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I Saved My Kid’s Life…

But my poor choices put him at risk in the first place.

It was a gorgeous summer Saturday morning. I had originally planned to leave Babyboy with Hubby and take Babygirl with me to visit a friend and her new babies. But, Hubby had a number of broadcast assignments at the stadium, and he had to leave early.

So as I ran around the house doing laundry, preparing food, cleaning dishes, potty-cheering, dressing the kids, and cleaning kitty litter, I wondered what to do with the unexpectedly free morning:

We need groceries… It’s a beautiful day… I’d love some exercise… Hey! Let’s walk to the little grocery nearby! I’ll take the kids in the double stroller!

The kids were very good all morning: they used the potty, they ate breakfast, and they didn’t pummel each other. I felt good about taking them on a little outing.

The kids thought it was a great idea. We got our shoes on and headed out. I pulled the double baby jogger stroller out of the garage.

But Babyboy refused to get in it. “I’m not a baby anymore. I can ride my bike to the store,” he insisted, and he pulled his bike out.

Oh, goodness, I thought. I’m not sure.

I wavered. He’s just starting to ride. He’s very tentative. We have to remind him to look both ways to cross the street. He rides so, so slowly…

But then I thought… We have taken him on many rides around the block, and even to a playground that is actually much farther than the grocery store. And, he rides so, so slowly.

Babyboy put on his helmet. He was totally, completely, 100% determined to go no other way than on his bike.

I made the call. I kept thinking about how he’d ridden his bike all the way to that playground about a mile away, and he was fine…I said, “Okay!” and got out the single jogger stroller for Babygirl.

And we were fine, for almost the whole way. He rode slow. Painfully slow. He wanted to stop and examine every street sign, sewer cover, drain, cigarette butt… I realized it was going to take us forty-five minutes to go a quarter of a mile.

He was very good about stopping at every street crossing and looking both ways. He struggled with pushing his bike across the street, and managed to catch his legs on the pedals and get scratched a few times, but overall, it was uneventful…

Until we were almost there. We had to cross one more street, a busy one-way double-lane route. I wasn’t worried about it, because it’s a heavily used crosswalk with a traffic signal. All we had to do was press the cross button and wait.

Babyboy approached the crosswalk slowly, so slowly. I was a few feet behind him with the stroller. Babygirl asked me a question and I leaned down to listen.

Then, it was everything all at once; and yet also, in slow motion.

A car honked, tires screeched-  Holy shit

Babyboy was riding right into the crosswalk, into traffic. He wasn’t looking either way, only staring directly ahead at the grocery store across the street.

I screamed, “Stop, stop, stop!”, let go of the stroller and leapt and grabbed and pulled him by the back of his shirt, pulled him right off the back of his seat. The bike wobbled and toppled onto the road. Two lanes of traffic dead stopped.

Babygirl had kept rolling forward and hit a parked car, I didn’t see how hard. Her snacks were spilled, but she seemed okay, was calling for me and asking, “What happened? Mommy, what happened?”

Some people on the other side of the street trotted over. “Are you okay? That was really scary.”

Babyboy seemed stunned, but he was fine. I was…  just sick, sick to my stomach, with that mix of fear and adrenaline and shock and, more than anything, overwhelming mortification.

What the hell had I been thinking, letting my five-year-old kid ride his bike on these busy streets? 

“We’re fine, we’re fine, thanks, appreciated…” Somehow, I brushed Babyboy off, gathered the bike, the stroller, and, walking the bike now, we made it across the street. All the cars were still stopped, waiting.  The pedals caught Babyboy in the legs again as we walked, and he collapsed on the sidewalk, crying. I wasn’t too far from that, myself, but wanted to get the heck out of there. I hugged him and again, thought:

What the hell had I been thinking, letting my five-year-old kid ride his bike on these busy streets?

But, when he was cheerful again, we somehow made it into the grocery, and picked out a few key essentials for dinner. I let Babyboy choose the main course (swordfish and mussels, FYI, and he ate extra helpings of both later that evening!). I let both kids choose produce, in an effort to make the whole trip a happier one, and erase that ugly experience.

Of course, we weren’t going to try to ride back. We would leave the bike at the store and he would walk back if that’s what we had to do. But, I first called my mother, knowing that she’s rescued us from many a jam… And she rescued us from this one, too. She lives nearby, and she drove to the store in her SUV and got us. The kids were super-excited to see her. The change in plans was very interesting to them, and, probably, a huge relief as well. We crammed the stroller and the bike in the back, and she took us all home.

Thanks, mom!

