All my life I have heard stories about a child who drowns in a pool after leaving through the back door, or one who gets run over by a family member as they back out of their driveway. Many times I have wondered how it can possibly happen with so many people around. I have even sat in judgment of the people involved. But now that I have a son of my own, I am starting to understand how some of these horrible incidents come to be. Let me try and explain.
During Em’s one-year birthday party I realized just how easy it is to assume that someone else is doing the watching especially when you’re surrounded by family members. It’s simple, really. The greater the number of responsible people around you, the more likely you are to loosen up a bit, pay less attention. It’s easy to assume that somebody else is paying attention.
And that can be a recipe for disaster.
Recently I was visiting my parents in New Jersey. All of us were downstairs. Tobyjoe said he was going upstairs to pack. I had to get laundry out of the dryer. My mother followed behind me a minute or two later. My father remained downstairs. No one said, “Hey, can you keep an eye on Em?” He was just waking up from a nap.
Basically, everyone thought someone else was taking care of Em but no one said anything out loud about it.
So, when Tobyjoe left the room for a minute and discovered Em on the sixth step of the stairwell, standing upright and holding onto the railing, we all gasped in horror. Thankfully, Toby approached Em with great ease to avoid startling him. In fact, he was so quiet about it, we had no idea anything had gone wrong until Em was safely in his arms. (I give Tobyjoe a massive pat on the back for reacting with such grace. I’m not sure I would have handled that quite as smoothly. I’d like to think I would have, but who knows.)
I realized immediately that the outcome of the situation could have yielded terrible consequences. And after it sank in that Em was OK—that we had dodged a bullet—I actually started to laugh. The laughter was probably an attempt to lighten the situation, but I laughed nonetheless. I pictured a naive Em sitting downstairs wondering where everyone went and then thinking, “I guess I’ll join them upstairs.”
And he did just that. I imagined how truly bizarre it would have been had he made it the whole way up the stairs and peered into the bedroom where the three of us stood. Would I have guessed right away he had climbed the stairs all by himself? Would I have thought that someone dropped him off there and was merely playing a trick on us? I am not sure. But imaging it made me laugh. (It was either do that or cry.)
We got really, really lucky. I won’t even let myself imagine the alternative ending to this story. Every time I start to, I shudder. It sends chills up my spine.
Naturally, I have learned from this. And you better believe I’ve been counting my lucky stars.
And I’ll probably think twice before I ever judge another family for something like this.