Middle East
September 23
"Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey."


Benjamin_the_donkey's Links
JULY 13, 2009 9:29PM

Kids Fall Down All the Time

Rate: 9 Flag

I was shopping  with my son a few days ago. It was a Saturday, and the aisles at Carrefour were full of the full range--the careful elderly, goofball university students, young couples with strollers, the stolidly middle-aged. Nicholas, being the cute and gregarious kid he is, was eliciting smiles and waves from everyone. I noticed one particularly pretty young woman smiling and making goo-goo eyes at him from across the onions and potatoes. Then I noticed the stroller she was pushing, and the little girl inside. The whole side of the girl's face was one huge bruise.

This would stun anyone, but I have my own set of issues with this. Abuse of a child or animal is the biggest, reddest button on my control panel. My whole body clenched as I watched them move away. I wondered. The woman seemed genuinely sweet and gentle--and unselfconscious-- as she bent down to speak to her daughter. Yes, appearances can be deceptive, but, intuitively, it didn't add up. Had I jumped to a very wrong conclusion?

Then the father appeared. He was tough guy. Shaved head, bunchy arms, punchy face, squinty eyes, what looked like a perpetual sneer. My hackles were up again, the alarm bells clanging. He and the woman had paused, talking closely. Then she raised her head and looked over at me; they both looked, and walked my way. I waited.

"How old is your son?" The guy's English was good, almost perfect. My mental gears jammed for a second before they changed and I answered, "One year and a nine months."

"He's so big!" said the woman. They both smiled approvingly down at Nicholas, who smiled back.

I looked again at their girl, sleeping now. The whole side of her face was, in fact, bruise-colored. But the edges of the color were clean, sharply defined. No swelling. She had the same discoloration on her thigh, a big patch the shape of Greenland. It was a birthmark.

The couple and I talked for a few minutes. The man was interested when I said I had many spent years in New York. He had lived in Queens himself, during and after university. It was a pleasant chat. Before leaving, he gave me his card. They ran a restaurant in the city.

When does one intervene? How much evidence is enough? Wasn't this Hamlet's quandary?

And: those poor people. How many others had made the same mistake? How many never realized it was a mistake?

Three months ago, a week before his brother was born, Nicholas, being his usual fearless self, took a dive off the bed and landed flat on his face on the floor. The sound--flesh, bone and cartilage in a losing contest with hardwood--knotted my guts, before I turned him over and saw, through the tears, that there wasn't much damage. Just a brief nosebleed and what promised to be quite a shiner.



The little brawler


Over the next few days, Nicholas, outgoing as always, continued attracting attention. But I couldn't help wondering, at the supermarket, at the pharmacy, on the train: was there something else now in people's looks, in their whispers? What were they thinking when they looked from him to me and back again?

It's nothing, I told myself, kids fall down all the time. People must realize that.


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This reminds me of Voltaire's "Zadig," a wonderful story in which reality and the perception of reality never overlap. Fine post!
One of my kids, when she was a toddler, always led with her forehead. She was a tiny blonde thing, quiet and shy in public, and I know people thought we bopped her all the time, when the truth was that she ran around the house gleefully crashing into things. Of all my children, the one who was most at risk of being abused was the one who never had a mark on him, because he always come out of his confrontations unscathed.
The Kid pulled a lamp down on her head before she was supposed to be able to reach it. Well. Which ... I felt like the worst mother in the world, honestly. But at the hospital, while looking in her little bruised head, all I heard from sympathetic people was "It's okay. These things happen all the time."

But then, she also fell at school once or got hit in the head with a toy by another child (I think it was the latter), and no one saw it happen. She had some serious bruises on the back of her head. Because no one had seen it, I could not judge the severity and took her in to be checked. Different hospital. Before I could spit, human services was standing there in the form of a woman who really, really should not have been wearing that short skirt without hose. She kept making the same remarks. Over and over, she kept saying, "It must be hard, taking care of her yourself. It must be hard." And I kept saying, "Well, it's never easy, but I love her, so it's okay. So, it's not that hard." She had "You are guilty" written all over her face. The physician insisted that they give her a full body scan, which I knew meant they thought they would find other, older injuries. Which, of course, they did not.

The minute the scan came back, the human services woman and her horrible skirt disappeared. And that was it. And my pediatrician laughed his butt off about it when I came in the next time because, of course, he saw her regularly and knew all was fine and good.

But for a moment, I was quite unhappy. I knew that might happen, someone thinking I created those bruises, but what choice did I have but to bring her in and have her checked? It was quite daunting. So, yes, children fall. The Kid had a bruise on her forehead on a regular basis when learning to walk. How could anyone know how I agonized over every moment she toddled around the house, as I hovered like an idiot behind and beside her, afraid she might fall?

It's the continual injuries, over and over, over the years, that make a pattern that are the better indicators, and how the children behave in certain situations. But a bruised child? Mom and Dad will be scrutinized. What can you do?
"Abuse of a child or animal is the biggest, reddest button on my control panel"

Likewise. This is a great little parable though, and illustrates nicely the wisdom of not making judgements 'til we have enough facts to do so.
This is one f those stories I hoped would have a happy ending, but so often doesn't. I'm glad this one did, and what a great way of illustrating how snap judgements are not always what they seem.