I had originally been planning on taking the kids somewhere else more fun in the afternoon, but, I felt completely wiped out, depressed… morose, even. I kept re-living the whole thing. I felt edgy, nervous, irritable. I found myself snapping at the kids, and then giving them big spontaneous hugs. Crazy. I’m losing my shit. I finally texted Hubby to just get home. Just get home.

When he pulled up, the kids and I were in the backyard. I told him the story, and then just cried, cried and cried. We said a prayer of thanks…

And we’ll only be riding in empty parking lots and on paved trails for a long, long time.

 

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7 replies »

  1. I can empathize Monique. A Mom’s worst nightmare so close to unfolding, too close.
    I was away with family skiing. We all decided to go to the indoor pool later in the evening. My husband did not come on this trip – he had to work & doesn’t ski. The ok thr adults had a few grown up beverages but I declined as I was wary of lots of young kids in pools after a long day skiing & adults drinking. Plus, it was really just me with my two who were still not good swimmers. My sister (she has no kids) went in the pool to play with her nieces & nephews. I sat at the edge of the shallow end vigilantly watching my kids – who could touch where they were. We had no life jackets.
    I was a hawk watching my two with all the caos of adults & kids jumping & playing.
    At one point, my sister playfully dragged my son & my neice to the deep end. Splashing, laughing & loud….
    I swept my eyes back & forth from my daughter in the shallow end to my son with an adult in the deep end, grateful alcohol had not dulled my senses. I saw out of my peripheral vision my sister sweep past me with my niece handing her to my sister in law- she had been calling for “Mommy”. My son was not on her arms – & like you that all at once & slow motion realization of my young son in the deep end alone, not able to swim. I turned and will never forget the look of shear terror on his eyes as he struggled from going under. He flew like an eagle to him & grabbed him.
    I held him on the pool steps & wanted to cry, “Do not go in the deep end again, you stay right with me.”
    My sister never knew how that look in his eyes & how close to a tragedy this experience was haunted me- even today years & years later. I am so grateful I did not let my guard down that night – the outcome would have been devastating.
    Since then, I have learned that a drowning child is silent…just slipping away often in pools, oceans & lakes as others carry on around them.
    To this day, I am still super vigilant with children & water.
    I can empathize 100%….((hugs))

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  2. oh my god, I’m so glad he’s OK. I’d have cried too. I broke down crying after finding my 2 year old (10 minutes of frantic searching later) in an open public place. Don’t beat yourself up over your decision. Its a fine line between wanting them to be safe and giving them the freedom to learn & grow. He felt ready, you felt ready, i would’ve done the same thing.

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  3. What a terrifying experience. I’m glad he’s okay, and that you’re okay too, and that that fraction of a moment between okayness and badness wasn’t crossed. How to deal with the terror of everything that can go wrong while also practicing living in the world that’s usually okay, but with real threats? Riding bikes on city streets: a good life skill, but with real dangers.
    Your boy practiced two new life skills: 1) how to ride a bike 2) how to cross streets safely (which also goes along with co-existing with traffic on a bike).
    Good for you for practicing with him early! You rehearsed him, reminded him to get off his bike and stop and look both ways before crossing the street. It sounds like he panicked at the end, that coincided with a momentary loss of vigilance, but you were able to recover. I’m sorry that you now have to live with that traumatic moment of fear of losing your son.
    I hope that you keep practicing the biking, and practice the reminders of how to cross streets safely–and with a bike!–and get back on the streets as soon as he is ready! As soon as you are ready:-)
    Practicing step by step the skills needed to get by independently in this world, without letting fear circumscribe our lives…so challenging.

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  4. So scary, I know you’ll be re-living it for a few weeks. I just want to add my agreement that you are doing great by your children. You are absolutely right to want to respect Babyboy’s desire, and need, for autonomy. I would have made the same decision you did, when he wanted to ride his bike. I wish I knew a way to guarantee my kids’ safety and also support their development into self-sufficient and fulfilled people. I don’t think there’s ever a perfect answer. Bite-sized challenges, and plenty of safety lessons, of course. But at some point perfect safety isn’t compatible with other really important aspects of being human. Thank heavens things don’t always go badly just because they might have. I have bigger kids, and I’ve been starting to give them more independence to walk to friends’ houses across busy roads, stay home for an hour without a sitter, etc. Every time I take a new step in that direction, I worry. I know they won’t have perfect judgment. But while my heart worries, in my head I also know they can’t develop good judgment if I never give them the independence to exercise it. I’ve taken some reassurance from a psychiatrist friend of mine, who says that he sees the fallout when adults who have never had to make their own judgments and take their own risks suddenly have to do it when they are already facing grown-up issues. So I do my best to find the right balance between safety and autonomy, cross my fingers, and say a prayer.

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