Nothing prepares you for those extreme moments of motherhood. Like being told that your three-year-old and your eight-month old both have H1N1, or that your son is in respiratory distress, or that your daughter has a tick bite from a tick carrying Lyme disease (yes, all true). You can also never predict what kind of accidents your kids will have. And you have no idea until you’re faced with these crazy situations exactly how you will react.
When my daughter, Lizzie, was three and a half years old, she came flying into my then one-year-old son Thomas’ room just as I was putting him to bed. She tripped on his carpet and went flying mouth-first into the glider stool.
There was a brief silence when time seemed to stop. Within a second that felt like hours I had placed Thomas in his crib and was cradling Lizzie who was wailing and holding her hands to her mouth. Thomas began wailing because she was wailing, and I took a deep breath. I needed to see her nose and mouth (even though I was absolutely terrified of what I would see), but my words were soft. “Lizzie, it’s okay. Mummy needs to just see. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
She let me look. One of her top middle teeth was pointed straight backward, and the other one was pushed halfway back up into her gum. I was FREAKING OUT inside, but I was alone with the children that night and I needed to simply deal with the situation. I called TeleHealth to find out what to do, called my husband at work and told him he needed to meet me at Sick Kids, called my neighbour to see if she could look after Thomas, got Lizzie some Advil to quell the pain. Within five minutes, she was on the couch with her stuffies and her blankie, ice on her mouth, cuddling with Thomas and me
She was in shock. And scared. And yet somehow I was calm. I remember thinking how odd it was.
You see, my natural temperament had always leaned more towards the worrywart when it came to my kids and their physical safety. I tried hard to tame my vivid imagination, knowing that there is so much beyond my control. My kids needed to be kids, and they will hurt themselves, and — aside from ensuring standard safety like bike helmets — I needed to let them learn their own lessons, etc, etc. Still, I seemed to imagine every possible accident or mishap. But this. This scenario had never crossed my mind.
Our amazing neighbour came to look after Thomas, and off to the hospital Lizzie and I went. Luckily nothing else was broken in her face, and she was scheduled for a double tooth extraction the next morning. They recommended she go home and get some sleep before her 10am appointment. She was in pain, and her mouth, nose, and cheeks had swollen so much that her sweet little face did not resemble what she had looked like earlier that day.
That night, I slept beside her in her bed, worried that her breathing would be affected, giving her Advil when the last dose wore off and she awoke in pain. Eight hours and a very short, disrupted sleep later, we headed back to the hospital.
After a few chats with the dentist and her amazing team, Lizzie was asked to choose which cartoon she’d like to watch during the “procedure.” While she was picking her cartoon, I was briefed on what my role would be. I basically needed to sit with her in the dental chair but with one leg over her upper legs and hip area (to “pin her down”), one hand holding her hand and the other holding her shoulder (another “pinning” maneouvre). The dentist suggested I keep looking directly at Lizzie and do whatever I needed to do to keep her calm and relaxed. Because she would be getting three needles directly into her gums. Three.
Aside: I am terrified of needles. I cannot look at them when I get my own shots. I can’t look at them when I give blood. But these fears no longer mattered.
Lizzie held my hand tight. She was scared but quiet, and looked so little in that chair. The cartoons lost their allure, and she asked me to sing to her. I had always sung to calm her down, or soothe her. I asked which song and she said “A,B,C,D, Mummy.”
So, as I was singing A, B, C, D, E, F, G, smiling widely and looking into her sweet eyes, I was also watching a gigantic needle enter into her upper gum. I kept smiling and singing as her eyes widened in fear and two more needles were put in. Then I smiled reassuringly and sang some more as they pulled out her two upper middle teeth. I was calm as a cucumber and rubbed her hand. When it was over, I hugged her tight and told her how brave she was.
Once the dentists were satisfied that she was okay, they sent us on our way with her two front teeth to send to the tooth fairy. Only when we left the room and the reality of it all seemed to sink in, did Lizzie begin to cry. It was the first time she’d cried since the initial accident. And, she said, it was because she couldn’t feel her nose anymore, she was freaked out by the feeling of the freezing.
Once she’d calmed down, we met my husband by the toy shop in Sick Kids, and he took her in with the promise that she could pick out anything she wanted.
I promptly went into the bathroom and, finally alone, I wept. I cried out all the worry, the relief, the fear, and the stress of the previous 18 hours in a toilet stall on the main floor of Sick Kids Hospital.
By the time I found my husband and Lizzie, 15 minutes later, she was holding a new stuffy and laughing, as resilient as ever.
Three and a half years on, one of her upper middle adult teeth is finally growing in. During these past three years, she and her brother have had many accidents, but none quite like that one. I still have to work hard to stave off my inner worrywart, but I take comfort in the fact that I was able to hold myself together in those rather extreme moments of motherhood. And I’ve never sung the alphabet song in quite the same way again.