The first time, we were hiking. On a trail we know and love but hasn’t been properly maintained. We won’t be hiking it again until the boys are older, due to the dangers that lurk, but we didn’t know this at the time.
A narrow portion of the trail with a steep drop-off. Tree roots underfoot. A broken railing.
“Stay to the right. As close as you can,” my husband cautioned.
There was no talking. Only concentration. And then it happened. My not-so-graceful 7-year-old stumbled and tumbled over the edge. With reflexes of a Jedi, I grabbed his flailing arm. He dangled for a moment in mid-air and I yanked him toward me.
His eyes wide with fear, he said, “Mom! You saved my life!” And then tears started to well up. In both of our eyes.
Yesterday. Giggling in the TV room. I walked in. Two little boys, cuddled on the couch together. One boy at each end, sharing a blanket.
As soon as I walked into the room both boys hid under the blanket. I knew something was up. I yanked the blanket off them. Their little legs were buried in Starburst wrappers. An entire bag, gone. All before 9am. Breakfast of champions.
I couldn’t help but laugh. It was a comical scene. Two little boys, sneaking candy for breakfast. Succeeding – at least until Mom walks into the room. I’m a horrible disciplinarian and I own it. With my laughter, they begin laughing, too.
And then it happened. #2son started choking.
Any first aid training I’ve ever had started racing through my mind. As long as he’s coughing, it’s OK. Don’t do anything. But the Heimlich maneuver. I know how to do it for an infant. I know how to do it for an adult. But a 7-year-old? Will I crush him? What if I don’t do it hard enough. Ok. Calm. If it gets to that point have #1son call 911.
“Can you walk?”
Eyes wide with fear he nods, yes.
“Go into the bathroom,” I direct him. I don’t know why I want him in the bathroom. I suppose because I’m envisioning squeezing the guts out of him and anticipating his vomit and offending candy all over the place. After all, I just vacuumed.
“It’s OK,” I tell him. “Keep coughing. It WILL come out.”
I don’t know how I’m staying calm. Three minutes, I remind myself. Only three minutes without oxygen. How fast can the ambulance get here?
And then it happens. He can’t cough. He looks at me, afraid, and his skin is starting to turn colors.
I shout, “Open your mouth. Wide! Wider!”
I jam my hand in his mouth and yank on a enormous gob of chewed Starburst. It’s stuck on his back teeth and blocking his airway. The coughing starts again and the huge blob lands in the sink.
He grabs me around my middle, holding me for dear life. I hold him exactly the same way.
“Thanks, Mom. For saving my life again.”
Oh. That’s right. Two months ago, on our hike.
“I hope I’m here, every single time, to save your life.” And I hug him even closer.
When things like this happen. When I hear of the teenager playing hockey, who in a freak accident, is now paralyzed. When a child dies in a bicycle accident. I just want to wrap my children in bubble wrap. Or keep them at home and pad the rooms. Feed them liquids and finely diced solid food. Make wearing bicycle helmets a prerequisite for leaving the house.
But I can’t. Life is full of risk. In order to fully live, we must take risks. Every single day. Small risks. Big risks. Calculated risks. Split-second risks.
We can’t live in a bubble. And our children shouldn’t either.
But, dag gum it, I’m going to be there, every step of the way, with hands at the ready.
To save his life.
If I can.