My cell phone rings. I don’t recognize the number, but I answer it anyway.
A man: Hi, this is Tom from camp.
Who is Tom from camp? Neither kids have a counselor, junior counselor, or CIT named Tom. I also know most of the camp administrators’ names and Tom isn’t one of them. Who is Tom?
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic.
Do you know when the phone rings early in the morning or late at night and it’s your parents phone number on the caller ID and you wonder, Fuck, what’s wrong? Or, when the phone rings in the middle of the day and it’s your kids’ school on the caller ID and you think, Oh shit. That’s what this phone call from Tom the medic at camp feels like except the heart-racing, palm-sweating, and nail-biting part doesn’t come until after I hear the word “medic.”
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me.
He has Dylan. Not Riley. Good. Dylan. Not good. Dylan. My Dylan. My Monkey. My Pickle.
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He’s okay.
He’s okay. If he’s okay then why is Tom the medic from camp calling me?
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He cut his finger.
He cut his finger. He didn’t break his arm. Or his leg. Or his elbow. Or his foot. He didn’t hit his head. He doesn’t have a concussion. Or does he? No, he cut his finger. Did he cut his finger off? Is it lost? Did they find it and put it on ice? Maybe it’s hanging by a thread. Will they be able to reattach it? Will there be nerve damage? Which finger is it? Is it his writing hand? Oh my God. We have so many bleeping summer homework assignments that involve writing that we haven’t done yet. Maybe we can get a doctor’s note. Maybe we won’t have to write book reports and paragraphs about meeting aliens. His finger is cut. His finger is cut? His finger is cut!
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He cut his finger. He’s okay, but…
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He cut his finger. He’s okay, but we can’t stop the bleeding.
Can’t. Stop. The. Bleeding.
Tom: Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He cut his finger. He’s okay, but we can’t stop the bleeding. He might need a few stitches.
Me: I’m on my way.
When the call came, I was in the car and only about five minutes away from camp. On the short drive, I called my pediatrician’s office to see if I should take him there or elsewhere. “Elsewhere,” they said. Then, I called Mike to fill him in. Then, I called two Mama friends to see if they had an opinion on which ER I should take him to. Neither answered the phone. Bugger. Then, I called back the pediatrician’s office to ask them if they had an opinion on where to take him. They didn’t. Then, I began to cry.
A little over two years ago, Riley face-planted on a handicapped ramp at our preschool. I was right there when it happened. I handled it, but not particularly well. In fact, I have nothing but regret about the whole thing (i.e. I was a hot Mama mess.) I remember hearing countless stories about people who ran toward the bombing victims at the Boston Marathon and took off their own clothing to make tourniquets for the injured. When Riley fell (and bled and bled and bled), I did no such thing. Instead, I was like the Mama in Arizona who pulled her daughter out from the bottom of the swimming pool and then ran around the yard screaming like a maniac.
This time, though, was different. I knew Dylan was okay. Tom told me as much. I made a plan and mentally prepared myself for the impending anguish of shots and stitches, and, remarkably, the whole thing felt completely doable. The crying was because my six-year-old boy hurt himself. Because I imagined the blood scared him. Because I wasn’t there to hold him and kiss his face and say, “It’s okay, Mommy’s here. It’s okay. You’re okay.” Because I wasn’t there. Because I’m his Mama.
That’s why I cried.
In life – and in writing – I search for truth and lessons.
The truth is that what happened once I finally got to camp is far less important that what happened when Tom the medic from camp called and said, “Hi, this is Tom from camp. I’m the medic. I have Dylan here with me. He cut his finger. He’s okay, but we can’t stop the bleeding. He might need a few stitches.” I stayed calm. I kept my cool. I was practical and pragmatic, and I’m proud of myself for being able to hold Dylan’s hand without needing someone to hold mine.
The lesson is that just because I’ve been “that” Mama – the one running around screaming like a maniac – it doesn’t define me. Parenting is a daily practice, and every day is a new opportunity to change or do better or do different. Every day is another chance to make a tourniquet out of a t-shirt…or something like that.
The first thing I noticed when I finally locked eyes with my sweet boy and his finger wrapped heavily with gauze and bandages was that despite the severity of the wound, he was quite capable of sucking on a cherry red ice pop while surrounded by several doting female camp counselors. (Well played, Dylan. Well played.)
The rest of story unfolded like most of the adventures I have with my boys. There was good news (Glue instead of stitches!), bad news (The glue didn’t stick! Neither did the Steri-strip!), and lots of comic relief.
Riley set off the alarm at the first ER (yes, there were two ER visits) when he accidentally pulled the emergency string next to the toilet while he was pooping. Of course he had to poop while Dylan screamed in triage. My kids poop everywhere. Riley asked for privacy, so I was sitting with (screaming) Dylan across the hall from the bathroom when half a dozen medical professionals stormed in to save a patient in trouble only to find Riley sitting on the john doing his business while humming with his hand on the string. Of course!
Naturally, there were a few priceless conversations, too. At the second ER visit (after the glue peeled off prematurely), Dylan leaned over to me and said, “Mommy, I want to see dead people.” (Speechless? I was, too.) It just so happens that Dylan’s cut is on his middle finger. As a result, he has inadvertently flipped the bird to every Tom, Dick, and Harry he’s encountered over the last week in order to properly show off his injury. My husband explained that showing someone just the middle finger is a mean gesture, so, needless to say, he’s obsessed. A few days ago, when Riley told us that someone pushed him at camp, Dylan gave him an invaluable piece of advice. He said, “Riley, if someone pushes you, you don’t have to push him back. You can just show him your middle finger.”
Now if the phone rings in the middle of the day and the number is from camp or school, I’ll have to wonder, among countless other catastrophes, if it’s because Dylan has given someone a one-finger salute.
Thanks for the call, Tom!