I was reminded, last night, of a question that Mick Halpin opened with in his interview with me about a month ago. He asked me the last time I was scared shitless.
I reacted with the usual things that scare me, like the dark, the bogeyman under my bed, etc, and included my worst fear: something happening to my son, Alexander.
Because of this I'm usually that overbearing parent in the playground. Not the one sitting twenty feet away while my son climbs the play structure, but the one hovering near him, standing behind him when he climbs the ladder, following him around as he explores the climbers. I do try really hard to stand back farther to keep my distance and let him play without my interference. But it's extremely hard to do that.
Last night, I experienced the longest half second of my life. Alexander and I had just enjoyed supper at McDonald's and were heading over to the adjacent Toys R Us to check out fun toys. In the parking lot, a huge selection of new plastic play structures were set up, so we, of course, had to check them out.
Only, I'd failed to notice that when another young boy had knocked out a railing on one structure had failed to put it back into place properly. I'd been distracted when his younger brother had gone face first down a slide and got a bleeding lip. I was passing a tissue over to his mother so she could clean it up. The next thing I knew, Alexander was leaning on the loose railing, and then suddenly toppling when the rail gave way.
He landed on his face about three feet below on the pavement. Watching him fall from no less than four feet away from him was the longest half second of my life. I think I had him in my arms in that second half second, applying a tissue to his split lip (he'd put a tooth through his bottom lip) and inspected the pavement burn on his chin. There was a lot of blood pouring out of his mouth, but it was all from the lip (no loose or knocked out teeth -- whew) and no other damaged other than a small scrape on his knuckle.
When we got home he wasn't too fond of either of us holding a wrapped ice cube to his lip, but he did rather enjoy the fact that he was allowed an endless supply of Popsicles, which did help keep the swelling on his lip down.
And then I, of course, spent the rest of the night beating myself up over not having been standing closer to him, over not having inspected the railing before letting him climb up that structure. And reminding myself that it's not so bad to be an overbearing father; I mean, if I'd done a better job he wouldn't have been hurt last night. (Well, at least not the way he was hurt -- he does rarely go a day without some bruise or fall . . . usually just not so heart-stoppingly dramatic)