It’s Long Because I’m Processing, Which is What Mothers Sometimes Do

It was an indifferent Wednesday. A day of continued recovery (we had come home in the wee hours only the day before; my suitcase was still unpacked), a hot day, summer. A day of things for the kids to do elsewhere so that I could do the housework that awaited me, or maybe do some writing.

And that’s fine, isn’t it? It’s what mothers do from time to time. A coping mechanism or maybe simply practical: get the kids squared away and steal time (so rare) sans external demands. The tasks and the quiet. That’s all we need.

Good-bye! Have fun! Adjusting the radio to preference (mine) and the (much quieter) ride home. Arrival. Laundry. A little rustling of the feathers, a little settling in. What to do first?

And then the phone call. The kind mothers never want to get. The kind no one ever wants to get.


“Mrs. Stevenson? I’m (such-and-so, sorry, but I wasn’t attending to names. This wasn’t cotillion; I couldn’t care who he was), a life-guard at the pool. Your son was doing a back-flip and he hit his head.”

What information could I eke while I was grabbing car keys, grabbing my purse, grabbing (of all things) my water bottle? He was conscious; they were keeping pressure on it.

But could he move? I wanted to ask, but didn’t. Is my son paralyzed? I read the book Joni when I was eleven and have consequently never really learned how to dive– despite my grandfather’s deliberate efforts to teach me. Diving is dangerous.

Instead I asked a stupid question, more of a statement, truth be told. I think the keys were already in hand. Still, it was stupid, and my only explanation is that when you get a call like this, you kind of lose your mind, and then when you go reaching for it, you find it where you had it last. My mind? Still sitting at my desk in front of the computer, files for my novel open, ready to go. I asked the anonymous lifeguard on the other end of the line: “So I should come there, then?”

He said yes, that would be a good idea.

I was out the door.

The pool is near our school and our church, and so also on a trek I have made regularly for years. A trek I had made in reverse only (was it?) minutes, really, before. Yet suddenly I had to ask myself which was the fastest way, the best way to go. And when I had made up my mind and was barreling (carefully) down the highway, I found that they had moved it, had moved the pool to an infinite distance, and no matter how fast I drove, there would always be red lights and agonizing waits and that I couldn’t (absolutely couldn’t) get there fast enough.

And when I finally did get there, my legs couldn’t carry me fast enough– though I did realize (only in retrospect) that they carried me fast enough past the friendly staff-person who seemed to know who I was at the check-in desk (I did not check in) and a waiting life-guard (the one from the phone?) and the friend of Everett who had been there when it happened and was waiting (so kindly) for my arrival.

I had nothing to say to any of them.

Because there he was across the pool deck, already strapped to the stretcher, flanked by the EMT’s. My son in one of the few (or many? are there many?) postures in which we never wish to see our children– or anyone, for that matter. Everett ready to go into the ambulance.

Tears were decidedly coming. I felt my face screw up. If there were a time for tears, then maybe– some might say– this was most decidedly it.

Except. Except that in a space for thought I couldn’t imagine existed in a time of emergency, I made up my mind to not to cry.

My children like to tease me about crying, which I hate, which only makes them tease me about it more. In truth, I am not a big crier. I don’t (generally) cry in movies, for instance, even the highly cryable ones. But I do get choked up over things. There was the time, for instance, when we drove past the car accident on the way to school, and the pedestrian who had been hit and killed by the car was still lying there wrapped in the bloody sheet when we drove past, and I cried, and my kids got upset with me.

That seemed worth crying over, would be what I would say.

But then there were the times– the token few, the handful (and this makes my childrens’ ridicule so unjust)– that I cried at the Chick-fil-A.

No one should be surprised at this. You know what I mean, right? In the drive-through? Surely you have cried there, too.

It’s that whole, “My pleasure” thing they say when you say, “Thank you.” Time was, the Chick-fil-A “my pleasure” could get me Every Time.

But here’s why, and I have explained this to my children, not so’s they’d care. It was back in the days (so recent, so long ago) when I was working full-time and by Tuesday evening was Tired, and by Thursday was Flat-Out. Tired leads to tears in some people, and I am, in this case, some people. So I’d be taking my exhausted self and my children through the Chick-fil-Al drive-through (and this wasn’t even weekly, mind you, but it happened from time to time) and I would be (have I said?) Exhausted, and then I would also be experiencing the whole “I am the mother of these children and they should be enjoying a quiet dinner at home with both a cold salad and a cooked vegetable not to mention whole grains and here I am taking them through the drive-through at a fast-food establishment” thing. Know what I mean?

