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Stumbling

Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:00 a.m. CDT

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There is a special kind of horror reserved for the first time you watch your child fall, face-first, off an elevated surface.

Out of sheer guilt, I’ve spent the past week telling everybody I know about my mothering mishap — that I, someone with the nerve to call herself a parent, allowed my only child to plunge off a couch. A good 18 inches, mind you. That’s, like, 46 centimeters!

I wanted to be punished, scolded. Call protective services! Someone, please. For the good of humanity!

But instead, all I got were knowing nods, empathetic grins and supportive comments of parenting camaraderie, such as, “Yeah, kids’ll do that.”

Kids’ll do that?

“Oh, really?” I blew up at one of my friends. “Are we speaking in general terms now? Do all kids — of every race, religion and socio-economic status — systematically stumble from raised surfaces the moment their parents’ backs are turned?”

“Yes.” She simply said yes.

And that’s when I realized where I had erred. I had been seeking shaming tongue-lashings from seasoned parents. Seasoned parents! Both seasoned parents and the new parents take clear steps to address their crying child, but the approach to these steps is — well, let’s just say different:

Step 1. Seasoned parent: Calls out “you’re OK” to the crying child after a stumble.

New parent: Runs to the fallen baby, scoops him up and checks to see whether the baby is dead, ignoring the screaming, the tears and all other obvious signs that the child is quite certainly alive. Considers administering CPR but is unable to get close enough as the baby swats at the parent’s face.

Step 2. Seasoned parent: Asks the still-crying child, “Did the fall frighten you?”

New parent: Reels with agonizing guilt after realizing that she lifted the baby. Doing that after a neck or spine injury would paralyze the child. Immediately starts slapping baby’s feet to make sure they move. They do.

Step 3. Seasoned parent: If the child still is crying, the parent gets up and walks over to check for injuries. “Do you have a scratch?”

New parent: “Do you have a concussion?” Checks for eye dilation and skull contusions as she waits for the doctor to return her call. Considers whether she would move closer to family if she discovered her child just suffered brain damage.

Step 4. Seasoned parent: “Show me where it hurts.” The kid points, and the parent applies soft pressure to the spot to gauge how bad the injury really is.

New parent: Hangs up the phone after the doctor reassures her that her baby is fine. Immediately decides doctor is a moron. Methodically applies soft pressure to every inch of the baby’s body to check for broken bones while making a mental log of friends she can ask for new pediatrician recommendations.

Step 5. Seasoned parent: Ascertains the severity of the injury. Makes a diagnosis and — assuming it’s not an emergency — gives a great big hug and a kiss.

New parent: Finally becomes fairly convinced that her child is not on death’s door. Ascertains the true severity of the injury. Makes a diagnosis and — assuming it’s not an emergency — gives a great big hug and a kiss.

On Step 5, the kid at my day care stopped wailing. On Step 5, my baby had stopped wailing, too. The seasoned day care mom plowed through her five steps in about 60 seconds. My five steps took about 15 minutes and at least three years off my life.

I’m looking forward to becoming a seasoned parent. If I keep this up, I’ll go through every pediatrician in the Western Hemisphere before my child turns 2.

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