My daughter is probably doomed to become either extremely analytical, or extremely creative. I don’t mean that she’ll inherit one of these qualities from my wife or me; rather she’ll earn them through repeated head trauma. She always hits the same part of her head: the right side of her forehead above her eye. I figure the brain underneath will either atrophy from the bludgeoning, or balloon because of all the extra blood flow in the bruises.
It all started one evening this past summer when I took my daughter to a meeting I had at a local cafe. I sat and talked educational philosophy while my daughter played around my feet. (In this way we both had fun and went in circles.) For some weeks we’d been working rather diligently on “obeying daddy,” and she was doing really well.
Of course, with her being a toddler, that could only last so long. Eventually she noticed the rest of the world and became overwhelmed by the need to run at it. (She doesn’t so much explore as charge. I think she’s part rhino, mostly the angry parts. Or she’s a bull and the world is her matador.) Inconveniently, the particular piece of the world she she ran toward included the stairs down to the parking lot. (At the very least, one must give her credit for charging bravely.)
Naturally, before she had gotten more than a couple of steps away from me, I had risen in pursuit. I didn’t think I needed to run though. We have stairs by the door of our house; my daughter learned stair safety almost as soon as she could walk. In fact on the day in question, she dutifully stopped running as soon as she reached the top of the stairs, which is how the problem started.
I didn’t think the stairs posed any danger, but I still wanted to make sure she knew that she shouldn’t have bolted for freedom like some sort of giggling mustang in a seafoam colored jumper. Thus, while following after her, I employed my “stern daddy” voice to tell her to stop. Unfortunately, having my usual superb timing, I said this after she had already reached the stairs. (Which, incidentally, was after she had already stopped of her own accord.)
As soon as she heard me, she responded. As I mentioned, we’d been working on “obeying daddy.” She probably even recognized the tone of my voice and remembered that she oughtn’t to have run away. Unfortunately, all of this manifested as a quick guilty turn in my direction. While she knew how to descend stairs safely, we’d never thought to teach our daughter how to pirouette at the top of them.
She turned to face me; her foot slipped; she fell. Then I ran.
She hit the concrete pretty hard and the effects were immediate. First (and most noticeably) she started screaming, which seemed so perfectly reasonable that I was tempted to join her. As soon as I reached her though, which was only a second later, I saw a second (and only slightly less noticeable) effect: my little Pumpkin had a pumpkin-sized bump forming on her noggin.
At that point I became slightly confused. Judging from the uniform response of the cafe’s other patrons–they all continued eating with little more than a withering glare at us for causing a disturbance–nothing very serious had happened. I didn’t want to be the sort of father who overreacted to every little scrape, so peer pressure tempted me to take my wailing child back to our table. On the other hand, I had never seen such a large bruise on a human being before, and it kept getting bigger.
In retrospect, I hesitated for an embarrassingly long time. I would much rather overreact mistakenly than underreact mistakenly, regardless of what people think. To give myself the benefit of the doubt though, confused hesitation at awkward times is pretty typical of me even when people’s opinions aren’t a factor. Still, may it never be that my daughter doesn’t get medical attention because I’m nervous about how it might be perceived.
Either way, when I couldn’t comfort away my daughters tears and the bruise seemed destined to develop into a second head, I finally decided to go to the hospital. What happened next was actually pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at the time.
My daughter, exhausted from the excitement so close to her bedtime, fell asleep as soon as she sat in her carseat. Whenever I woke her up, she would quickly recognize that there weren’t any significant possibilities for entertainment, then would drift away again.. This is actually prudent toddler behavior, and much better than fussing about being strapped to a chair while tired. However, I interpreted it as an inability to remain conscious after a head injury.
I drove at speeds that I had never reached before in my life. I don’t want to confess to breaking any traffic laws, but I will say that I would have broken the laws of physics if doing so let me get my daughter to the hospital faster. I hated each of the narrow winding roads I had to navigate. I spent the whole trip yelling out my daughters name and trying to reach behind me to shake her awake. At one point I think our car became airborne as we drove through an intersection on a hilltop.
Naturally, as soon as we reached the hospital and my daughter noticed the interesting gadgets within reach, she woke up happily as though she wasn’t injured at all. She spent most of our time there trying to play hide and seek in the privacy curtains and pretending anything that she could carry was a telephone.
In short, she recovered a lot faster than I did. A few days later, all that remained was an odd little bump on her skull which her mother and I hope isn’t permanent and which she probably hopes we’ll stop touching.
Of course, since then she’s dived head first out of her crib, run at full speed into the corner of a dresser, and inexplicably slammed her head into our dining room table, always causing similarly disturbing bruises in the exact same spot. We occasionally talk about making her wear a helmet, but she doesn’t really need one: she just needs the front right part of one. Or we need to teach her to lead with the left side of her face so that she can start balancing the traumas.