Not long ago, a friend of mine who walks his dog down our street almost every evening knocked on our door. “You know your car doors are open?” he asked. “I thought maybe I’d find you alone in the back seat, mumbling to yourself.” Since March, he’s been sending me occasional text messages to check in, wondering how my wife and I are handling the social-distancing life with our five kids—ages two to nine—in our small house.
I told him that I hadn’t realized the car doors were open; I was a little frazzled. My wife was at the emergency room with our youngest daughter, who had fallen and hit her forehead on the corner of her bed. The kids had been playing together quietly in their room when suddenly my son ran out yelling, “Addie has a hole in her head! Addie has a hole in her head!”
My wife and I rushed in, and our three-year-old did, in fact, have a hole in her forehead. It was approximately the circumference of a pencil eraser, but it looked deep. My wife thought she could see part of Addie’s skull, and I freaked out. We loaded everyone into the car without putting their shoes on and sped to the children’s hospital fifteen minutes away, where one of the emergency-room docs scoffed at the possibility that my wife could see bone. Our daughter only needed a few stitches.
Still, this was one of several briefly terrifying moments we’ve experienced during quarantine. I’m not including the minor injuries, such as when our youngest managed to get his finger stuck in a vacuum and a strip of skin got sucked off. I’m talking about the kind of nauseating incident that seems, in the moment, like it could change your entire family’s trajectory.
A week or two after the ER trip, the same three-year-old stood up on one of our living-room chairs and somehow flipped herself over the back, hitting her head on the floor. From the kitchen, we heard that horrifying sound familiar to all parents—halfway between a thump and a crack—and rushed over to find her motionless on the ground, eyes glassy and unresponsive. For an agonizing fraction of a minute—twenty seconds? Forty-five seconds?—she remained limp even as we picked her up and shouted her name. But then she started crying, and half an hour later she was back to her normal, happy self, although her parents were deeply shaken. “Gotta hand it to these kids,” a doctor friend of mine said when I texted him about it. “They have pretty flexible skulls.”