Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Bad Scissors & Good Neighbors

It was only last June that Sylvia cut Eli's bottom lip clean in half with scissors. She was only 2-and-3/4 at the time; he was just a 6-month-old babe.

On that day, it seemed life slowed -- the tears, blood, and hospital images entered my brain in half-motion.

That day, Eleanor, Sylvia, and I worked on a tie-dye project in the artroom, while Eli flapped his arms like a baby bird and pecked at the various toys on the circular outer rim of the exersaucer located in the adjoining room. This very lame version of tie-dye required one to tie dye-soaked strings around a shirt and then soak it in water. We had our shirts, the string, and the craft scissors. This wasn't a scissoring project; we only needed them to cut the string to appropriate lengths. Hence, my Mama Danger Guard--which would usually require all scissor-wielding children to be figuratively glued to their chairs, where I could watch them with a burning hot eye-- was lax. At first I wasn't concerned when Sylvia left the room for a minute. Then, just as I rose to check on her, I heard it: the heart-wrenching, soul-piercing scream of my precious baby boy.

Let me just clarify: my Eli is not, and was not then, one who cried. For the first few months of his life, he was so happy, content, and mellow, that I sometimes wondered aloud whether something was wrong with him. (I stopped doing this when Tobin-- in an uncharacteristically straightforward way-- said, "Would you please stop saying that? He is perfectly healthy and normal. He's just happy!") I had not built up any tolerance to his crying, having rarely been exposed to it. Thus, the sound of this cry pushed my big, red panic button with the searing intensity of a hot fire poker.

I ran to Eli, and saw nothing but blood. Blood everywhere: all over the saucer, his hands, his face. It took a second to determine the source, but it quickly became obvious, as his lip spewed blood like a miniature geyser.

And there was Sylvia, standing in front of him, still holding the weapon of his lip's destruction, staring alternately at me, then at Eli, her face wordlessly asking, "How did that happen?"

I scooped Eli up and held him to my chest. I grabbed a cloth diaper and applied pressure to his lip. My mind raced for a solution: Call 911? Go to the neighbor for help? Call Tobin? All the while, my mouth babbled incoherently, and entirely without my permission, "oh God, oh God, oh God."

"Mama, you are making me feel scared with those words," Eleanor exclaimed, and the terror in her eyes jump-started my panicking brain. Okay, I have a plan for this. I can do this, I thought.

"Sit on the couch and do not move until I come back," I said to the girls. They quickly scrambled to comply, guessing that their obedience would help their brother. I carried Eli across the street to Ruth's house, a 70-something neighbor who is usually home during the day. I can't imagine the sight she saw when she opened her door to me. Later she told me that Eli was actually smiling at her from behind the cloth, and I was the only one crying. I asked her to watch my girls, quickly explaining that I needed to take Eli to the E.R. She said she could but they'd have to come to her house because she was also watching her Grandson, who was sleeping in the back room.

I flew down the stairs from her house to retrieve my girls, adrenaline now coursing through me in full-force. Half-way across the street, I was met by Leslie, a 40-something mother of 4 children spanning ages from 16 down to 8. In her wisdom, she didn't ask me what happened. She simply said, "What can I do to help you?"

"Go get my girls and take them to Ruth's house, please," I replied, and she did so with such haste that she beat me back to my van, where I was strapping Eli into his carseat. "I'll drive you," Leslie said, instantly relieving my mind of the burden of how I would drive and comfort Eli simultaneously. "Where should we go?" Leslie asked, and I turned the question back to her, knowing her husband is a doctor, and thinking that she'd know the best place. "Children's Hospital," she replied, and then drove me there without incident.

By this time I had recovered most of my sensibilities. My brain scrolled through all of the Emergency Information that I'd stored away from perusals of various sources. I obeyed a tip I once read on BabyCenter that said you should call your primary care doctor on the way to the E.R. so that (s)he can coordinate your treatment, and perhaps get you bumped to the front of the queue.

After Eli & I were settled in at the E.R., and Tobin arrived (via special drop-off from his van-pool buddies), Leslie departed-- taking a taxi home-- so that she could relieve Ruth of my children, since Ruth had a prior evening plans. Eli waited his turn on my lap, tears long dried, and smiled at each and every person who bothered to look his way. Yes, I said he smiled, in the ultimate testament to his cheerful nature and persevering character: each half of his bottom lip dangling wildly, now free to dance to its own tune rather than in unison.

It was revolting. I finally asked the nurses, "Um, I don't mean to sound rude, but would you mind not smiling at my baby anymore? He can't stop smiling back at you and I fear it will make his lip worse, or make me pass out from the look of it."

