For those of you that don’t follow us on Facebook, we had a pretty scary incident on Tuesday night. It brought me to question my own parenting. I wasn’t even home. I felt the blame rising up in me. My safety precautions coming under personal fire for what we could have done differently. After all this self-pity passed, I reached out to other parents for help.
I’ll preface this by saying Addie is OK, but on Tuesday night at 8:30pm, we didn’t know what was happening.
As the girls finished dinner and were heading up to bed, Millie got a little exuberant on the stairs and knocked Addie down the entire flight. At the bottom of the 12 steps Addie was dazed but conscious, bleeding from the back of her head. How bad? Dave didn’t know… didn’t know if her neck was hurt. Didn’t know.
I wasn’t even home, but at the theater, and I called during intermission just to say goodnight to the girls and the accident had just happened. Dave calmly, towel to her head, gingerly lifted her into the car, all limbs moving and answering questions. He could not fathom waiting for an ambulance. As it were, they were already en route to Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
I lost my breath, sprinting out of the theater through the streets of Providence, back to my car. The terror rising in my chest. Reaching a full-blown panic attack as I drove. I called my best friend screaming and crying, but she calmed me down enough to keep my car on the road, as she herself climbed into her own car and headed towards te hospital. When I reached Hasbro I ran in, still trying to catch my breath, and let them know what had happened. I let them know about Addie’s spine and that we weren’t sure the extent of her injury- if anything was broken, or her neck. Oh God! I was screaming in my head… her neck. I relayed that she had remained conscious.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the team that welcomed me. Calm demeanors, asking me gentle questions, calling for a stretcher. A c-collar… one of the smallest I’d ever seen. Two trauma specialists immediately responded when I walked in, gingerly holding Addie as close to me as I could, steadying her head against my shoulder, keeping my breath steady, my gait even.
My girl… absolutely breathtakingly strong the whole time. Her little body on a big stretcher, she crossed her arms when they told her to so they could roll her on a backboard, answered all of their questions- like her age and name, where it hurt, what happened. I couldn’t believe how calm, cool, collected she was… her dad and I both in shock, only not fallen apart because we held each other.
But, I guess the point of that initial interaction- the unknown- is that after the 4 hours we spent in the trauma unit of the emergency room, is that she ended up with two staples in the back of her head, no tears shed over them, and though she cried a bit during the night, she woke up very happy… in fact she demanded to wear a princess dress the next morning.
But how can we stop this from happening? How can we, parents of children with dwarfism, help their average height siblings understand and know their strength? Know their differences. As one parent mentioned to me, no matter how long anyone knows Addie, Millie is [probably one of] the only people that will ever see her sister as her. She won’t see Addie as special or different.
As a mother, this knowledge brings tears of joy to my eyes- that I know Millie will always understand- maybe even better than we do as her parents- they will share secrets, they will share stories, they will share memories and experiences that we will not be privy to. And they will also share fights, possibly physical- even in jest- that we need to prepare for. So after discussing with other parents, my own mother- who is a psychologist, and assessing our own situation:
* We do live in a two-story home
* We do require our children have independence- including but not limited to sending them upstairs for their own shoes, to put themselves in bed for nap time, or to go downstairs before bed if they’ve forgotten their water bottles and bring them upstairs
How can we continue to foster this independence while still creating the safest environment possible for our girls?
1. The first thing Dave and I have begun to do is discussing, in even deeper depth, keeping our hands to ourselves. I was very proud at the hospital when Millie said Fowwy Addie. Hands to body. Her apology with comments on keeping her hands to her own body means she knows that her push is what caused Addie to fall. She knew she did something wrong but in truth, she just doesn’t understand consequences yet. She can, however, understand hands to her own body, we don’t touch other people, and we certainly don’t push or shove or hit. I guess if we could look at it that way this was an important lesson for Millie to learn the consequences to her actions and why we don’t do these things.
Fall. Fall. Yes, Millie, Addie fell.
This method of repetition and teaching kids to keep their hands to themselves is something that obviously needs to be ingrained in our children, and at this age kids are pretty handsy, so we needed some other methods.
2. We have a gate at the top of the steps which Addie can open and Millie cannot, but we do not have one at the bottom. Dave and I are contemplating installing a railing at the bottom of the stairs so that we can have a gate, however this requires over $1,000 worth of work to replace the treads, the drywall, installation of the railing- so that also cannot be an immediate solution.
3. But… for the time being, we can send the girls up at separate times – Addie is welcome to walk up the stairs and then Millie to follow.
4. Something already in place is a lower railing. The railing we have is something that Addie can use- it’s not too low for an adult to use either- but it’s at a good height for Addie to reach. While I’m not entirely sure that she could have stopped herself from falling by grabbing the railing last Tuesday, we are still left figuring out if there is a need for another, lower railing.
5. The last step that we started taking so the girls understand their differences is openly discussing them. We’ve always talked about dwarfism- that’s not something we could ever hide- no need, of course, but we started discussing what their differences are. Addie and Millie both understand they need to respect personal space. In truth, if we take a moment and slow down to think, the idea that accidents like this can end lives will creep in. It is our duty to teach consequences and their severity; in part, it comes down to physics.
Addie simply cannot stop herself from most falls- she and Millie are different. Her body is different. Center of balance is different. Her muscle tone is different.
Her different is beautiful, perfect. But different is different. Until we start to discuss those differences and understand them, we aren’t doing our job as parents to a child with achondroplasia. So here we are, a few days out from our accident. It’s almost time to get the staples removed, almost time for Addie’s first dance recital, just ending our first tee-ball season. So many firsts over and so many yet to come. So many things in parenting I’ve yet to know.
And these are just a few ways that we’re trying now to help our girls understand each other better. Keep our girls safe at home. Not every negative situation is foreseeable or avoidable, but it is our duty only to let those situations pass. This is a reminder that accidents happen. That blame isn’t the direction we need to take. It’s a reminder that falls for our kids are often so much more then falls for an average height child- so much more goes into it. Concern involves knowledge of history… of past procedures, surgeries, details of what they involved, doctor’s information, hospital information, tests since those surgeries. It’s a reminder that things happen to good kids, who have good parents. It’s a reminder that we’re all doing the best we can.
It’s a reminder that we’re all human.
While my focus remains steadfast on children with dwarfism, my heart goes out to all parents. At some point, we’ll all be involved in an accident. We can pray it is minimal, of course. It’s because that one moment we weren’t there, our hand wasn’t on their shoulder, or they ran too fast. Where they were kids being kids and there was nothing we could do to stop the trauma. If we clip their wings before they can fly, they will only ever know to fall.
I would like to thank a few people now… who helped us in this:
My best friend for showing up late at night to comfort me, to comfort my girls, help translate some of the medical things that seemed to go right over my head, and lead to panic.
My mother-in-law for always being there. For coming over and staying with Millie so Dave and I could both be at the hospital with Addie. For staying so I could get some sleep. For being her. For giving me Dave.
My husband Dave for being a fast thinker. For being stoic. For being home. For being the most amazing father and husband any family could ask for.
To all of our friends and our amazing online support groups for sending love and prayers and good thoughts.
To Hasbro Children’s Hospital for their immediate action. For loving our girl the way we do- gently, but with urgency.
Our pediatrician, Dr. Andree Heinl, who called me back immediately when I left a message with the practice, called the hospital to check up on us, and again the next morning.
And finally to Bellani Maternity for their community… and for carrying the best stain treater ever which actually got a puddle of blood out of a white carpet with a little bit of elbow grease and some patience- as well as a car seat and dance tights.
Thank you to our community. I would love to know how you have handled unique conversations with your child. Where do you go for support?