As I put my son, Eddie, to bed, I looked at the yellow trail of thick snot heading toward his upper lip, and I knew he wouldn’t be going to school the next day. The director of the school sent out an email this week warning parents that it’s a violation of school policy to send in your child with a “green or yellow nose.” As it happens, I had a pediatrician appointment, so Eddie could get yet another of the dozens of vaccinations children are required to get. I was glad they would be looking at him. Not only did Eddie still have a cold after a week, but he had fallen the day before and banged up his face pretty badly. I had been standing in front of our house talking to our mailwoman when Eddie tumbled from our porch steps onto the sidewalk below, giving himself a black eye, an egg on his forehead and cuts on his cheek.
“I was afraid to bring him here,” I said when the pediatrician walked in to the examining room. “I thought someone was going to see the bruises on Eddie’s face and call child services.”
I’ve often thought the biggest threat to my child is his parents. I’ve dropped him, banged his head on the side of the car as I was putting him into his car seat and accidently slammed his finger in our screen door. When he was about six months old, I remember gasping as I walked in to the living room to find him lying on the floor at the base of his rocking chair. I’d put him in it as a temporary measure while I went upstairs to grab something I’d just printed off my computer. And then I saw the paper had jammed so I had to pull the back piece off the printer and dislodge the paper. Then I grabbed a clipboard and my flash drive. Then I stopped by the mirror to see if the stain on my shirt was dry yet. By the time I got back to the baby in the living room, he was on the floor. I looked horrified but saw he wasn’t crying or in pain or afraid so I quickly smiled. I thought if I look alarmed, he’ll get alarmed. Better to make light of it. What fun that we landed on the floor. Who’s a silly billy. Boy the floor’s fun, huh? As I lifted him up, I saw his white onesie was stained in blood on his left shoulder. “Oh my God, he’s bleeding!” I thought, until I realized it was just the pattern on his onesie, which was a white with little red silhouettes of Nantucket Island on it that look like lobsters.
My pediatrician was unphased when I told her about Eddie’s recent fall.
“He’s at that age. He’s going to get in to everything,” she said.
She then told me how her son knocked his head into the corner of a table when he was about three, and the gash was so deep and close to his skull, he needed 90 stitches.
“And that happened on my watch,” she said.
I took some solace. I also thought no one would really think I hurt my child, just because he had bruises on his face. Surely people understand that kids fall. It doesn’t mean their parents are abusing them.
The pediatrician looked in Eddie’s ears and said he had an ear infection. His cold was basically over, but his nose continued to run because of the ear infection. She put him on antibiotics and sent me off with a note that said Eddie was no longer contagious, and he was able to return to school. I felt like I was getting him back into school because I had connections, and it was only going to lead to resentment.
The following morning, I took Eddie to school with the doctor’s note. I showed it to three of his four teachers, walking around the classroom brandishing the note like a child with a guilty conscience. “I swear. He’s allowed to be here. My doctor said so.”
After I dropped Eddie off, I stopped off at the school’s rummage sale, which was being held in another part of the building. As I came out of the sale, I could see Eddie’s class down the hall, each child walking hand in hand with a teacher as they headed toward the exit of the building. I spotted Eddie and started to walk toward them but stopped, thinking it would be better if he didn’t see me.
There was a woman standing in the hall as the children walked by, and as Eddie passed, I heard her ask one of the teachers, “What happened to him?”
“He fell on the stairs,” said the teacher with the dark hair, and then added, “His mother pushed him.”
I was stunned. She must have been joking, but I didn’t hear anyone laughing.
“It wasn’t on our watch,” said the teacher with the red hair.
“Yeah, thank god. If it was on our watch, we’d never hear the end of it,” said the teacher with the dark hair.
