My wife, Margie, and I repeat some permutation of the same conversation upon each rare occasion we can spring for a babysitter and enjoy a night out together:
(She’s staring out the car window at our house as we drive away.)
Margie: “Do you think they’ll be okay?”
Me: “I think so.”
Margie: “I can’t help but worry.”
Me: “Yeah, but you know that our kids have only been injured when we’ve been the ones watching them. Technically, they’re safer with the sitter.”
My wife is genuinely wonderful and loving, and she is in no way a helicopter mom, but whenever we get a sitter, she spends at least thirty minutes with the poor girl explaining everything from how the light switches and door locks work to what part of the refrigerator provides ice. Part of the reason for this display is some normal parental anxiety, but this is also blended with the fact that we don’t go on dates very often as we have no family members to abuse for free sitting. I get the same sort of anxiety, to be honest, but what comforts me is that I know the teenager we just put in charge will be so worried about any little thing going wrong that she will be too afraid to take risks with our kids. There is no chance for injury or other problems when we have someone not forcing our kids to eat and being right next to them when they play.
And I’ll just say it: our kids are really, really good kids.
And, as history has taught us, they are 100% more likely to be injured when my wife and I are watching them.
It’s true. Technically, they’re safer with a sitter.
That’s not to say that my wife and I are negligent. If you know us, then you know we take brilliant care of our kids. If you don’t know us and you’re getting judgy reading this, then you probably should stop reading right now so you can go check and make sure your child isn’t going to get a papercut reading a board book.
My wife and I let our kids explore, climb, and learn of what kinda stuff they are capable. We keep them clean and cared for. They are hardly ever sick. My son hasn’t even ever needed antibiotics. So, we’re good as far as maintaining a state of general good health goes.
But…there are injuries.
I still admire the little scar right on the outside of my daughter Penny’s left eyebrow. She got that when she was a little less than a year old. I was playing with her on the floor and she decided to use a bookcase to help her up to standing. This, of course, was encouraged, as standing is kind of a big deal. Unfortunately, she slipped, and her little head (not really; it’s a big head – I should know because she got it from me – Margie should know because my daughter’s head size required a c-section, as did my son’s) bopped against the bottom shelf. Penny cried instantly, and I thought it was to be another bump on the forehead, but when I flipped her over, there was a nice little gash. Nothing to rush to an ER for, but a tiny bit too big to just let go. Luckily, I had steri-strips on hand and slapped one on that cut right away…gently and precisely, of course. The scar is tiny and hardly noticeable, but it’s likely to be there for her life, gently reminding me of that time I felt like I broke my baby. In reality, Penny was only a tiny bit upset and easily consolable. She was also so calm and sweet as I fixed her up, as is her way.
Penny gave us another scare when Margie was with her. She and Margie were washing dishes together when Penny was about twenty months old. She was standing on a railed step stool I built so she could see above the kitchen counter. She loved helping with the dishes because that meant playing in a bucket of soapy water in the sink and knowing what the big people were up to. Margie went to put a glass away in an upper cabinet and the glass slipped from her hand, shattering against the counter. Naturally, our two dogs came running to see what was happening, so my caring wife went to head them off at the doorway to prevent shards of glass being stuck in doggie paws. In this goal, she was successful. But when she turned back a couple of seconds later, my daughter was clutching a jagged piece of glass in her bleeding toddler hand.
I was working in the ER that day, and I still remember the call. Poor Margie – so panicked, so upset, and understandably so. She brought our awesome neighbor with her to help hold pressure on my daughter’s hand. The staff shifted nursing assignments for me so I could be Penny’s nurse. When I unwrapped her hand, I could see that it was a deep injury on her left pinky, definitely requiring stitches. It was a bad cut. I’ve seen grown men pass out with smaller injuries. The glass pushed through all layers of skin in her pinky and nicked one of the tendons – enough so that they called in a plastic surgeon to do the bedside suturing. I assisted the doctor in applying eleven stitches to Penny’s teeny finger, and she took it all better than most grown adults take a flu swab. When the doctor was all finished, my sweet girl even shook the good doctor’s hand.
