On My Watch


September 22, 2011 by themommahen


It pains me to write this. I mean it makes my stomach flutter and twist and turn, like I’ve got a roller coaster full of wildly flapping bats inside me, and I feel like my heart is thumping in my throat, trying to jump out, to get away from the roller coaster that is directly underneath it.

My baby, exactly a week away from turning one year old, fell down the stairs two days ago.

Three stairs.

Ceramic tile.

In a stroller.

Under my watch.

And landed on his face.

His face.

I can’t stop the replay in my head. Like any horrific event, I see it in slow motion and as an out-of-body-experience. Me standing at the stove, the quesadillas in danger of burning and the chicken rice soup about to boil over. I turn to put the cheese back in the refrigerator and turn back around, reaching to turn the burners down. I look up and I see the stroller. The one I used with the first two hatchlings, the very first stroller I ever got, the first one I ever pushed, still pregnant with H#1 still in the womb, anticipating the baby to come and the babies I hoped for. The one that finally had to be replaced when H#2 broke the last remaining wheel brake. The one we only use around the house so I can leave the replacement one in the car. The one that I told my own mother to never, ever, ever use anywhere near stairs. That stroller. With my almost one-year-old in it, at the top of three stairs, rolling down.


What the…


Oh my God.



I screamed. Three times. I can still hear my own voice, shrill and shrieking. I feel like my feet didn’t touch the floor, as if I was carried to the spot where the stroller lay, on top of my child, face down on the hard floor. The floor we always remind the kids about.

“Remember, anything that falls on the floor breaks into a million pieces. So be very, very, careful!”

I don’t remember turning the stroller right side up, with my baby still in it, and unstrapping him. I do remember expecting to see blood everywhere, and when I didn’t it was shocking to me. Even scarier in a way. I remember—though I desperately want to forget—the sickening smacking noise when his precious, vulnerable and still forming skull made when it hit the floor. His screams were muffled at first, as he was face down on the floor, for, what? Half a second maybe? I was moving towards him when the stroller hit the first step, thinking, improbably (and in hindsight, I know I wasn’t really thinking, I was reacting) that I could get there before the stroller hit the bottom. That I could save him.



As I get him out, he shrieks in fear and pain. And it tears through my heart. Then I yell for the husband, who is outside tending to the chickens. He has already heard my screams and is halfway back to the house, running in, totally panicked, because I am usually the calm one.

Before he can even ask me what happened, I start babbling, my voice shaking, high, shrill.

“The stairs. He fell down THE STAIRS. On his FACE”

“What the hell was he doing up there?”

The husband motions towards the walker and the steps and I realize he thinks the baby was in the walker. Does he think I’m stupid? Of course I wouldn’t put my baby in a walker at the top of steps. My mom bought it. I have always heard that walkers are accidents waiting to happen, but H#3 is so active and wants to move so badly, I admittedly have used it a handful of times. Never at the top of the stairs. Who would put a baby in something at the top of three steps in something that has wheels? Oh right, me. The stroller has wheels and NO BRAKES. IDIOT.

“He was in the STROLLER. The STROLLER.”

The husband’s face relaxes a bit, but I continue

“I had it up there with the wheels turned. I turned away for a minute and he must have rocked, hard enough to move it towards the steps. He fell on his FACE.”

I shrieked the last part. The husband’s face hardens, not meaning to judge, but unable to hide the fact that he was, at least a little. I would too.

“WHY in the HELL do we still have this piece of shit?! And why…I have said over and over, this shit shouldn’t be used at the top of the stairs. I don’t understand…Why do we keep using crap on wheels at the top of the stairs?!”

“It’s my fault, all my fault.”

I whimper, feeling stupid for even saying the obvious. Of course it’s my fault. Pull yourself together, girl.

He slaps the stroller, knocking it towards the wall. He’s furious, because he has been saying it. My dad too. They hate that the high chair and the stroller are waiting places for H#3 and they both have wheels. He just likes to move and he is constantly rocking back and forth, and it makes the men of the house nervous. Us women? We know what we’re doing. It’s fiiiine.

“We’re right here,” we laughingly say. Silly men.

Inside, my core is in full meltdown with the knowledge that this is all my fault. Poor judgment. Incredibly poor judgment, and I know better, knew better when I put him in the stroller. Did that thing all busy moms do or have done at one point or another. Ignored the alarms.

“I probably shouldn’t do this. It’s just for a minute. It’ll be fine. I’ll keep a close eye. I’ll be right there.”

H#3 is still wailing. H#1 wide-eyed, is taking it all in. H#2 is on the sofa, sick, yelling “Mommy, what happened?” in his hoarse little voice. H#1 comes over, inexplicably, to hug me and try to tell me it’s okay.

I frantically grab my phone, trying to dial the pediatrician. I’m sure she’ll tell us to go to the ER.