While we waited at the hospital-- to be seen, to be assessed, to be stitched up by the mercy-wielding hands of a kind plastic surgeon-- I called another neighbor, Seattle Mamacita, who is in our neighborhood playgroup as well as baby-sitting co-op, and asked her to pick up my girls at Leslie's house and take them home for bed.

Then, after leaving Eli with Tobin in the exam room for a minute so that I could use the restroom, I came back into the room to meet a woman who started asking a lot of questions. I wasn't quite sure who she was since she hadn't introduced herself, but I assumed she was one of the many doctors that we'd been waiting to see. Tobin stopped the conversation after a few of the woman's questions, saying with a meaningful raise of the eyebrow, "Ally, this is so-and-so, one of the social workers from the hospital."

Oh, those kind of questions, I thought. These are the kind of questions I see playing out in my caseload at work. Only this time I am the Bad Mother, miscast in this terrible drama as the one whose parenting ability is to be examined under the light of the CPS microscope. "Do you have any history of alcohol or drug use? Are you involved in a domestic violence relationship,?" she asked, and I replied, "No, no," but thought, why would you ask me that question right in front of my partner? If I were in a DV relationship you know I wouldn't be able to answer in front of the abuser! What kind of training did you get, anyway?

"What will you do differently the next time your child wants to use scissors," the Social Worker asked, the syrupy sweetness of condescension dripping from her words. Tempted to answer her patronization with baby-talk, I resisted, knowing full well that only the fine gauze of her judgment shielded my family from a CPS report. Finally, she pronounced, "Well, this sounds like an isolated incident, and I don't think a report to CPS is appropriate." Having shrunk down, down, down, until I was nothing but a miniscule morsel of mama-ness, I squeeked my reply in a tiny, tiny voice: "Okay, thanks. Thanks so much for that. Now I'm still in the running for the Parent of the Year Award." But she didn't hear me, because I was way too small.

I could tell you next how agonizing it was to watch the needle thread my son's lip back together, how he actually turned his head toward the needle in an attempt to nurse on it because he was so hungry at that point, how even when the reconstruction was complete he couldn't nurse because everything was too numb, and how the whole experience of watching my child suffer and being powerless to stop it took a few days off my lifespan.

Instead, I'd like you to hear the beautiful part: that which happened when I got home. But first, recall with me my favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie, entitled, "A Harvest of Friends." Here, Pa goes into debt to start up the Ingalls farm. Just when he needs to harvest his field, he falls out of a tree (trying to rescue Laura's kite at the church picnic, that loveable and handsome Pa!), breaking four of his ribs. Laid up, Pa agonizes about how he will get his crop harvested and loaded into the wagon to take into Sleepyeye to sell.

Do you remember this episode? It culminates as all of the male townspeople come to Pa's rescue: they harvest and bag the crop, then form a line of muscles, passing the bags down the line until they are safely deposited into the wagon. Pa lays, propped up on his elbows, in the corner of the store-house, tears running down his face, grateful beyond words for the generosity of his friends.

This is how I felt when we returned from the hospital. Because this is what greeted me at home:

the smell of freshly-baked banana bread, which Seattle Mamacita helped my girls to bake, before she gently tucked them into their beds and cleaned up all of the blood in my house so that I wouldn't have to see it again;

a torrent of emails, starting with Bgirl's Call to Action, which stated, "I don't know any details, but Eli had to go to the hospital today, and our neighbors may need our help... please reply with your availability regarding providing childcare for the girls, meals, treats, or other services;"

and a phone message from TCE, who had seen me leaving for the hospital, stating sweetly, in her usual understated way, "it looks like there was a stressful situation over there today and I'm just calling to see if there's anything you need."

As a family, we learned two lessons last June.

Lesson One: even small craft scissors can hurt. Sylvia's 2 year-old brain connected the dots quite nicely the next day: "Scissors are only for paper. Eli's not paper." Well stated, child. Glad to hear you figured that out.

Lesson Two: there's nothing like the love of good neighbors to heal what ails you.


I've written this post as the first of a series that explores the idea of being a good neighbor, getting to know your neighbors, and the simple idea that neighbors knowing their neighbors could change the world. If you'd like to write anything along these lines, please send me the link as a comment to this post and I'll reference it in a list at the end of this series.


KC said...

What a wonderful network of neighbors you have- how beautifully they carried you through this ordeal. I'd like to be that neighbor, to be in that neighborhood.

Little Monkies said...

