It was an ordinary Tuesday, as any other in the past year. Called “Museums with Mom Day”, my five and half year old son and I enjoy a golden day together, experiencing a variety of museums, one Tuesday at a time. The plan was to reach the Museum of Science in Boston by 9:45am, view the Dolphins IMAX film at 10am, eat an early lunch at 11am in the cafeteria, take a quick hop, skip and jump in the museum shop, and catch the Boston Duck Tour at noon. Such an orderly arrangement, I thought, proud of my perfected planning skills groomed over time.
Sometimes we all need a reminder that the world is imperfect, that room for adjustment allows for experience and wisdom, and that your ability to control the world is an illusion. I should have seen the foreshadowing as our escape from home narrowed our travel time and an increased traffic flow seemed to be messaging a need for plan adjustment. I grew frustrated, but still optimistic, asking for divine intervention from my son as we neared Boston. He seemed unphased by the traffic patterns, and happy to be closing in on our destination.
By 9:50am, we arrived in the museum parking lot garage, taking our favorite parking spot on the second floor leading to the entrance. With direction, I instructed my son, “Run, run fast with me so we can buy tickets and make it on time for the movie. We will make it!” Execution of the next few moments required perfection; it is a tall order when anxious about time. Exiting the vehicle, my son and I ran like Chariot’s of Fire with music playing in my head of the grace and beauty of our relay. We zigged, we zagged, full sprint towards the entrance doors. Backpack with lunch dangling from my arm, my son following directly behind me, excited about the day (“This is the best day ever,” he said that morning while imagining our day). As the entrance door was in sight, I veered around a bunch of three-foot barrier poles (there to prevent any driver from taking a shortcut into the museum), when it happened. The sound of “SMACK” reached my ears, slowing time into a wave of moment-by-moment space.
I turned around to see my son’s face hugging a hard plastic, yellow cement covered barrier. Horror enveloped his eyes, as the visible pain seemed to penetrate his soul and mine. At that moment, I could feel the depth of the searing pain, as if we shared space and time. There appeared no separation between us and I winced in despair.
Empathic moments between parent and child seem defined by these intermittent seconds. In that instant, we are suddenly “one”.
As reality circumvented that spectrum of space, I cried out with him, and ran to his aid. My instinct was to hug him, trying desperately to retract the prior seconds of our reality. However, I could not remove, rewind, nor erase the current truth.
My son was hurt, blood confirmed his pain, and I recognized the adjustment creating a newly established plan for us. He held his face, cupped to ease and nurture the injured part of himself. Tears rolled down his horrified countenance while he tried hopelessly to articulate words I could not comprehend. I picked him up, aware of the harsh reality we were experiencing, hurriedly carried him inside the museum (only feet from this accident) to a bench just inside the door. On my lap, he sat while I held him, affirmed, “That must hurt” only because I felt his pain.
Denying the discomfort I think is a mistake my own parents used to make when I was a child when an accident would occur. To reassure how “fine” a child will be without acknowledging the initial impact always seems ironic to me. No child feels fine when first struck with pain. In fact, I know that my son did not feel fine when plowing into a cement post in full sprint with the shock of tasting blood, his new reality.
Holding him close, I allowed myself to cry with him, surrendering to the moment, giving us space to be with the sadness, shock, and discomfort. Museum visitors passed by, I suspect, thinking, “They (meaning us) are not having a good day” and “I’m glad that is not us.” No one came to ask if we needed help, but perhaps we were invisible to the outside world, cushioned together by common experience. For these few moments, I can say we connected in a space where no cracks between us existed. Perhaps that describes mother/child bonding at its best. Within that safety, the easing into “we are okay” displayed itself. I quickly pulled the icepack from his lunchbox (in the backpack) for his face, which exhibited a swollen lip on one side. I wiped blood from his lips with my sleeve. Uncertain of further damage, I continued to reassure him, although he was feeling pain and I was feeling his pain (demonstrated via tears streaming down my face), we would be okay eventually. (I have learned that difference from my childhood. Choosing to be “fine” is a good reaction, but accepting the reality of pain initially is basic truth.)
I soon peered in his mouth for additional damage, looking at teeth pushed back from impact. My instinct said, “No need for emergency room” and instead, “a trip to the dentist might be helpful.” His cries died down, whimpers continued, but it was clear that this brave soul would recover from a painful blow and a great dose of shock. The fact that the next day was picture-day at school felt irrelevant, and grossly ironic.
