Any time my children have gotten really hurt and I share the story with another parent, it starts a deluge of childhood injury stories. The time one turned their back for a second and their child fell in a bucket of water. That moment when another saw their child's bike about to crash into a tree but it was already too late. That time I just heard a loud "thud" upstairs. The stories have a universal feel to them, even when the injuries are different, because there are things learn about yourself when your kid is in pain.
Now, I have to mention that I'm talking about the kind of pain that all kids go through at some point or another. Pain that might be serious, but is pretty quickly overcome. I'm not talking about chronic, life-threatening pain. Because, for one, I have been blessedly free from having to know the heartache and inner strength of parents and children who have experienced such trauma, so I can't speak to it. For another, I can only imagine that it's very, very different.
Still, the fear, sadness, and fortitude that accompanies your child being seriously (but not too seriously) injured is all too real and worth discussing. I dislike overuse of the phrase "until you're a parent you can't understand" but the truth of the matter is that until you're a parent you probably cannot understand what it's like to see your child hurt. It's difficult, but it also teaches you some things about yourself that you may not have known before.
That You Can Move In Slow Motion
This is especially true when you can see the pain coming, like if your child is about to fall or bump into something or whatever. You can see it happening, but even though it's happening frame by frame you're suspended in time and away from the action, unable to do anything to stop it. You can feel your heartbeat in your ears and tingling panic spread throughout your chest. It's the worst.
That You Can Immediately Decipher Real Pain From Crocodile Tears
To the casual observer, I probably seem like an unfeeling monster about 80 percent of the times my children cry. But do you have any idea how much children under the age of 6 cry? It's a lot. Like, a lot a lot. you know the phrase "cry at the drop of a hat"? I'm absolutely certain that turn of phrase started out as a literal way to describe someone's child. My editor shared a story about how her son asked for a drink the other day and then cried because she had the audacity to actually give it to him. That's the level of crying we're taking about, and it can mostly be ignored.
But when your child is in pain, that kind of crying is different and you will know it in an instant.
How Fast You Can Move
When my son was 10-months-old, he fell down a flight of stairs. I don't know how I moved from the kitchen sink to the basement, but before I knew it I was there. The fastest I have ever run a mile is about nine minutes 45 seconds, but I'm pretty sure I ran those couple yards at speeds that would qualify me to join the X-Men.
How Strong You Are
True story: one time my mom stopped a moving car to save me and my brother. We weren't in pain at the time, but we were in danger. She had left us alone in the car to run into the store (it was the '80s, folks) and my brother popped her 1965 Comet out of gear and we started rolling down a hill. You guys, she stopped the car. How cool is that?
I feel like any mom who has had to call up unfathomable amounts of physical or emotional strength to help a child in pain, understands that my mom stopping a moving car all by her damn self is absolutely possible. You enter a sort of mom Super Saiyan mode and you do what has to be done (even if you usually crap out on your fifth rep of 15 pound weight at the gym).
That You Can Instantly Achieve EMT-Level Professionalism
I feel like people in general, and moms in particular, fall into two crisis categories. The first group are the people who instantly approach and assess an injured child the way the I.T. guy from work troubleshoots your computer. ("OK, have you check the power source? Is it plugged in? Is the power strip on? OK, next question...") They feel no emotion when faced with a emotionally charged situation. Their brain shuts that off temporarily to help them focus.
That Your Brain Shuts Off In Moments Of Crisis
Then there's the second group of people, who are nothing but emotion in a moment of crisis. Their Id grabs the wheel and the throttle and goes to town as they panic and don't know exactly what to do. They immediately hug their child and search every corner of their brain to try to find something that will help, only to come up empty.
Some people can be both the former and the latter in the span of a minute.
How Quickly You Can Stop Being Angry
If you frustratedly tell your child to "Stop jumping on the bed before they hurt themselves," and then they hurt themselves (but, like, really hurt themselves) you are suddenly no longer frustrated. That part is done. Any anger has been washed away and you immediately run to their aid.
How Scared You Can Be
Being confronted with a child in pain can be absolutely terrifying, especially when you don't yet know the extent of the damage. Scarier than that time you were at a sleepover and Becky Rubio's house and the Ouija board told you there was a ghost in the room and Becky was so totally not moving anything you guys. Seriously.
How Selfless You Can Be
When your child is really hurting, you want nothing more than to take on their pain yourself so that they don't have to go through any of it. Even if you know it's temporary. Even if it really hurts (especially if it really hurts).
How Helplessness Truly Feels
Sadly, you can't take their pain away. You can't make it so that this never happened. And, if things are really serious, you have to entrust your child's medical care to trained professionals and you need to sit back and wait.
How Resilient Kids Are
One of the things that has stunned me most about my children is how damn sturdy they are. What can I say, right? They're made of great materials forged by a master crafter. Remember that time my son fell down the stairs? The moment I previously mentioned? That's 15 wooden stairs and landing on solid concrete at 10 months old? Not a scratch on him. My daughter (not exactly graceful) has face-planted more times than I can count and come away laughing pretty much every single time. Granted, luck has been on our side, certainly, but kids have this stunning ability to get hurt, dust themselves off, and shortly make another ill-advise plan that will ultimately get them hurt again.