You consider yourself a strong person. You’re over a decade into this parenting gig, and you feel relatively qualified to handle obstacles. You have honed your skills over the years, learned from your mistakes and feel relatively capable (most days). And then you get that call, from (insert your husband/wife/teacher/coach/friend/partner…and they call, in that creepy-calm ‘I have terrible news’ voice) and tell you to “Come to _____, there’s been an accident, an ambulance is on its way.”
That call is every person’s worst nightmare. The circumstances may change to fit your situation, but your feeling will be the same; panic, fear, dread…in no particular order. In that moment, with that call, your life was just altered. You will not be the same after that call. The person who called you with the news, with their creepy-calm voice has delivered information that will change how you view incoming calls, especially if you are a parent, and your children are not with you. Because going forward, you know when your phone rings, it could be ‘that call.’ You know that you are no longer protected from ‘that call’… you never were. And you now know that life can sucker punch you when you least expect it.
This wasn’t my first sucker punch. It won’t be my last.
For me, this particular sucker punch was a broken arm at a soccer practice for my 8-year old girl. In the scheme of things, that call could have been worse. That fact has run thru my mind no less than 800 thousand times. I told myself this over and over as I drove to the emergency room.
And then in the emergency room, you see her face, you see the pain in her eyes, you see her deformed arm and the badly broken bones, and your heart shatters into a million little pieces. It’s now not just a broken arm. It’s her broken arm, and she is your baby girl. Seeing her face crinkle up with pain will make you weak. And when you are standing outside the X-ray room and you hear her cry out in such agony, your legs will buckle, and your insides will lurch. You catch yourself because your son is standing next to you, with tears running down his face, because he too is scared for his little sister. So your husband grabs your hand and makes you look at him, so that you know that the room is not in fact spinning, and in his eyes is the gentle reminder that you need to keep yourself together. You need to be strong, because your son is scared – he saw the accident happen, he saw his little sister’s arm, broken and hanging, and he’s looking to you for assurance that she is going to be okay. He loves her too. And you owe him calm, you own him comfort. And that is difficult because you’ve never felt as helpless, as weak, as you had in that moment.
My little girl was in pain – and I thought it might kill me.
It was then that I realized the greatest fact of my life— their pain is my greatest weakness.
Up until that call, I felt like there wasn’t much that I couldn’t handle. I’ve been through some things. I’m a fairly resilient person with an ability to remain calm in a crisis. My now known exception is when it involves one of my children suffering. Seeing one of them in this level of pain, it was traumatizing. I did not know that I could be traumatized by a broken arm, but I was. I thought I was made of way sturdier stock. But when she cried, I cried. I couldn’t bear witnessing her pain. For days after, any movement she made was excruciating. She was struggling, but also doing her best to cope. One morning she said, “Mama, can you get Daddy?” I told her that I would help her. She said “No Mommy. Because you cry when I cry. I don’t want you to cry. But this hurts, and I’m going to cry.”
So I cried. And she cried. And my husband came into the room for the 30th time that week to find both of us crying.
And oh how I felt like I failed her. How I wished that I could have been stronger for her. How I wish she could have looked at me and gotten the strength and comfort that she needed. But instead, when she looked at me, she saw her pain mirrored in my eyes.
The weeks that followed were difficult. They involved an unexpected surgery that had complications, and then a break of her wrist on her other arm. It was unbelievable. Her suffering was great. Her resilience, strength of character and spirit were greater. She made it easy on my husband and I that way. She was truly impressive. I continue to try to take my cues from her, and marvel at her ability to make the best of her situation. She is a warrior.
Watching her suffering has weighed heavily on all of us. It’s taken its toll. When it comes to my children, as strong as I feel as a person, as a mom, as a parent, I now know-their pain is my greatest weakness. I’m just no match for it.