You can’t catch everything. There’s no way to perceive all in this dizzily spinning world. I miss much I wish I would see. Friends’ pain. Children’s leaps forward. Great books, persuasive arguments. My many faults and strengths. It’s impossible to drink fast enough to take it all in. I’m uncertain I would even want to be that perceptive; I’d drown.
It makes me wonder how much of my children’s experiences and emotions I’ll miss in the next twenty years. The things I’ll misinterpret and the things they will hide from me.
I have a very specific super hero fantasy. I imagine that I am capable of being present at the exact moment before something goes wrong. I am unbelievably small and unimaginably large. I see the very first cancer cell and destroy it. I make blood carry more oxygen, cause a car to turn down another street. Instead, I am human, fallible and small. I miss an ear infection for two weeks. I would never know the moment something larger went wrong inside of someone I love. I lack the power to divine dangers lurking around sunny corners.
A friend told me a story that lives in my head. I think of it a lot, with tears in my eyes. It was her young daughter’s first swimming lesson. Her little girl sat with the other toddlers, lined like sparrows on the edge of the pool. My friend sat in the observation room a floor away and watched through the glass. She watched the teenage instructor take each child out into the pool to practice floating, turning her back on the line of bright, wiggly swimmers. She watched her daughter, unseen by the instructor, slip off the side and sink to the pool floor. Pounding on the soundproof glass with her fist, she screamed for someone to notice her drowning child. A man poolside did notice and dove into the pool in a full business suit to save her life.
A close call. A miracle. A mother’s worst nightmare.
I straddled a narrow bench in the same type of observation room a few years ago, situated sideways so that I could watch and chat with friends. Quinn sat in front of me. He lost his balance and fell backwards off of the bench, head-first, maybe three feet, to the hard tile floor. A horrible smack echoed in the room. The other parents gasped. My friend’s husband, a doctor, leaped up and headed toward us before I had even processed what happened. He looked scared by the noise of my son’s head hitting the ground.
I wasn’t watching Quinn. I wasn’t really watching my small swimmers either. My head was turned to the side, away from all of my children, my mind engaged in conversation. But, my hand wedged between Quinn’s head and the floor. I don’t know how. I must have felt him go backwards somewhere in my subconscious. I caught him by one ankle and his head smashed my other hand into the floor.
Instinct? Luck? Both?
That’s the crux of it. That’s what keeps me awake some nights. There are no predictions. No guarantees. Sometimes, your hand is right there, between your precious child’s head and the cement, and you don’t even know how it got there. Other times, you are too late, too far away, too slow, too small, pounding uselessly on soundproof glass, hoping against hope for someone else’s hand.
In this now, they are still young, they still tell me things when I ask, still share their thoughts and their fears and their dreams. I wish on a million stars for this now to last just a little bit longer.