I have an embarrassing involuntary bodily reaction that happens the moment before a child is about to get hurt. My shoulders seize upward, my eyes squint and I usually jump backward and then do a 180 mid air.
It’s as if my brain and my body are trying to keep me from witnessing a horrible event, or that the movement somehow will prevent it from happening. It’s weird.
Last year at Costco, about a dozen or so customers witnessed this reaction from me. It happened when my 2-year-old daughter fell out of the shopping cart and landed on her forehead.
It was one of the worst days of my life.
I’ve learned a lot of things from that experience – mostly negative corrective actions for myself. The only positive was learning that I wasn’t the only dad to experience it.
The key to me recovering emotionally from the tragic incident was talking about it with fellow dads. It sounds bad, but having them share their horror stories involving their child’s injury with me made me feel better – and every parent has one.
I’m not sharing my story to help prevent someone’s kid from falling from a shopping cart onto a concrete floor – common sense and multiple disclaimers on the cart can do that. My point is that if it happens to you, talk about it. And if it happened to someone you know, help them recover.
“I don’t want to look…”
We usually put my 2-year-old in the shopping cart seat where you’re supposed to, but on this day we let her sit where you put your groceries. Most of the time she would stay seated, but sometimes we’d have to tell her to sit back down.
I figured she’d be fine. That’s usually how these stories start, “I figured she’d be fine.”
My wife and I were distracted looking at some furniture when I saw sudden movement at the front of the cart. She had stood up. Her hands were on the rim of the cart and lifted herself upward. The only thing I remember next was her boots were pointed up and her head toward the polished concrete.
Cue embarrassing involuntary, freaked-out response.
The sound of her head hitting the ground made me nauseous. People gasped. My daughter screamed.
My wife got to her first, picked her up and held her tight. I was looking for blood and trying to assess the situation.
“Is she bleeding?” I asked my wife.
“I don’t want to look,” she replied.
I looked at her head and luckily found no blood. I did find a golf-ball sized welt on the right side of her forehead, though.
We ditched our cart, made a make-shift ice pack from the concession area and went straight to the car. On the way, I searched urgent cares on the internet and luckily we found one nearby.
We got her emotions under control in the urgent care waiting area as I filled out the paperwork. When we observed that she wasn’t showing any signs of concussion or any brain-related injuries, I felt relieved. But when I saw both of my girls in tears, I broke down.
The immediate feelings are sadness from seeing your daughter in pain, but then it quickly turns to guilt, humiliation and dejection.
I’m supposed to be the one who protects my daughter from harm; instead, my indiscretion led to it. Not only that, she’s got a purple knot on her head for two weeks that’s basically a billboard that reads, “I have incompetent and irresponsible parents.”
It was a bad two weeks. I didn’t want to think about it because I kept reliving the horrible feelings I felt when it happened.
“Did I tell you the time…”
I was on an editorial board call with Reno Dads where I had the courage to bring up the incident. I was nervous.
Soon after, several people on the call replied with some sort of iteration of “Did I tell you the time…”
Listening to their stories made me realize that we, as humans, all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are serious and all you can do is hope that the consequences aren’t life-altering. In this case, we were lucky that she was OK.
Just the sheer act of opening up to fellow dads set me on the track to healing.
I’ll never forget that day at Costco. But I sure as hell won’t make the same mistake and I hope that my story will save someone the guilt after a bad parenting mistake.