And so that was me, at the wheel of the mini-van: a ball of guilt-and-fatigue-and-impossible-ideals, and when I thanked her, the invisible but friendly personage at the other end of the intercom would always say, “My pleasure.”

I teared up, I tell you. I did.

And my children always caught me at it, when only moments before I had been practically and merely furniture at the van’s helm and the means to some really yummy food, plus lemonade.

So Wednesday on the pool deck, I think Everett expected me to cry. I think, hearing the story later, Will and Emma expected me to cry. But this time, arriving at the side of my neck-braced, strapped-in, motionless son, I, terrified for his life, for his potential paralysis, for the unknown impact of his (still largely unassessed) injury, did not cry.

Everett needed me not to cry, so I didn’t. It’s what mothers do.

What Everett needed, so I decided or implicitly knew, was reassurance– and this mostly in the form of light-heartedness, even joking. Comments, say, about the dried blood on his chin and how he looked like a tough. Remarks about riding in an ambulance and the superiority of this single (it was his first) visit to the emergency room to that of his brother (3 times) and his sister (5 times).

And this continued– the lightheartedness, the banter– even when he blanched over the insertion of the I.V., and when he threatened to throw up in the ambulance (how?), and when the medical team surrounded him at the hospital. The lightheartedness continued even then they lifted him to the hospital bed, when they turned his body all in one motion like they would for a spinal injury.

I got quiet while the medical team examined him, when their words were all they were needing to hear. But I patted his foot just lightly so he would know I was in the room; and when I recited scripture to myself, it was under my breath where he couldn’t hear it– because hearing your mother recite scripture, especially in a time like this, could maybe be worse than seeing her cry.

I watched them poke him up and down the back; I watched them check his extremities for sensation; I saw him wiggle his toes. And I let him play games on my phone while they were shooting the open flap in the back of his head with needles for the numbing effect. I talked to him, too, about random things, about nothing in particular, about– maybe– the games he was playing on the phone. I even chatted him up, a little bit, anyway, as they put the 8 (eight) staples in his head.

At one point, the doctor asked me if I was a social worker or something. “It’s great,” he said quietly, “how you keep talking to him, keep him distracted,” he said. And I told him that I am not a social worker. “I’m just his mom,” I said.

Once, when he was eighteen months old, William had to get ten stitches above his eye (impact with a plastic cup– I am not kidding). And when he was two, he had to get superglue in his chin (impact with the bathroom counter). And when he was three, we spent a long time in the ER waiting room because he had gotten a scratch on the eye (on the eye). When she was two, Emma had to go back to the ER five times (five times) for rabies injections, because the room in which she had been napping had had a bat in there and bats can bite without leaving a mark and when we caught the bat we didn’t have the presence of mind to kill it and have it tested for rabies (because “bats” and “presence of mind” don’t generally enter cordially into the same sentence) and you don’t know if a person has rabies until they start showing symptoms and by then it is Too Late and so we decided to have her get the series of rabies shots in a preventative, potentially life-saving sort of way.

But Still, it was uncontestably decided that Everett’s singular trip to the ER is the Best One in Family History– what with the EMT thing and the ambulance thing and the staples and the terror of it all.

Which I didn’t let on about.

We brought him home within five hours of the accident, wearing his eight staples and a bit of dried blood, a little weary and a lot hungry, but walking– God be praised!– on his own two feet. More than stable: Absolutely Fine. And even, so it would seem– so it continues, miraculously, to seem– concussion free.

I asked him what he wanted to eat, and he said, “Pizza and sushi,” which is a weird combination and also exactly what I got for him, because at that moment I would have gotten absolutely anything he asked me for, because I am his mother.

But afterward, I did tell Everett I was going to be keeping his hospital bracelet, and I cut it off carefully with scissors. He asked me why.

“Because,” I told him. “Because I still have the one that they put on you in the hospital when you were born.” Which didn’t seem to enlighten him. Which is fine.

I could tell him that keeping things like this is what mothers do, but I’m not sure he’d get it. Any more than he gets that I have three boxes under my bed, you know.

This bracelet will go in Everett’s box.

I got one hospital bracelet when they gave him to me the first time. And I got this bracelet when they gave him back to me again.

3 thoughts on “It’s Long Because I’m Processing, Which is What Mothers Sometimes Do

  1. You write beautifully and brought me to tears–for what you went through but also for the tie-in to taking Ren to college next week. Thank you for sharing!


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