As a November baby, Bub faces certain disadvantages in life. He will never be the kid who gets to invite his whole class over for a pool party; he won’t even get to host a tobogganing party as my February birthday allowed me to do in eighth grade (tobogganing followed by hot chocolate and an air band competition – it was 1985 and my parents’ end-table doubled as a synthesizer for my rendition of Howard Jones’ "Things Can Only Get Better").
Nevertheless, Bub lucked out last year – November 12th was the last warm, sunny day of a very long fall season. I always have ambitions of throwing a really spectacular birthday party, complete with hand-crafted invitations and Thomas-the-Train-themed décor, but last year, as always, I ended up celebrating with immediate family members only and serving a Duncan Hines cake with Creamy Deluxe frosting. (No advertising dollars for me here, never fear – because my point is that Creamy Deluxe frosting sucks, and I’m a sucky mother for using it.) Bub got a wagon ride to the park and a few trips down the slide with his #1 Special Aunt, and then came home in a crummy mood (because toddlers are always in a crummy mood when you especially want them to have fun).
It was only after supper that we realized the reason for his miserable-ness: we set him down from his high chair, and when he tried to take a step forward his leg buckled underneath him. What ensued was a frantic attempt at recollection: When was the last time anyone saw the Bub walking? He had been fine before he left for the park, but he hadn’t actually put weight on his right foot since then – he’d come home in the wagon and moved straight into the high chair for dinner (his festive birthday dinner, which is always more exciting when you have, like, a broken ankle).
The upshot of all this analysis and instant-replay was our realization that Bub had probably wrenched his ankle while coming down the slide on my sister’s lap. Hubby had been pushing the Pie around in her stroller and hadn’t actually seen the incident – there had been some low-level whining and crying, nothing that sounded like a shriek of pain, but my sister is sometimes more exuberant than careful, so it’s possible that Bub’s foot may have been trapped between her leg and the side of the slide without her noticing.
A trip to the E.R. and an X-ray revealed no broken bones, but based on the Bub’s yelps of pain when his ankle was manipulated, the doctor thought he might have a crack in a part of the ankle that is difficult to see on the X-ray. So he came home with a half-cast and a lot of bandaging around his leg, unable to walk or crawl or tell us what hurts.
Aside from being the suckiest birthday ever (the Creamy Deluxe frosting really takes second place to the not-being-able-to-walk part, I think), what this incident represents for me now is how rapidly my demands of life can change. On an ordinary day, I have certain ideas of what I’m entitled to, of what I need to be satisfied that I’ve had a pretty decent day. On November 11th of last year, a good day might include the following:
- No major meltdowns (for children or mother).
- A good cup of coffee with my breakfast.
- A half hour here and there to read a book (Robin Hobb’s The Tawny Man trilogy at that point, I think).
- An episode or two of Smallville in the evening without more than three interruptions from a crying baby. (Lex Luthor! How did I forget him for my best TV-characters meme?)
(The list now might look a bit different: No major meltdowns. Time to read through my Bloglines. Time to write up a new post and get a few yummy comments.)
And then it was November 12 and suddenly my demands of life were different. There were no days, good or bad, there were only minutes: minutes when Bub was lying on his back, kicking his cast in the air and screaming, and minutes when Bub was not doing that. If he wasn’t miserable and in pain, I was happy – I asked no more.
If there’s an up-side to fracturing your ankle on your birthday, it’s that at least you have lots of new toys to play with when you’re immobilized and in pain. There was no-holds-barred access to apple juice and Baby Einstein; there was a new singing-and-talking bear to play with (that might otherwise have been de-batteried out of sheer parental irritation), and there was even a balloon pit set up in the corner where I could sit Bub down as if he were a six-month-old baby (a six-month-old baby who knows how to throw temper tantrums) and let him bang away at the balloons to his heart’s content.
What surprised me the most was the intensity of my grief. We had been told (correctly) that he would be up and walking again within a week (a process that was speeded up considerably when hubby took him back to the E.R. in the middle of a particularly hideous night to have the horrible and unnecessary cast removed, exposing the largest blister I’ve ever seen on the heel of such a tiny, vulnerable little foot). It wasn’t a serious injury; it wasn’t a long recovery. But for those few days I grieved for the loss of my jaunty, walking little just-turned-two-year-old – the boy who could scamper into the kitchen to show me his stuffed giraffe, or dance a little jig of joy when his daddy walked in the door. Even when he was hurling balloons around with every sign of jubilation, I still ached and mourned for the power of those chubby legs, for the determination and gusto with which he had so recently rampaged around his little world.
I can’t imagine, anymore, what it must be like to face a more permanent injury. But for a few days last November I could imagine, and it made me realize how protective those limits are, the ones that wall our minds away from the things we can’t bear to think about.