There is something truly special about neighbors...your neighbors in particular as I know them and love them dearly...but I too have been the beneficiary of neighbors' help and love. Too many times. I remember well long talks on your couch, the thoughtful welcoming note you left me when we first moved there, the ease of knowing that if anything went down, you women would be there to help.

It was not only comforting, but a safety net.

Reading this, I miss you all so and can't wait to see you soon. We all wish for these kinds of lives for our family. What a blessing when you find it.

Love you!

slouching mom said...

What a story! Gripping. Too bad for all concerned that it's not fiction.

But the neighbors you have! Lovely, lovely, lovely... I wish I could have such neighbors.

Any houses near you for sale? ;)

The Times Blog Critic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Times Blog Critic said...

A real tear jerker to be sure, but come on, this is way too long. Try to keep it to a short novel next time.

Mamma said...

What an incredible story. I cannot imagine how stressful that was. My hair greyed a bit more reading--thank you very much I just dyed it last week!

Good neighbors and friends are indeed a blessing I was thinking about today as well.

Glad you stopped by. Gave me a great chance to discover a wonderful new to me blog.

Nancy said...

I was riveted by this story, and glad everything turned out OK.

Sounds like you have some truly amazing neighbors and friends. Wow.

Does Eli have a scar?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story!!!

All of it. So glad he is well and you are surrounded by all that love!!!

Seattle Mamacita said...

"scissors are only for paper. eli's not paper. glad you figured that out child." ally you can sprinkle an intense piece with some real crack up lines. seriously though i love your idea of exploring the simple concept that "neighbors knowing their neighbors could change the world" because i feel so lucky to live here and it has definitely changed my own mental landscape.

Worker Mommy said...

Thank you so much for this post. As you know I can totally relate. Talk about taking days off of your life. Is there anything worse then seeing your children suffering and feeling powerless to help ?? Uggh!

You have excellent neighbors. Can I move next door ?

Oh, The Joys said...

What a good series idea!

jen said...

wow. what a wonderful, wonderful group of people. how lucky you all are. so very.

Ally said...

To answer Nancy's question: Eli has a scar in the middle of his bottom lip. It looks, well, like someone cut his lip in half. But really, the scar isn't noticeable. You might notice it after you'd spent a few minutes staring intently at his face; certainly not from a distance. My neighbor Leslie said, "hey, it's one good thing about the double-standard in this sexist world: since he's a boy this scar will just be sexy and tough when he grows up." That Leslie is a smart (and kind) woman.

Nancy said...

Yes, I agree -- scars are a badge of honor among the male members of society. :-)

Emily said...

I know it isn't the main point of the post, but "I fear it will make his lip worse, or make me pass out from the look of it" made me giggle.

Jenn said...

What a great idea for a series of posts.

And I was in a panic, right there with you. Although I'd like to think I'd remain calm, even a loose tooth has me cringing and gagging.

And I love the NTS: The boy is not paper. :)

bgirl said...

ally, i can only imagine the feelings you experienced then and now as you recount the story a year later. using this emotionally charged experience as a pathway to build our communities -- so like you, and so very much why i cherish you and our community. though at the time i wouldn't think it, i really miss my *basement* days just 3 doors down from you, and directly across from smamacita and little monkies. so glad i'm still just a walk away.

Lori said...

I really cannot even begin to imagine the horror of that moment! It made me queasy to even think about it!

My second boy has needed stitches twice, but both self-inflicted by normal rough and tumble play. Somehow the involvement of scissors really makes my stomach turn...

It does sound like you have wonderful neighbors!! You are very lucky!

Mary-LUE said...

Ouchity, ouch, ouch ouch!!!! Our son managed to split his lip open all by his lonesome, but it was more on the side of his mouth and kept together by the teeniest little strip of skin. That was bad enough, so I imagine what your child looked like was much worse.

This is a great idea for a series. Community has been a subject near and dear to my heart for many years now.

Julie Pippert said...

What fantastic friends!

And that story...those are the lightning quick moments that steal years from you.

Glad all turned out okay.

And good idea!

Rebecca said...

oh - youch! what a story. I can't believe he was still smiling after that.

And how wonderful to have such neighbours.

bubandpie said...

Not the main point of the story, I know, but that patronizing social worker!!! Can it be their policy to speak to all mothers of injured children as if they themselves were four years old?

Lawyer Mama said...

How scary that must have been for you but what fabulous neighbors you have!

painted maypole said...

Wow. That is heartwrenching to read. We are so lucky to have never been in an ER.

