Child's Play

a story about dealing with my child getting hurt

He threw a handful of toys right at my daughter’s face. Time simultaneously slowed while the events were rapid. I could feel my bounding pulse in my neck.

My daughter was frozen for a moment. I was just as paralyzed. We were at a play gym, and this boy was probably two years older than her and one and half times her size.

No parenting advice or book was able to console me at that moment my daughter felt hurt. I failed to protect her. I had no idea how to be an adult in this situation where my limbic system overtook me.

“Say sorry,” I stammered at him.  

The boy looked at me emotionless. He was frozen too.

I didn’t look around the gym. Years of living in questionably safe neighborhoods in New York City had trained me to understand my position relative to others, and my intuition suggested that all the parents were on the sidelines scrolling through their phones.

I try not to be a helicopter parent, but I enjoy being in the play pin with my kids. It allows me to be fully present and learn more about them, since I spend so much time working.

Could I throw toys at this boy? His mother wouldn’t even know.

I felt conflicted about being the rescuer. But for my own sake, I had to exit otherwise I was going to misbehave. As I tried to remove my daughter from the leggo sector before her tears started, she shrieked at the boy:

“You did really bad thing. You hurt me!”

I was stunned. My daughter is a crier, not someone who speaks up. The boy who surely was old enough to do all the things my daughter could not do independently did something even more shocking: he started sucking his thumb.

We left him in the company of bright colored blocks. I passed his mother on the way out. Call it an occupational habit as a physician -  I quickly scanned her. A small tattoo was on her right ankle.

I was proud of myself for not judging her - another occupational hazard. Misguided judgment leads to missed diagnoses, faulty conclusions, and at times death itself. I thought instead that she probably is overwhelmed.

My daughter walked next to me silently to our next stop: a pottery store that allows children to craft pieces. The shop employee asked me how our day had been going.

There were so many things I wanted to say. There were so many things I wanted to say to that boy’s mother.

“It’s been great. With kids you constantly learn new things.” I replied.

We were soon seated at a table of paints with a more extensive color palette than the leggos offered.

I watched my daughter experiment coloring a rock that would soon be baked. A retired teacher came around and complimented her effort. She asked me how old she was.  

“A two year old who knows how to stick up for herself.”

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