What Almost Happened

If it weren’t for the response of my 7-year-old son, my 4-year-old daughter might have perished on our swing set just before dinnertime yesterday. Seriously. Luke saved Sally’s life. Luke is my hero and I owe him more than I will ever be able to express.

My kids aren’t the calm, gentle type. On our swing set they play games that might make a parent of calm, gentle children nervous, but not me. I’m used to their horseplay. They climb on one another and tumble down the slide together. They jump from high up and swing with abandon. Usually their play ends with one of them getting hurt – just a little hurt, a skinned knee, bumped head – or an altercation that leads to normal, if annoying, hitting, kicking, or hair pulling. This is what siblings are all about.

As I stood yesterday at the kitchen sink I felt only bemused resignation as I watched Luke climb up Sally up the slide. I watched this, not knowing that what was actually happening was a near tragedy, stopped only by an act of sheer strength, quick thinking, and determination.

This was my view. I could see them absolutely clearly. I stood at the sink washing vegetables and watching the kids play on a lovely spring afternoon. Sally lay halfway down the slide and Luke climbed up from the bottom, up over her. If I thought anything, it was just, “This won’t end well,” which I find myself thinking a thousand times daily.

See that thing hanging down above the slide? That’s Luke’s old karate belt. It’s been a plaything for a while now. It spent a couple of weeks tied across that beam and hanging down the slide so the kids could climb it. Did I notice that it was now tied in a loop? I’m not sure. If I did, I didn’t register anything dangerous or amiss.

Sally did not put her head through the loop on purpose. She simply slid down the slide. But her head did go through the loop, and the belt tightened and held fast as she slid down. In an instant, she was hanging by her neck and unable to breathe.

She was helpless against what was happening to her. Luke immediately climbed up on top of her to try to release her neck from the belt. But the belt was so tight he couldn’t move it. He knew he had to push her back up the slide to release the tension. He knew that he had to push her back up the slide and get the belt off of her neck because otherwise she would die.

And he did it. With incredible strength of mind and body, my 7-year-old balanced himself halfway up the slide and lifted his sister enough to get the belt off from around her neck. He couldn’t lift her much. He had to use a lot of force and push her head back. Hard. He somehow lifted, pushed, and pulled as needed, while his sister stared at him wide-eyed, as her face darkened and she made a breathless gurgling sound that Luke says he will never be able to forget.

Meanwhile, I watched this happen. From my vantage point I couldn’t see the belt around Sally’s neck, just Luke laying on top of her in what appeared to be typical rough-housing play. It wasn’t until I saw Sally flop limply sideways and roll down as Luke bounded from the slide and came running towards the house screaming and crying did I notice anything was off. I stepped outside.

I expected to hear something normal like, “She pulled my hair.” I expected to say something normal like, “Well, you guys were playing rough and when you play rough someone always gets hurt.” But nothing was normal. Luke wasn’t just crying. He was sobbing like I had never seen before and becoming more and more hysterical. Sally took a moment, and then came running and crying too. Her neck was red and raw.

The three of us hugged for a long time while I pieced together what had happened. What had happened was that Luke stayed calm and cool in a very serious emergency, and he saved his sister’s life. Luke stayed level-headed when he had to, but as soon as it was over he had a full-blown physical panic attack. He kept saying, “I’ll never forget the sound she was making. It was the worst sound. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget it.” He shook all over. He hyperventilated. His legs collapsed from under him.

I abandoned the vegetables and we ate ice cream for dinner. I didn’t cry and smother my children in grateful affection. I had to remain calm and strong for my precious small girl who I very nearly lost, and my amazing brave boy who did a perfectly amazing brave thing.

Luke. Thank God for Luke.

The possible tragic endings of this story will always haunt me. Today I had the privilege of waking up to an ordinary day when I so easily could have been waking up to a nightmare, a life forever changed.

I might not have been standing at the kitchen window in that moment. What if Sally was out there alone, like she had been just a few hours earlier before Luke came home from school? What if Luke didn’t know to or wasn’t strong enough to lift her up and precious moments were wasted while I looked on completely unaware? What if the situation were reversed and it was Luke with the belt around his neck? Sally could not have saved him. Would she have come to find me fast enough?

Our hold on life is tenuous at best. I came too close to the unthinkable.