OK, I've read two of your posts and they both made me cry. That's it. I'm going to have to bookmark you.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to make sure you knew this was Janet from the 'other blog'...and not a stalker..

I changed spaces so I could vent like I have done...thanks for following me over.

nomotherearth said...

How did you organize your babysitting co-op? I'd like to start something like that myself.

And wow, you have good neighbours.

Ally said...

nomotherearth asks how the babysitting coop was organized. I will be wriring about this in detail in an upcoming post, so please stay tuned! It is too complicated to write in a comment, but I think one post will do the trick!

Quirky said...

Beautiful post. I linked to it on my blog.

Daisy said...

Awesome Post - I also linked on my blog.

slouching mom said...

Ally, I've got no e-mail address for you. Would you mind -- at your convenience -- changing the link to my site to I'm leaving Blogger one of these days.

Her Grace said...

You write beautifully. I felt like I was right there with you. It's a great post, and most of all, I'm glad everyone came through it.

(Came to you through Serving the Queens.)

Nick said...

I like your idea about knowing your neighbors. I live in a completely different neighborhood than you do. But I think that it pays to know your neighbors. The section of town that I live in is called felony flats. Supposedly it has a higher crime rate than the rest of town but I have never experienced anything bad in this section. The area is so bad that the main road that runs through the town has a bridge over this section so you don't have to think about the people that live there. This area is made up of low income housing, apartments, and university housing. Quite the mix.
A true taste of the neighborhood began when we moved into our current appartment. We had a big Uhual truck full of all our goodies and we were pulling up to the appartment right as the sun was setting. At this point all of the neighbors came out of their appartments and watched us move all our stuff. This was a little bit creepy. Keith swore that they were watching us move our computers and electronics so they could steal it and sell it for drugs. The next day we went to Lowes and bought locks for all of the windows so we didn't have to worry about anything going wrong.
As we were unpacking all of our stuff we introduced ourself to our neighbors. Steve and Marie live right below us. They have a bed in the living room where Marie spends most of her days lieing in bed trying to deal with the MS that she has. All the neighbors come over to this house because she has medicinal marijuana that everyone enjoys. They have eight birds in their living room and a whole room where a abandoned squirell lives. They really love animals so they feed the local stray cats 2 packs of 79 cent hotdogs a day, fill 4 different bird feeder, and penut butter for the squirels.
At first Steve seems rough around the edges. He has a non stop flow of people that come over and then leave. He wears a worn out jacket with numbers on the back of it that looks like the prison numbers( he says it is the numbers for the bird flu, I don't know if this is accurate).
Since we have moved in I have gotten to know steve better and his story about how he has a hard time finding a nurse that will come and take look at marie periodically. At one point he was thinking that he was going to move Marie and himself out onto the streets because no one would take care of marie. He said that he has done this before and he wasn't scared. He started selling off all of his birds, but he called enough people in the state government and they found a person that will come and take care of Marie.
I feel better that I know Steve. He might be scary but I know that he will always be home looking out to make sure that nobody is stealing things from the neighborhood. We hardly use the locks on the windows.
We have a young Mexican family that lives next door. There are three little girls the oldest being 10 and I am not for sure how old the youngest is. They play out in the yard all day turning on the sprinkeler and running through it. They have made freinds with the in laws of the family below them. It is definitely an interesting mix in our four apartment complex.
Felony flats is a section of town where people are down on their luck. For $425 a month for a two bedroom appartment it seems fitting. I enjoy my neighborhood, I don't know if I would necessarily trust them with one of my kids if I had one, but I know that are keeping an eye to make sure that everything is going alright. I am sorry for the length. Nick.

Duck Doc said...

I remember this day but told through the much different perspective of a great-grandma whom I happened to call the next week. It sounded scary enough through her eyes, but I didn't get the same sense of control and help from neighbors. I am glad you had people to help you - it's a nice world we live in where giving to others means someday they might help you right back ;-) I wish it happened more that way ore often - I think the biggest problem is that many times we feel bad asking for help from others. Thanks for your wonderful writing cous, I appreciate your ability to bring your experience to life and inspire others to action!

slouching mom said...

Here's a link to the cars, if you're still interested:


(They're pretty small, so I'd say they're better for the 3-and-older set.)

Worker Mommy said...

I'm missin Zone Mama . I hope your absenteeism from the blogosphere is because you're having a terrific vacay ! And are sipping fruity cocktails w/umbrellas
And not anything like too much housecleaning ....

Jenn said...

OK, just want to verify that your last post was about a month ago and that I don't need to repeatedly keep pressing "refresh" on my browser.