drinking wine, visiting with friends and eagerly awaiting the sweet soothing sounds of James Taylor filling the park. Doesn’t that sounds peaceful. And it is, well it was, well it would be, but it really isn’t for most parents who’ve brought their young children along. But hey, you make the most of it, you visit, you drink a little, you keep a watchful eye out for…and whoops. Painful screeching brings you back to reality as your “toddler” (I do love calling him that) has fallen in the mere seconds from when he took his hand off your knee and the side of his head hit the legs of the table below. Lifting him out of the crowd, wailing at the top of his lungs, alligator tears pouring down his face, we carry him away from to a place where we can all sit down and assess the situation. Trying hard to ignore the different looks from people, the “poor little guy” face, the “get a handle on your child” face, the “why did you bring a toddler to Ravinia” face, and of course the “these must be truly idiot parents who have no idea what to do with their child” face. Each one it’s own wounding glance, but who really has time to digest that when what we really need to know is whether our night is over right now.
First stop, a place to sit, we need to pull out a cell phone to try to get him to calm down and to assess whether his arms are hurt. They usually get crushed under him as he falls down, “Timber”, landing head first on a variety of surfaces. Is anything broken, is anything dislocated, is anything sprained, is anything bruised, does he raise his arms to get to the cell phone, does he use both of them, do we need ice, did we bring the Advil. Just so happens we chose the spot right next to the first aid tent to set up camp and eventually the doctor, a pediatrician, came out to help us assess the situation, repeating everything we already know, telling us to do all the things we are doing, but providing us with the advil we had forgotten at home. Arms are working, fingers are working, he’s stopped crying, he hasn’t thrown up yet, he seems to be calming down, we don’t have to go to the ER tonight, it’s going to be all right. Whew.
We go back to our blanket and resume the relaxed position we were enjoying only moments before, right? Wrong. It feels like someone has sliced open our midsections, pulled out our organs, and our neurosystem has been ripped to shreds. Feeling “relaxed” is no longer an option. The adrenalin is still pumping, you can still taste his tears on your lips, and you know he’s going to throw up sometime soon. We sit him on his tush for the rest of the night with his Ipad in his lap and he’s doing just fine, making friends with the other little toddler on the blanket, but we are a wreck for the rest of the evening. I sit there and watch the other little toddler, making his way from chair to chair, helping himself to all the goodies on the table, picking up a ball and playing with it, climbing on the chairs, and losing his balance all over the place, but it’s not like Aleck. The way he moves is so completely different than Aleck my heart jumps with each climb and unsteady step but he’s fine, he catches himself, and his parents though always alert with eyes on him at all times are sitting back in their chairs while I feel like a soccer goalie, always on my toes preparing for the save.
But I can’t save him. He’s only inches from me and falls constantly, holding my hand and hits his head on the pavement, next to me as he face plants on my parent’s deck, right in front of me as he falls backwards on the playground. I mistakenly thought if I stayed really close and really alert at all times I can catch him, and sometimes I can, but sometimes I can’t, and he always wants to be walking on his feet right now and I’m exhausted. Trying to stay in that state of ready to catch is draining and it’s not even really working. I’m anxious all the time and many an evening, a therapy session, a playdate at the park, is ruined by one false move. So the next question, what can we do? An airbag vest that automatically inflates when it senses he loses his balance? Or something that does exist like helmets, vests, padding to protect him?
I was about to research which helmets and where to get them, I put in calls to his doctors to get their input, and started to imagine what it would be like to start preschool with a helmet. But then I did some research on what other moms with little ones with Aleck’s condition are doing, how are they handling this exciting but very stressful situation. Most of the research points to absolutely no protective gear, not now, not while they are still this little. All of his therapists are in agreement; right now it’s critical that he learns how to fall, he learns how to protect himself, especially now while he is still close to the ground, little and short. If we protect him too much he won’t be forced to learn how to protect himself when he falls and when he gets older his chances of a major injury are much greater. Other parents told me to brace myself for lots of ER visits, stitches, maybe even a broken bone or two, but they all told me it was nothing they couldn’t come back from and it’s best to learn now, right now.
Luckily we haven’t been to the ER yet, but my heart is racing constantly. I’ve made learning to fall a focus with all his therapists and he’s now playing “Superman” on his bean bag, arms out in front of him while he falls/flies. You see, Aleck doesn’t put his arms out to catch himself when he falls, his knees don’t collapse as he crumbles to the ground, it’s a dead man’s fall every single time and we need to teach him how to protect that precious skull and that poor sweet little nose. He’s going to learn, he just has to, and in the meantime I need to find something to calm my nerves. That super cute little “puffs plus” nose that we’ve loved so much is going to take a major beating and in the end, he’s probably going to look more like his daddy than ever.