Great moments in parenting
The other day I was reading a parenting blog where a woman admitted she had nearly watched her young daughter hang by the neck until dead.
In a freak accident, the little girl had gotten her head through a rope her brother had placed atop the swing set. When she went down the slide, she began to strangle right there. Luckily, her brother thought fast. He hoisted her up and removed the rope.
All this happened right before the horrified mom’s eyes, as she stood in the kitchen window watching it unfold.
It didn’t take long for parents to comment. Some expressed sympathy and support for the traumatized mom, but most spewed venom because she hadn’t been hovering over the swing set, being a helicopter parent and stopping the accident before it happened.
My heart immediately went out to this woman. And at the risk of inviting a few nasty comments directed at me, I’ll admit a similar situation almost happened at my house.
Lizzie was nearly 4 years old when we headed up to the henhouse to do our chores. As was our routine, I walked toward the coop and she ran to the ladder of her nearby slide. There, she would play in plain sight for the three minutes it took me to check the nests for eggs and tip out the water pail.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and as I emerged from the shed with the water, my eyes automatically went to the slide. But instead of seeing Lizzie twirling around in the buttercups or climbing the ladder, nothing could prepare me for what I saw.
Her body was frozen halfway down the slide in an awkward position. She lay silent and motionless. For a preschooler, that is not a normal state of being.
It took a second for my brain to interpret what my eyes were seeing. How was she immobile halfway down the slide? Then I saw it. She had the swing under her chin. My mind raced. Had she broken her neck? Was she dead?
I dropped the water and ran toward her, my legs trembling. In the five to 10 seconds it took me to get to her, I imagined what my life was going to be like without this little girl. The devastated faces of my husband, our parents, and others flashed past as I ran. Should I call 911? Would she be cold?
When I approached the slide, her oddly still body was positioned in a way that it looked like a chalk outline at a crime scene. The awkward way her arms and legs sat struck me as grotesque, and I was sure she was dead.
“Lizzie?” I cried.
She was looking at the sky, and only her eyes moved. Her gaze shifted to me.
“Mama?” she said. “I’m stuck.”
Relief flooded my body as I realized she was alive, but possibly paralyzed. Why wasn’t she moving?
I lifted her up and removed the swing. She leapt onto me and clung like a koala. My knees went weak. It was all I could do to stand upright.
Questions about how she had gotten herself into that mess netted no answers. She didn’t seem to know. I told her she never, ever was to put anything around her neck or under her chin like that again. She nodded and went back to playing.
Later that day my father called and asked what was new. Even though I was completely calm when I started to tell the story, my voice cracked and I sobbed when I got to the part about her being trapped on the slide.
“Kris, why do you think my hair went completely white?” my father asked, then sympathetically added, “The only thing I can tell you is to get used to it. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. This may be the first scare, but it won’t be the last. It comes with the territory.”
Because my dad was a detective, I asked him how he thought she could have gotten that swing up there and done that. He couldn’t figure it out either.
That night I related the incident to my husband. I wasn’t eager to admit it had happened on my watch. The color drained from his face, and he made a confession of his own. The previous night he had tossed the swings up on either side of the swing set so he could mow the lawn. He normally put them back, but this time he had forgotten.
One mystery was solved, but I still wonder how she managed it and why she didn’t cry out for help once she was stuck. Maybe she was shocked. Maybe she thought she’d get into trouble. Or maybe she was just waiting patiently for me to rescue her.
Regardless, this is one of my “Great Moments in Parenting.” There have been others, like the time I surprised myself by doing the Heimlich maneuver.
We were in a toy store when Elizabeth put a marble in her mouth as a toddler. I was paying for a purchase at the cash register, and got a feeling she was up to no good. When I looked down at her face, she made a gagging face. I just knew she had pilfered a marble from the nearby marble maze.
Without a word, I dropped to my knees, spun her around by the shoulders and grabbed her from behind. I made a fist, cupped it with the other hand, and placed it under her rib cage, just like I’d seen in the movies. One thrust upward, and the crisis was averted.
That marble shot out of her mouth and flew across the room. I picked Lizzie up, and calmly accepted my bagged purchase from the sales clerk. She too completely ignored the near-death experience that had just unfolded a mere 6 inches away from her.
“Do you need a receipt?” she asked, deadpan.
“No, I think I’m all set,” I answered, sweat dripping from my brow.
Another day, I was accosted by a woman doing a survey outside a department store. While I explained to her why I didn’t really have time for her survey, Lizzie walked up to the front doors and stuck her palms flat against the glass. They automatically opened.
“It will only take a moment,” the lady persisted.
I watched in horror as my daughter allowed her hands and arms to be slowly moved to the left by the sliding door. They were destined to become wedged between two panes of glass.
“Eieeeee!” I screamed, and grabbed my kid and yanked her arms out of the trap just in time.
“Have a nice day,” the lady said, and pounced on her next victim.
Not for the faint of heart, indeed.
And the beat goes on.