Quickly the guilt enveloped my heart, recognizing the What If’s. What If we had left ten minutes earlier? What If I had traveled a different route to the museum? What If we had gone a different day? What If we had not been running in the parking lot? What If he had run in front of me? What If I had carried him? What If I had been a more responsible parent? What If I was a better mother?
Yet, just as quickly seemed to enter, the opposite What Ifs? What If he was not breathing? What If an ambulance was on its way? What if he was in more pain? What If this was more serious? What If these were his permanent teeth? What If this was a way for life to slow us down, appreciate the moments of togetherness? What If this is the way the day was supposed to unfold?
He then asked, “We missed the movie? I replied, “Yes. But really, that’s not important right now. What is important is YOU, and I’m so sorry this happened.” His response after more ice application was, “This is the worst day ever.” I said, “Is it? Perhaps this was the way it was supposed to go and there are good things ahead.” Just then, I became very aware of the teachable moment. There was sudden clarity for me. I was truly present with him. Each moment felt crystallized, as if echoing loudly, sharpened visually. “Can we go to the gift shop now?”he asked. I think, yes, and confirmed the answer he wished. I was aware that my guilty feeling about the experience thus far warranted a “whatever you wish” attitude towards him.
We entered the gift shop with great ease, without a care of time nor we-need-to-be-somewhere-else feelings. The shop was empty except for a few employees, allowing us to roam in any direction freely. I informed him that he may choose anything (though secretly hoping he would not wish to acquire the whole store). Ironically when given the option to buy the store, he chose a miniature, figurine-type toy, a Lego Star Wars tiny kit, a small, stuffed penguin ball, a minute plastic train, and a book for his older sister, “Who was Albert Einstein?” Feeling a sense of unlimited time and the freedom of our space, I encouraged him to explore the entire, elongated gift shop. As he began to accumulate additional items, recognizing there seemed to be no limit from mom, he said a peculiar thing,”We have too many things, Mom. I am going to put these back.” I simply nodded, amazed at his intuitive sense of what too much feels like; supposing that left to his own devices, he recognizes excess.
He seemed ready to leave the museum, when a few logistic issues swept through my mind: Parking fee for a museum we did not visit, and the need for a new ice pack. Do you need to pay for parking for a museum you did not enter? Do they have ice packs somewhere or a first aid area? We approached the information desk, my son looking like he had been in a fight, still glossy-eyed, but with a happy demeanor. I explained the details of the accident, and inquired about the location of a first-aid area. The man asked what we needed and I requested an ice pack. There behind him was a box of ice packs. How peculiar, I thought. Pleasantly surprised, I thanked him, and asked, “By the way, does one need to pay for parking if they have not entered the museum? Our plans were changed due to this accident; do we need to pay?” He asked if we had been here for more than a half hour. I answered, “We have been icing for at least a half hour, and then spent a half hour in your gift shop. Now we are leaving. Do we have to pay for parking? Do you make exceptions for situations like this?” He looked a little perplexed, but then spoke with two other people privately behind the desk, sent one of them over to us, who asked about the accident. I showed him my son’s battle wounds and teeth. He wrote our names down and phone number on a blank pad, while the other man prepared a parking ticket that would enable us to exit the parking garage free of charge.
I felt the day was moving along very well and our improved demeanor displayed this truth. My son seemed excited to play with his new toys, put together his Star Wars mini battleship, and give his sister a new book. As we were exiting, passing the exact place of facial impact, he humorously said, “This is turning out to be the best day ever.” I laughed at his sense of humor, and amazed by his resiliency. Turning to him, I said, “I think you are the best son ever and I love you so much.” He said, “I love you, too, Mom.”
We made a trip to the dentist for x-rays, discovering one tooth cracked, and that his first visit from the tooth fairy would arrive soon. His lip returned to normal within a day, a bruise formed above his mouth, healing within a week, and I look at him with such appreciation for the blessings of breathing, laughing, and being more him than he has ever been.
The days that followed have been filled with gratitude. To have more minutes, hours, days, years with my son is the greatest gift I receive each day, never mind the new-found presence of mind to slow down, and take in what is vital. Today I swagger differently with new-found energy for being present. He is a gift to the world and the experiences with him make each day the “best day ever.”