I lay by the side of the road, deep gash in my knee and bike on top of me. My first thought is of my 3-year-old son, who has been riding with me.
I remember at one point trying to get myself upright, struggling for breath a little as I was contorted and trying to protect my injured knee. I was panicking with worry about Rory, thinking that I couldn’t take care of him in my current state. I was supposed to be watching over him and making sure he was safe in this unfamiliar territory, and I was injured, badly. Bikers and vehicles whizzed by, and he was nearly in the middle of the road.
Fortunately, this incident occurred on a supported bike ride, which was well-staffed with a county constable, an EMS person on a motorcycle, and an ambulance standing by. We ended up taking advantage of all of their services, along with those of the nearest emergency room. It took 24 stitches in all — 5 on the inside and 19 on the outside — to close the wound. It was so deep they took X-rays to make sure the bone wasn’t damaged.
Though I’m now in my early forties, this was my first experience getting stitches. And I still (knock wood) have never had a broken bone. I’m very unaccustomed to, and uncomfortable with, being physically helpless. Especially when I’m in mothering mode — which is most of the time when I’m around my kids.
It struck me that even though I’d just had one of the worst injuries of my life, my main concern was keeping Rory calm and unafraid, reassuring him that he’d be taken care of, and that I would be OK. Thankfully, I had a lot of help. “My mommy has blood,” he told the EMS technician when he showed up on his motorcycle. The constable offered Rory a temporary tattoo and got him a banana and water from our bike trailer. The EMS guy offered to let him sit on the motorcycle — he declined. On the ride to the hospital in the ambulance, the man looking after me patiently answered all of Rory’s questions about the inner workings of the vehicle. (He had a 3-year-old son at home.)
It almost got too Rory-centric. The emergency room nurse got him a chocolate pudding and some juice while I — who had also just (nearly) completed a bike ride, and had a big gash in my leg to boot — began to get really hungry. There’s a message in there somewhere about putting on your oxygen mask first.
Everything turned out fine — especially once we got in touch with my husband, whose cell phone had broken the night before — but I was genuinely frightened there for a moment. I realized, viscerally, that I couldn’t take care of my child and keep him safe. Should I stop doing bike rides, I wondered. Is it too dangerous? Had my own selfish desire to regain a little of my pre-kids life put my son in danger?
The fact is that we can never completely protect our children. We’re only human, after all. And as mine get older and venture out more and more without me or my husband, our control will fade to an even greater degree.
Still, I recall my father, just a few weeks from death in his hospital bed, worrying about taking care of myself and my brother. You’ve done a good job, Dad, I reassured him. We can take care of ourselves now, and even take care of you, sometimes. But, that instinct, that worry, was there until the end.