Stop Sally

I love the special magic that happens when a kid’s smartness intersects with her stupidness. I’m not saying my children are stupid people- they’re just children and all children are stupid people. So, yes, I guess I am saying that my children are stupid people. Anyway, my daughter loves to write.

Most of her writing is just senseless scribbles because she’s four years old, but she can write her name and suddenly can also write the word “stop.” This means that there are notes all over the house where she is apparently telling herself off.

Stop Sally

She tells herself off for banging on the bathroom door while I’m in there when she slides a note underneath that says, “Stop Sally.” Uh, yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

She tells herself off for calling to us after bedtime when she comes downstairs and hands me a “Stop Sally” note.

It’s perfect really. I can save my breath. I just need to teach her to write “Stop Luke” notes.

There’s only one reason

It started out happily, before I came to the realization that the gulf that separates me and my husband might be too big to bridge. Finally liberated from the long hellish winter, we began the process of readying our house and yard for spring. We spent the weekend raking, clipping, and trading out snow toys for warm weather gear. The kids “helped,” mostly by begging us to pull them around the yard on sleds. Which is hard. So I said no.

Lucky for them, Tim is much more fun and less lazy than I am. He stood sweating and catching his breath after finishing his umpteenth run around the yard dragging the kids behind him on a sled, when he suggested that I give it a go. “It’s actually a lot of fun. After all, running around, being active, and playing with the kids is the whole reason we work out at the gym.”

Um, what? This is when I fully understood the immense breadth of the chasm between us.

I don’t exercise so that I can just exercise more with my kids. WTF? Who does that? The ONLY reason I work out is to not be fat. That’s it. End of story. Any health benefits are secondary side effects. Certainly ‘the ability to run around at other times’ would never make a list of Reasons I Work Out if such a list needed to exist. Which it doesn’t. Because there’s just the one reason.

I wondered if I’m the only woman living with a fundamentally strange and misinformed man, so I asked my co-authors from I Just Want to be Alone what they thought.

Stephanie Jankowski from the blog When Crazy Meets Exhaustion understands: “My goal is to not have my thighs rub together as to prevent starting forest fires; his goal is to be ‘heart healthy.’ Meh.” 

Robyn Welling who blogs at Hollow Tree Ventures said, “I started a regular exercise regimen last week – exercise every day! So far I’ve stuck with it – and I have gained 4 pounds. My husband wants to lose 5 or 10 pounds too, but he figures the weight will come off in the spring when he starts working in the yard again. What pisses me off is that IT WILL.”

Kim Bongiorno of Let Me Start By Saying gets me, “I work out because sugar and cheese.”

Suzanne Fleet blogs at Toulouse and Tonic and she’s with me too. “Oh it’s all about not being fat. Otherwise, I’d just sit here and read a book instead of sacrificing that time to something so unenjoyable.” EXACTLY!

Christine Burke from Keeper of the Fruit Loops adds, “I run to support my eating and drinking habits. Case closed.”

Lynn Morrison from The Nomad Mom Diary definitely gets it. In fact, her essay in I Just Want to be Alone is called, “My Obnoxiously Skinny Husband,” in which she quips, “I’ll do almost anything to avoid conversations about my weight, but I draw the line at actual exercise.”

Rebecca Gallagher writes over at Frugalista Blog. She shared this story to demonstrate just how much her husband has no clue. “Once, my husband and I after dinner were arguing over the last bit of wine. I said, ‘You have it, it will save me some calories.’ He’s like, ‘Pfft, what’s a couple hundred calories?’ I’m all, “WHAT’S A COUPLE HUNDRED CALORIES?!! Says the man with Michael Phelps’ metabolism. Fuck you! I have to count calories or I’ll be a size 20. Asshole.’ He’s like, ‘Gosh, didn’t know it mattered.’ And this is why men can be douchewads.” That’s pretty much exactly what I think every night as my husband sits down to his after dinner bowl of cereal, and then his after bowl of cereal bowl of ice cream.

So I’m not alone in the world, just in my house. Between the children who choose running over walking in just about every scenario and my husband who confoundingly exercises so that he can better exercise at other times, I am an island in my limited tolerance for working out. If God wanted me constantly running around, he wouldn’t have given me so many bouncy parts.

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