I was tempted to run down the hall, yelling, “I can hear you, you know,” but I didn’t want to embarrass Eddie, especially if for some reason, I didn’t hear them correctly. I once had a boyfriend who had a large Italian family, and they were having a party. I was afraid to go because they were loud and intimidating, and I was shy and afraid they wouldn’t like me. When we arrived at the party, his uncle took one look at me and said, “What a Jew.” I was shocked. When I complained to my boyfriend afterward, he told me his uncle had said, “What a jewel.” Probably best not to go screaming down a hallway accusing people of calling me a child abuser when I may have misheard them.
When I picked Eddie up from school, the teacher with the dark hair wouldn’t even look in my direction. I wondered if she really did think I pushed my child. Or perhaps she just thought I was a cheat for dropping off my runny-nosed kid with a doctor’s note. Half of me wanted to smack her. The other half wanted to plead my case.
I grabbed Eddie and put him in the car and started to drive home but decided at the last minute to go to the grocery store. As usual, I went in for one item and filled half the cart. I headed over to the check-out aisle, and as I unloaded the groceries on to the conveyer belt, Eddie, who was sitting in the grocery cart, spotted one of the small sugar pumpkins I’d bought. He grabbed it from the conveyer belt as it went by. Soon, he was leaning over the edge of the cart and pawing various items as they went by. As I was paying my bill, putting my PIN number into the machine, Eddie suddenly screamed. When I looked up, I saw his hand had gotten caught in between where the conveyer belt ends and the metal countertop begins. The cashier immediately stopped the belt and we got Eddie’s hand out, but he was screaming. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
“Get ice!” I yelled at the girl who was packing my groceries into bags. “Please! We need ice!”
The girl took off down the aisle to find ice.
“It wasn’t his finger. It was the side of his hand,” the cashier said. “I saw it. It was the side of his hand. It wasn’t his finger.”
After about 10 seconds, the woman standing behind me began scolding me to get the ice myself.
“Go take him over to the seafood department! Stick his hand in the ice there. Get him ice before his hand swells up!” she said in a thick accent of some unidentifiable origin. “You should sue them!”
I stood there holding Eddie’s little hand in between mine, rubbing the inside of his hand gently like it was a paw.
“Where’s the girl with the ice? Why is she taking so long?” I said to the cashier. It had been about a minute.
The bag packer soon appeared with a little plastic bag of ice.
“I couldn’t find anything to hold the bag closed,” she said. She was slightly winded.
I put the ice on Eddie’s hand and slowly wheeled him out of the store. We stood for a few minutes on the sidewalk just outside the store so I could hold the ice on his hand a little longer. A man in his thirties with long hair and a trimmed beard walked by and stopped.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, thanks. He got his finger caught in the belt by the check-out,” I said. It was so odd, I had to tell someone.
“Are you kidding me?! You should sue!”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. He’s all right,” I said.
“I mean if there are permanent injuries,” the man said.
“It was just the edge of his hand,” I said, relaying what the cashier said. “But yeah, I guess if there are permanent injuries, but I don’t –”
“Just his hand? Oooh. I saw those cuts on his face, and I thought he got pulled into the belt and was like flapping around,” the man said. And with that, he walked off.
I wheeled Eddie over to our car and remembered the bag of toys I had bought him at the rummage sale earlier that morning. I opened the trunk and started taking the toys out and showing them to him. The first one I plucked out was Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. Eddie just stared at it. I placed it back in the bag and pulled out a large toy horse with natty hair that reminded me of a doll I had as a kid, whose pony tail you could make grow and shrink by pressing a button. Eddie gave a weak smile but didn’t even reach for the toy. I then pulled out a garbage truck. Eddie’s eyes brightened. I put the garbage truck back in the bag and pulled out a tow truck, replete with a hook that moved up and down and buttons on the side that made various truck noises. Eddie lifted up both hands and took the truck and started playing with the buttons, using his good hand and his injured hand to push the buttons up and down. Breathing a sigh of relief, I lifted him out of the grocery cart, the toy still in his hands, and placed him in his car seat, hoping we could get home safely without incident.