When I had my girls and all my friends were busy having boys, I remember feeling pretty smug thinking that while I may have to deal with daily emotional upheaval, I wouldn’t be shaving twenty years off my life on a routine basis from frantic trips to the emergency room because as we all know, boys are much more prone to broken bones and busted heads and amputated limbs and general bleeding than girls, especially my girls who I fully intended to encase in bubble wrap until they had their own health insurance simply as a precaution because blood and I do not get along, unless it’s quietly churning away where it’s supposed to, under the skin and out of sight. So while I may eventually spend a small fortune on pads and tampons, my friends were probably going to spend at least double that on co-pays and antibiotics and x-rays and gauze and prosthetics and crutches and replacement dirt bikes.
So I was completely and utterly taken by surprise when I realized that I had given birth to one of the most accident prone girls on the face of the planet, one who was bound and determined to put her mother in an early grave by the sheer number of injuries she sustained and whose younger sister was bound and determined to beat her to the punch by concentrating on quality of injury rather than quantity and any day now, I’m expecting to have to pick out a bronze plaque memorializing the examination room at the hospital where we have spent more hours than anywhere else, including in bed asleep. It’s not a good sign when you get an annual Christmas card from the emergency room staff.
It started with Zoe, my first born, who was always a bit dramatic and apt to scream in horror if she got a hangnail or paper cut, certain that death was imminent and who would glare at me and demand that I do something about it. A Band Aid and hug? That’s it? Are you kidding? WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU?
When Zoe was six, she mastered riding without training wheels at the start of summer at which time she developed a death wish and continually rode her bike into the road. I was almost eight months pregnant at the time and my swollen ankles and feet prevented me from racing after her so I simply shrieked at her from the house, something I’m sure my neighbors look back on fondly to this day. I must have suddenly developed laryngitis or she suddenly developed deafness because soon enough, she was not listening to my screams and once again, found herself in the middle of the road. When she pedaled back up to the garage, I waddled out the door and told her in no uncertain terms that she would confine her riding to the driveway because I didn’t throw up for three months and agonize through sixty hours of labor just to watch the fruit of my loins get squashed like a bug and totally ruin summer vacation.
She responded by tipping over sideways and promptly suffering a spiral fracture of her left tibia from her ankle all the way up to her knee. Of course, we did not know this at the time. We thought her crying was her typical overreaction to anything, including bumping into a walls which was a frequent occurrence with her. We found out the extent of her injury the following day when we took her to her doctor who didn’t think her leg was broken but referred us for x-rays “just in case.” I remember seeing that x-ray and feeling faint and nauseous, wondering how anyone could sustain that kind of break by simply tipping over? And then what kind of awful mother was I to not know that my baby had a broken leg? Then it dawned on me that I was having another one soon and what if that one cracked her head open or lost a finger? Would I even notice? WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WAS I?
So off we went to the cast room where she chose a deep purple cast and I called her father to tell him the news.
A year later, almost to the day, Zoe was riding her bike in the neighbor’s driveway and I was browning some ground meat on the stove. The door opened and I turned to find Zoe at the door, crying and holding her misshapen arm, with my neighbor directly in back of her, mouthing something like “calm down, it’s broken, but she’s OK.” I can’t really remember, I was too busy being mesmerized by her arm that was facing in two different directions at once. I just stood there with my mouth open and spatula in the air, dripping grease on the floor as my neighbor explained that she just tipped over. It was the darnedest thing he’d ever seen.
So off we went to emergency where she chose a fluorescent orange cast and I called her father to tell him the news. But not before I gave that stupid bike a big stomp.
After being assured by the doctor that Zoe was a healthy girl with healthy bones and an unhealthy lack of coordination, I sat there wondering what kind of mother allows her child to ride a bike and break her bones willy nilly? Obviously Zoe liked to tip over so why didn’t I send her out to play with pillows shoved down her pants and up her shirt, like any decent mother would have done? WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WAS I?
That very thought crossed my mind a couple of years later when Zoe tipped over on the ice during her ice-skating party. But she continued to skate, as well as have pizza and a sleepover afterwards and since she was not wailing about death like she usually did, I figured she was fine. Until the next morning when she said her wrist still hurt so I took her for x-rays.
And then off we went to the cast room where she got a powder blue cast and I called her father to tell him the news.
I called him when she hurt her neck while in gymnastics and had to be transported by ambulance to the emergency room for examination, after which we drove home at 2:00 am in a raging snow storm. All in all, a pretty exciting night that resulted in a boring white neck collar for a couple of days.
I called him again when she was given a shiny silver splint because of a finger she broke after she accidentally bumped into another swimmer while competing in a swim meet. Zoe is an equal opportunity bumper, quite willing to bump into anything, whether it is moving or not.
And I called him again when she slammed her elbow into the car door locking mechanism (don’t ask) and was told by one doctor that it was broken and by another that it badly bruised. Either way it meant weeks in a brace and sling.
And I called him once more when Zoe proved that our taxes were hard at work by playing extreme frisbee in gym class and spraining her ankle which resulted in four months worth of an ugly black boot, physical therapy, missed gym classes and the loss of half of her swim season, not to mention the 3,781 gray hairs atop my head when we were told that it would have been better if she had just broken the ankle instead of spraining it because broken bones heal faster than torn muscles. For crying out loud, Zoe, you know better than that. Next time, just tip over and be done with it, OK?
To this day, Dave automatically answers with “I’ll be there in ten minutes” when I call. When he sees my number pop up on his caller ID, he knows that it will more than likely result in leaving work early to hug and comfort his daughter and assure a stressed out heap of forty-one year old estrogen that she is not a bad mother, that kids get hurt and he’ll continue to say nice things after the heap bemoans the question WHAT KIND OF MOTHER IS SHE?
And can I just say, thank God for witnesses because otherwise, it’s very possible I’d be typing this from a dark and dingy back room in the child welfare department.
Zoe has managed to make it to fourteen and we, including father, step-father and all blood relatives are under mandate to cross every appendage we have in hopes that she will walk across the stage to accept her high school diploma and that when we ship her off to college, she’ll have every body part she was born with, even if they are scarred or bent or shorter than they’re supposed to be. As long as there all present and accounted for, that’s all we ask.
Remind me to tell you what Helena did that made up for all of Zoe’s injuries in one fell swoop and sustains the theory that a younger sister will do absolutely anything to steal the spotlight from her older sibling, even if it means her mother will drop dead as collateral damage.