What we learn from moments of fear

by Kristin on February 25, 2009

in Love, family & community

Photo by My aim is true

Today I got the emotional wind knocked out of me.

My daughter was the one in real pain, but she’s OK now, and I’m the one still feeling shaky eight hours later. Welcome to parenthood, eh?

Here’s essentially what happened. After lunch, I missed a call from my daughters’ school. When I saw it, my first thought was that one of the girls was feeling sick and needed to be picked up. My reaction? Mild annoyance. Oh, and a big sigh. My afternoon of work wouldn’t be as productive as I had hoped. I might even have to reschedule a conference call with a client.

When I listened to the message, though, I felt a stab of fear. “This is Julie at the school. Call the office immediately.” Not “this is Julie, your daughter just threw up,” or “this is Julie, your daughter is complaining of a headache.” Simply “call now.”

As I was dialing the school, my daughters’ dad was calling me. Q, our fifth grader, had an “accident” during gym class, he told me. She had somehow tripped and flown headlong into a brick wall. They were worried she might have a broken nose, and possibly a concussion.

At this point, I was very concerned, but still calm. It was five minutes later, the moment that I saw Q, that I felt a surreal rush of adrenaline coursing through me, like I had just been injected with a frighteningly powerful drug. The rush was followed by a light-headed, sensation, as if I had forgotten how to breathe.

Q’s face was covered in blood running from her nose, which was certainly dramatic. But even worse was the state of her forehead when I moved the ice pack. A lime-sized swelling had transformed the sweet, usually concave curve that swoops between her eyebrows down the bridge of her nose, into a convex, puffy mass with oddly defined edges. My own vision swayed and blurred, as I worked to suck oxygen to my lungs and remain calm.

This was my baby. Suddenly everything else I had known seemed unknown.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this experience, so I’ll cut quickly to the happy ending.

Less than an hour later, we were sitting with a doctor who was showing us the X-rays of Q’s skull, explaining there didn’t seem to be a serious nose break or a concussion. By the time we were home, Q’s swelling was noticeably reduced, and she was in fairly good spirits.

I was completely drained, so we shared the sofa. Her head was on a pillow at one end, mine was at the other, the afghan my mom crocheted covered both of us, and the gentle pressure of Q’s feet tucked between my body and the sofa’s back reminded me where we were: safe.

What should we do with life’s scary moments?

I’m still trying to process the experience. It happened so quickly—one moment I was on Twitter posting about Jason’s leftover chicken mole enchiladas that were calling my name from the fridge, and my very next tweet was sent from the backseat of the car, on our way to the hospital: my daughter had a head injury. going for x rays. please pray.

It was over quickly, too, and Q is OK. But something significant still happened today. To happily breathe a sigh of relief, shrug it off and go along my way would be wrong and disrespectful of fear, somehow. Besides that, I still don’t feel like myself. Clearly my psyche went through some sort of boot camp today, and I need to listen and respect it.

So, a few random thoughts that maybe I can better parse and examine at a later date:

- Relationships become crystal clear in times of stress. In the midst of my fear, I felt at once connected to and very distant from my ex-husband, Q’s dad. We dealt with the problem together, love Q with the same ferocity, but can only support one another in a very superficial way. Being with him in that moment made me feel grateful and alone. It strikes me that we learn a lot about our relationship to someone in these high-stress moments. I haven’t had a chance to really examine our relationship since we divorced and smoothed things over. All I can really say in conclusion about that is “Huh. Interesting.”

- My Twitter community is real. On the way to the hospital, when I posted my quick tweet on Twitter asking people to pray for us, it was a comforting thing to be able to do. I was in the midst of a moment when I could do little more than comfort my daughter, all the while feeling united but distant from my ex. It felt really good to get the word out, and to know people were caring and praying. As a result, more than 20 people on Twitter—all but four of them people I’ve never met in person—responded with support, concern, and messages that they were praying. I didn’t see them until we were back safely at home, but I felt much less alone that whole scary time.

