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Sometimes something happens which is quite minor in the grand scheme of things, but for some reason it sticks with you. A visit to the playground with the kids on Saturday gave me one such moment.
It was all going so well. The kids had negotiated the half mile of pavement-less road on their bike/scooter from our village to the next with surprising maturity and after a go on the swings, I joined in a game of ‘it’ where the whole outdoor play equipment was home, hence they spent most of the time on it to avoid getting tagged by me.
Finally, I sat down on a nearby bench for a rest, but their game continued, with my four-year-old son running away from his older sister who, I think, must have been ‘it’.
Anyway, it was at this point where he was having the most fun, laughing the most, that he hadn’t noticed that he had stepped on the narrow swingy bridge part of the play equipment and he suddenly lost his footing.
Now as a true life story writer of 15 years’ standing, I have often used the phrase ‘what happened next seemed to do so in slow motion’ or ‘in that moment, it was like time slowed down.’ It is probably one of the biggest clichés in the book based on a complete untruth, an indisputable impossibility.
But what happened next seemed to do so in slow motion, like time had slowed down. My son missed his footing, fell through the chains of the bridge, twirled round and landed on his left side. Thank goodness for Esther Rantzen and her campaign for soft surfaces on play areas, that’s all I can say. Too young to remember that? Look it up so you may also give thanks to her when the occasion arises.
Anyway, the trouble with these slow motion falling child moments is that they haunt you because you think you could have done something to stop it. I clearly remember the point at which he was about to fall, where I could see it coming and could have possibly run to him from the bench, but I instantly reasoned that I just wouldn’t have made it and might even have ended up injuring myself somehow in some random Frank Spencer pratfall. So I stayed put and watched him fall. It did at least allow me to see the manner in which he’d hit the ground.
Whilst it was a sensible choice at the time, as I held him in my arms a few seconds later I wasn’t quite so convinced. Amid his pained cries of hatred against the whole play park (he’s so like his dad), I examined the damage – a pretty nasty graze and bruise on his left side – and instantly berated myself for not at least having tried to save him from such a fate. There might have been a chance that I would have caught him.
Instead my penance was to carry him the half mile home, his four-and-a-half-year-old bulk in one arm, his precious toy bike in the other.
So I was thankful when my wife pulled up in the car. She’d come back from college and had been looking for us. First stop had been the pub and she suggested popping in for a drink and maybe a bite to eat.
Now I only had an hour to get ready for choir, then there was the money aspect. We had plenty of food in the house. But then I thought the least I could do, having been unable to save him from disaster, was to take my injured boy to the pub.
Needless to say, a bag of crisps and some apple juice later, coupled with playing in the lovely summerhouse in the pub garden, the accident had been pretty much forgotten by my son.
But alas not by me, especially as the graze on his left side was still bothering him at bedtime. All Sunday I kept reliving that slow motion moment as he fell to his doom. I could have stopped him. I could have if I’d really tried.
Funnily enough, it was an altogether different calamity in my daughter’s life that made me see reason. Her favourite teacher is leaving. Now at six years old, this is a big deal for my little girl. This was the teacher who invited all the kids to her wedding and, on a personal level, helped my daughter to settle in and thrive. Now she’s leaving and I am angry at the forces that may have contributed to her doing so. I started wondering what in my power could I do to make this situation right. Maybe we could move my daughter to the new school where her beloved teacher is going. Huh, that will learn ’em.
Then I checked myself. Don’t talk nonsense, I thought. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. She’ll be alright. I just have to let her take the heartache, take the fall.
And I realised that’s just what I have to do with my son too. Sometimes you just have to let your kids take the fall, even if you think by being there you can somehow prevent it. It is a lesson well learnt by a parent so early. And I felt pleased for having done so. In the future my son will experience his fair share of falls (amid many highs of course) and I will just have to sit back and let things take their natural course.
That said, I hope I can be around afterwards to take him to the pub and help him get over it. It is, after all, the least I can do…..