“Don’t climb those,” were the first words out of my mouth as we entered the park in downtown. Nestled between skyscrapers, it offered a splash area that ran in between hills covered with shining Astroturf. The hills were spotted with abnormally large rocks, and my then seven-year old daughter was weaving in between them.
“Why not?” Wren asked.
“Because you might fall,” I said, stating what I thought was obvious.
She and her five-year-old brother, Sam, gave each other a look that said, she worries too much, but they obeyed, for the most part, leaving me and my husband to monitor our two-year-old twins.
The park was our first destination, but when the museums opened, the kids would change from their wet clothes into dry ones and we would scurry across the street to enjoy the weekend activities. In the meantime, my husband and I struck up conversations with other parents and counted all four kids to make sure they stayed in sight.
The scream, when it came, didn’t alarm me. We had been at the park for over an hour, and with four young children, it was inevitable that someone was going to experience an injury to their bodies or their feelings by the end of the day. Even as my ears recognized the scream as coming from one of my own, I didn’t rush, a failure of my hard wired maternal instincts.
Wren screams. She loves hard and hurts big, and I have seen her lose all composure because a friend trash talked the girls team for losing a competition against the boys. I’ve seen a paper cut lead to hyperventilation. Small physical injuries cause her to panic until she can assess she’s not dying, so when I caught her profile kneeling on the ground near the rock, I though her knee must be scraped, nothing more. As I moved closer, she turned to face me and I saw the blood pouring from her chin.
Even then, I didn’t panic. We met in between a sea of people who were quickly becoming spectators to the scene. I was hoping this chin injury was a scrape, but when she fell into my arms, I found I didn’t want to look at the source of the blood flooding her neck and running down her dress.
“Look at me,” I finally managed.
When she did, I saw not a cut but a hole, a second mouth where it was obvious one should not be. When she questioned, “Is it bad?” the hole moved in sink with her words, and I swallowed the bile rising in my throat.
“Here you go,” a stranger said as she handed me a diaper. “This will absorb the blood, and maybe we can slow it down.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying to figure out our next move since Wren was hysterical, my husband was still watching the twins, and my son was roaming through the splash pad unaware of current events.
Another woman appeared next to me and identified herself as a doctor.
“Do you want me to take a look?”
“I think so,” I said.
Pulling the diaper away the second time was worse. The blood was still coming, but it had stopped enough to reveal the damage, and it looked worse without the red fluid to serve as cover.
“What’s wrong, mama?” Wren said, and I realized my face was revealing my horror. I stumbled trying to speak.
“It’s fine,” the doctor told her kindly. “Your mom was just thinking that it’s going to be so easy to stitch this up at the hospital. Totally fixable.”
I smiled at the doctor and nodded as she leaned in and whispered, “How fast can you get out of here? I don’t think she’ll need any cosmetic surgery, but she needs to be seen quickly.” At the time, I couldn’t fully comprehend the panic. Sure, it was bad, but stitches are stitches and the blood loss was slowing. It would be during the ER visit where I was pelted with questions about if Wren had remained conscious, showed signs of being tired, or complained of a headache that I would realize the doctor at the park was worried about more than external injuries.
I gathered my daughter as my husband caught sight of us and herded the other three to the car. We made our way to Children’s Hospital, an unexpected end to our park day.
We waited in the curtained off ER room for the Lidocaine to take effect so the stitches could be placed in Wren’s chin. She didn’t trust that she wouldn’t feel anything, and she was still emotionally fragile from the fall. I told her to try to rest but she looked me in the eyes, hers filled with tears.
“I’m sorry. I realize this was my fault.”
I looked at her trying to figure out what we were talking about.
“What was your fault?”
“The stitches. I climbed between the rocks and my feet were wet. That’s how I fell. You told me not to climb!” She wailed, finally losing all composure.
I remembered my warning earlier that day, and I also remembered not warning her again. As the park filled up, all of the kids were weaving in and out of the rocks and I realized my kids might be right; maybe I am that mom, the one who kills fun just in case there might be danger. I made a decision to not repeat my command. I was trying to be one of the cool kids.
“Wren, that’s not what I was thinking about when I saw you bleeding. You disobeying didn’t actually cross my mind.”
“But I did disobey. You told me not to do something, then I did, then I got hurt. You were right,” she said miserably. “I caused all of us to have to leave the park.”
I collected myself and tried to figure out where this was coming from. Had I said anything that indicated I was looking for who to blame? The answer was, no, not in this case. But generally, in less traumatic events, yes.
I’ve been a rule follower most of my life, and rule followers also usually end up being fault finders. We follow the thread back to the rule that was disobeyed so the appropriate parties can be blamed when disaster strikes. We think we’re helpful.
As a parent, I knew grace was a stronger virtue to value, but I didn’t know how to exhibit it since my rule following said the lines drawn in the sand were more important. How do I teach grace and obedience? How do I look past the mistake to the hurt? Why isn’t this instinct more natural?
Somehow I passed down my confusing ideas about grace, mainly that it wasn’t real, to my daughter. Blame had to be placed, people had to be very sorry. Grace, I’m not sure where it fit into all that, and so she sat in a hospital room with a hole in her face apologizing before I could tell her how this was her fault, which, I’m proud to say, I never thought once about doing.
“Wren, this was an accident. Accidents can’t be controlled,” I reasoned with her.
“It’s only happened because I deliberately did something I wasn’t supposed to. That’s not an accident.”
It’s hard to reason with a seven-year-old who is using your own words to debate you.
“Look, yes, it’s better to do what I ask, but I could have stopped you. I didn’t. I didn’t think the climbing presented this much of a risk. It’s not your fault, okay?”
She nodded hesitantly as the doctor and nurse came into the room to sew up her chin. Eleven stitches held together the gash that ended up being deeper than expected, and it was less painful to watch that procedure than it was to hear my daughter apologize for getting hurt.
Now eight, Wren carries a small scar that isn’t noticeable unless you know what where to look. To her, it’s a souvenir from the adventures of childhood. To me, it’s a reminder of what life looks like in the absence of grace.
It’s taken me a year of self-evaluation to find the truth: I’m not good at giving grace because I don’t know how to receive it, as evidenced by the fact that I have never forgiven myself for making my daughter contemplate if she would be in trouble for falling. I’m as big of a victim of my fault finding ways as anyone else, and it’s destroying the joy that comes from meeting someone where they are, no matter how they arrived there.
It’s an unacceptable way to raise children.
So daily I do the holy work of offering myself the grace I want to extend to others, of holding my tongue when tempted to point out the obvious wrongs of others. I apologize; I start over; I fail. But I keep going.
My daughter will still occasionally bring up the park, the rock, the stitches. She will reminisce and then drop in a line about “if I just hadn’t climbed those rocks”, and I think it’s to gauge my response, to see if I will ever back away from my statement about it all being an accident.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I tell her, making sure she sees my eyes when I speak.
“I know, but…”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
She nods and I breathe again. It will take work to untangle this complicated web born out of my ignorance, my lack of self-awareness of what I was passing down. But I will keep working. For her, grace will be real.
About the Author
Kristy Ramirez writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, love letters and grocery lists. Her work has appeared online in Literary Mama, Parent.Co, and SheLoves Magazine, among other places. She lives in Texas with her husband and four children and is trying to finish her first novel. Catch up with her on Twitter or on her blog, Lives In Progress.