Poor Margie. She felt so guilty, and needlessly so. Accidents happen.
Other than that, Penny’s had a lot of scraped knees and hands, all from playing outside. She gets a little upset when she gets hurt, but she always recovers.
My son, on the other hand, is a monster. He’s two and a half and I can’t tell you how many times he’s hit his big ass head on things. Once again, I can say my kids have big ass heads because they got it from me. In fact, when my daughter was one, our pediatrician referred her to a pediatric neurologist per protocol because her head circumference was off the charts. She had nothing wrong with her at all…just a disturbingly large head. When we saw the neurologist, she examined my daughter and then looked at me. Then she measured my head and compared it to that of American men in my age group. Turns out that my head circumference is in the 99th percentile. The neurologist simply said to my daughter “It’s your dad’s fault. Everything is fine, but you have his big head.”
They didn’t even bother sending my son. It’s just a familial “problem” is all. My lineage wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the c-section. It’s not a bad thing, really. Though, I wonder if it hasn’t thrown off my son’s center of gravity.
Dude has had more little head injuries than I could count.
My son’s little arms only started being capable of holding back that head when he falls about four months ago. Before that, if he was going down, some part of his forehead was going to hit the ground, and we play in the driveway a lot.
Just the other week we were out getting the mail and he biffed the exchange between the grass and the driveway and came crashing down. I was walking away from him, so I didn’t see the hit directly, but that tell-tale THUNK was all I needed to know what had happened. There was some immediate swelling and a small abrasion to the left side of his enormous forehead. He was upset, but only cried for about thirty seconds. Then he let me clean it and ice it for a tiny bit. Then he carried on with his life.
And that’s how it’s always gone. He gets bumps, bruises, scrapes, and cuts, and they all upset him for a few seconds. Then…poof! It’s all over. He’ll even tell anyone about it who’s willing to listen.
“Bump my head! Right here!” he’ll say, pointing at both his head and the place on the driveway where he clocked himself. It’s so damned cute, too.
I was there both times he fell off the playground from about three or four feet up. I was watching and nearby each time, and I immediately scooped him into my arms to make sure he was okay. And he was. With the kind of crap they put down on playground floors paired with the rubber material of which my son’s bones seems to be composed, he was no doubt fine. Both times he fell, he cried, I checked him out, I held him, and I asked if he was okay. Each time he’d sniff, say “I okay,” and then get right back on that damned playground like it never happened.
And that’s the point. My kids are certainly more likely to be injured when they’re with their own parents, but it’s because we care enough to let them take risks so they can learn what they’re capable of, how to recover when they overdo it, and learn from their mistakes instead of preventing them. We care about and love them enough that we’ve been able to take these bumps, bruises, head lumps, lacerations, and tiny scars, and use them to make some truly resilient children.
Sure, they probably will never get hurt when they’re with a babysitter, but that’s because it’s their job to make sure they are safe and watched closely for a short period of time. They are going to be on our kids like hawks. They’ve never even come close to being hurt or in danger when my wife and I have gone on the occasional date.
But does that mean that the babysitters are better at raising our kids? Of course not.
My wife and I raise our kids to know what to do when they get hurt, because they obviously have been, and they will be again. This approach has paid off, because we have wonderful, resilient children who have recovered from all their injuries better equipped to deal with the next ones. And there will be more injuries. It’s not our job to keep them from getting hurt. If that were true, then we’d be no better than babysitters.
But please don’t misunderstand: no disrespect intended toward our babysitters. We love you, and you’ve all been amazing and perfect. And our kids love you to pieces.
Actually, are you available again anytime soon? Because I’d love another date with my wife.
And our kids wouldn’t mind knowing that they’ll be injury-free for a few hours.