We see it in the headlines. A child forgotten in a hot car. A toddler finds his way into an animal enclosure. A kid falls in a pool. An otherwise gentle family pet attacks the neighbor’s child. A tiny daredevil climbs up an unsecured dresser. A school age child is abducted on the short walk home from the bus stop. A teenaged girl takes her charging iPhone in the bath.
The list goes on. Accidents. Tragedies. They happen every day. And one thing they have in common is the relentless judgment we heap on the already grieving parents.
I was guilty of this.
Probably one of the worst, although I wouldn’t usually judge out loud. My judgment manifested as smugness. Just a total sense of inner certainty that in tragedies like that would never happen to me. How could they? I never take my eyes off my child. I’m the mom with the backpack leashes. I’m the mom with the sit-and-stand stroller so my preschooler can be contained when I need him to be. I’m a good mom. My mind was always telling me, “It can’t happen to anyone. It can happen to people who aren’t being careful and paying attention.” In my heart, I believed that I was too doting, too conscientious to ever find myself in the position of one of those parents who make headlines.
Then, life handed me proof that I was 100% wrong. I could absolutely be that mom. Anyone could be that mom.
This is my apology to every decent parent who I have judged based on their worst, saddest, scariest moment.
I am so sorry.
Last summer, I had a 3-year-old and a newborn. My husband and I took them to the neighborhood pool early one afternoon, and we had the whole place to ourselves! We spent a glorious hour swimming and playing with our big boy as our newborn napped in the shade. It was perfect. Our son giggled and splashed, as the late afternoon sun warmed his freckled face. We got out to reapply sunscreen and nurse the baby.
We took off Henry’s Puddle Jumper, and he was waiting for his sunscreen to dry. Our usually cautious, obedient child was standing right next to us. Scott helped me move a chair into the shade to nurse Walker, when suddenly he let out a guttural yell, and took off at a million miles an hour.
In the short seconds it took to move the chair, Henry had gotten uncharacteristically brave, and walked down the steps into the pool. The last step took him into 3 foot water and at just under 41 inches tall, he was unable to get his footing and keep his mouth and nose above the water. I’ll never forget the image of my sweet boy flailing in that water, and I’ll never forget the sound my husband made when he saw that Henry needed to be rescued.
The whole thing took less than 5 seconds. It felt like slow motion.
Watching my beautiful baby struggling in that pool…seeing my terrified husband scoop him up and squeeze him so tight…hearing my sweet boy sobbing that he didn’t want to go under the pool ever again.
As I held my crying son and my trembling husband, I had no choice but to take back every “that could never be me!” that I’ve ever spoken.
Just seconds after we took this happy family photo, our whole lives could have changed.
It feels better to “other” people who make the news on their worst day; it makes us feel exempt from the terror and guilt they lived watching their children suffer or die.
But, despite my confidence in my own parenting, it could be me. It could be you. It could be any of us.