I can’t find the after hours number. Why the HELL don’t I have the after hours number in my phone?! I simultaneously cradle the phone between my shoulder and my ear (this does NOT work with smartphones), held my still-screaming-almost-one-year-old-baby and typed with the other hand trying to find the number online, all the while straining to hear the never-ending automated message at my ped’s office, of which the after hours number is approximately a full minute in. A minute has never seemed so long. And on top of that, the husband, who has now calmed down a tad, is trying to tell me H#3 is fine (he’s whimper-laughing at the husband’s efforts to get a laugh out of him) and we don’t need to call the doctor. I’m in disbelief.

“You didn’t SEE it, I shouted, louder than I meant to. It was HORRIBLE. He fell on his FACE. His FACE!! On this stone floor. STONE! You didn’t see it. You didn’t see it!”

As if he didn’t already know that. It was as if I thought repeating it was some form of self-flagellation, as if the words could pelt me with their sting of truth and fault.

Finally, I hear the number and I dial it. Fumbling and shaking, I have to dial it twice. H#3 has stopped wailing and is repeatedly hitting himself in the face with his fist, almost as if he’s telling me, “Mommy, I fell down. On my face. On my FACE.”

I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry.”

I rock and say it over and over again, whispering.

The doctor answers. It’s the lead doctor and I just saw her within the past week, when H#1 was so sick. I remind her of that and then tell her quickly I’m not calling about H#1 and explain what happened. She goes through a list of questions with me:

“Did he ever lose consciousness?”


“Did he cry?”


“What about his teeth, did he damage his teeth?”

“Not that I can tell.”

“Is there blood?”

“Shockingly, no.”

“Is that him I hear in the background?”


“Is he laughing?” She’s surprised.

“Yes.” Not as surprised as me.

“But,” I explain, “he was in a stroller and went down three steps and fell on his face, on a stone floor. On his FACE.”

“Well,” she says thoughtfully. (I love her.) “It sounds like he’s okay.”

Just then, H#3 starts pulling at my shirt. He wants to nurse, to calm himself down, to comfort himself. I realize I hadn’t even tried that, hadn’t even offered, and as someone who has now nursed three children for the first year of their lives and has used nursing through the first 12 months as comfort through vaccines, booboos and illnesses, I now wonder if I was so mad at myself, I didn’t think there was any way I could comfort him. But maybe I’m thinking too much. Entirely possible.

“He’s nursing right now,” I tell the doc as H#3 falls silent. “That’s a good sign, right?”

“Yes, that’s a very good sign,” she says.

We finished up, she told me what to watch out for, what signs would warrant a trip to the ER (vomiting more than once, FYI) and she finished by trying to make me feel better.

“I think what we’ve got here is just a little bump of knowledge,” she said before we hung up.

A little bump of knowledge. I think about that as I sit there on the steps the stroller bumped down, nursing my baby, watching the bruise on his face, running slanted down his face, turn blue. I am amazed that’s all there is. A bump of knowledge. For him? I hope not, because the only knowledge he could gain from that is that Mommy can’t protect him from everything. He’s too young to learn that, that’s what the teen years are for. But worse, Mommy was the one who put him there in the first place.

Yes, I know, we can’t protect our children from all that can harm them. Accidents happen. And this was an accident. I know that. But it was an accident that resulted from me ignoring my common sense, or taking a shortcut, or not using my better judgment, and it’s those momentary flashes of warning that, if ignored and the worst-case scenario happens, we relive for a very long time—sometimes forever. I’ve had those moments and usually I heed the warning sirens in my brain, but occasionally I rationalize it away, almost always because I’m in a hurry. Like two days ago, when I needed to finish cooking dinner and my baby was crying. I should have put him in his high chair and given him something to play with, but the tray was dirty. So I opted for the stroller.

I don’t mean to be a downer. Things like this happen every day. My baby is fine, thank God. Save for a “bump of knowledge” for Mommy and a barely detectable bruise on his face, he’s miraculously fine. There’s a happy ending to this story. And the husband rallied that evening, reminding me that I’m a good mother, telling me to cut myself some slack, reminding me that after weeks of everyone in the house being sick except for me, I’m exhausted. And he’s right. But I guess if I’m trying to do anything with this story other than serve as selfish catharsis for myself, it’s to remind myself to heed my inner voice. Accidents happen. I can’t control nor change that, but I can be sure that it’s not my poor judgment that causes it.

2 thoughts on “On My Watch

  1. Anonymous says:

    Truly frightening. I am so glad you, and your sweet baby, are both okay. My mother, who had five kids, can list a long list of crazy things that happened on her watch. I love her dearly and am a true believer you cannot forsee every possible accident every possible time. From one who knows….. don’t beat yourself up, just thank your lucky stars.

  2. Larisa Spillman says:

    Thank you Betsy. So ironic that I had read yours and Kristina's very personal and scary posts on your own experiences just weeks before this and had gasped aloud as I read them, knowing how easy it is for these things to happen…

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