My daughter went down a slide the other day. She goes down slides most days, but this one was different. There’s a great big slide in our town that has a hill under it instead of a ladder, which is awesome as it means even really little kids can wander up to the top on their own. She’s 20 months old, much better at walking and sliding than climbing, so it’s a lovely thing to have nearby.
My little girl went down it a few times, laughing her head off and shouting “Again! Again!” after each slide. She was having great fun, and when a bigger girl – still a toddler though – suggested the pair of them slide down together, it seemed like a lovely thing.
I was at the top, my wife was at the bottom – it should have been a laugh, a cute little journey down the slide with her big new friend. But something went wrong, and halfway down, the girl she was sitting on half-rolled, and my little girl smacked her eye against the side of the slide.
Shit! I jumped down the slide and we picked her up and cuddled her, but the damage was done. She had her first ever injury – her eyelid had a cut across it, and she’d somehow had half of her eyelashes pulled out.
Now, obviously, at some point she was going to hurt herself. You can’t learn about the world without falling off a few things, and my wife and I are both very much in favour of raising a gung-ho kid who gets stuck in, rather than being all nervy and overprotective of her. This was an inevitability.
But I was gutted. I burst into tears as soon as I saw the blood – I thought for a second her actual eyeball might be bleeding – and spent the rest of the day an emotional wreck. I was exhausted, I’ve been unwell, and she’s so little and funny and beautiful, and I’d hurt her. Well, I hadn’t, but I felt like I had.
Rationally I knew this was just one of those things that happens. Maybe letting her go down the slide on the knee of someone who was manifestly a toddler wasn’t the cleverest parenting move ever, but nine times out of 10 it would have been fine, and I’d definitely rather raise a daughter who fell off things and got back up with a few bruises than one who was scared to do anything.
Irrationally, I was consumed by guilt. I cried for longer than she did, which made me feel even guiltier that I was being self-indulgent rather than dealing with the problem. Immediately after it happened, I would have gladly given up one of my own eyes for her not to be hurt. Given time to calm down and reflect, I realised that would be really silly. And in my defence, I got stuff done. I just got it done while crying and saying sorry and watching my daughter’s face get less and less symmetrical as the skin around her eye swelled up.
She’s doing fine. With an ice pack, the swelling went down and now she looks like a boxer at a post-fight press conference, all smiley and happy with a big purple bruise around her eye. It shows up more when she’s asleep, that seems worse somehow – like my idiocy is hurting her when she’s at her most peaceful.
But I still felt like the worst father in the world, especially when explaining to her nursery why my toddler looked like she’d been in a boxing ring. Again, rationally, I know nobody was thinking I had biffed her in the mush (an idea I can only think of in silly terms, because even thinking about such a thing in real terms is extraordinarily upsetting).
The world is a big dangerous place and we’ve all got a few dents in our heads. I’ve fallen off some pretty interesting stuff in my life, and I would never want my daughter to miss out on the joy and excitement that comes with taking occasional silly risks.
But I was less ready for the reality of her taking a hit than I thought. In a heartbeat she went from my big clever girl to a tiny hurt baby. Next time anything happens to her, I’ll be more stoic and practical, and just deal with what’s going on, rad and unflappable. At least that’s what I tell myself.