- My online and in-person communities are both important, in different ways. Once we were safely back home and Q was resting, I tweeted this update:once again, Twitter is an amazing, supportive, community. so many well wishes for my daughter, helping me feel less worried & alone. thanks!

@JebDickerson, who’s responsible for the blog How To Matter, responded with this:glad to hear all is well kt. how does the support provided by online ‘friends’ compare to that of the ppl around you, in person?

It’s a really interesting question, particularly in light of all of the thinking I’ve been doing about community and friendships, on- and off-line. I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that my on-line community is immediate, accessible, and coordinated in a way that uniquely meets sudden needs. But I also know that, had Q’s situation been worse, and she was admitted to the hospital, our local community would have been there in an instant, doing anything and everything to take care of our family’s needs.

- Finally, I’m going to get cheesy (and perhaps a bit obvious): All that we chase after in this world is nothing when put up next to the people you love most. Although it’s scary, it’s good to be put in a place where you can more clearly see all that you have, and all that you love, and all that really matters, even when so much in the world seems so wrong.

As a parent, feeling that stabbing fear at my heart, which is near to bursting with love for my child, is a sensation I’ll probably never forget. My understanding of life and love has been recalibrated, and I’m so grateful.

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  • http://www.tjhirst.com/ TJ Hirst

    First of all, I’m happy your daughter is healing. Secondly, I’ve felt that change of perspective happen in a moment. And your world is never the same. Or so you think. Capturing that moment to process along the way builds tragedies into opportunities. Opportunities for love, opportunities for reaching out. Opportunities foe learning. So, maybe we are never the same, nor are the worlds that touch yours, either.

  • http://www.travelinlocal.com LisaNewton

    It’s great to know your daughter is doing fine. With 4 children, I’ve had my share of scary moments, and it never gets any easier.

    In regards your online versus offline community, during a very difficult time for me, one of my best support systems came from an online friend, someone I didn’t meet in person until several years later. Online can be as real as offline, if not more so, depending on who it is……………………:)

  • http://modite.com/blog Rebecca

    Great story and I’m so glad your daughter is okay! I can’t imagine the panic, and I’m glad that the online community helped you. I agree in the power of people connecting.

  • http://singleoftheday.com Jody

    I’ve never asked my mom or grandparents what it was like when I ran thru a plate glass door on accident. I’m betting that was their same feelings as I was being cleaned up from the mess. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.ejly.net ejly

    I’m glad it was a minor injury. I hope she recuperates easily and quickly.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    TJ, I love how you put it: building tragedies into opportunities for love and learning. The key is making sure I don’t keep that love and learning to myself, or even hoard it for my immediate family.

    Lisa, somehow it’s just now dawning on me that the fears associated with parenting aren’t going to get any easier. Sigh. At least we have our community to support us, and even to say “I’ve been there.” (I’m so glad an online friend was able to come through for you during a hard time.)

    Rebecca, thanks for your good wishes. I’ve always thought the test of true friendship happens when “the rubber meets the road.” I guess part of what was surprising to me was how grateful I was for my online friends. I would have thought they would recede in importance during a difficult time, but quite the opposite happened!

    Jody, that must have been a terrifying thing to go through. Do you remember much of it? Since becoming a parent, there have been SO many times that I’ve found myself thinking “So *that’s* what my parents felt like when I… [fill in the blank].”

    ejly, thanks! I’m very grateful it ended up being so minor. That probably has something to do with why I feel a bit silly writing a dramatic post like this. I know that so many parents endure much scarier moments and longer-term realities.

  • Arathi

    I am so glad Quillin is okay! I can only imagine how scary that must have been.

    I hear you on online friendships. My online community of stepmoms is HUGELY important to me. I’ve met some of them but have not met the majority, but they help me through every difficult moment of stepparenthood. Hugs and hope you get to feeling better too.

    A

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    Head wounds are scary. Knowing that isn’t much help when you’re facing swelling like that, though! My son was in a car accident when he was 9; he’s 16 now, and that day is still firmly embedded in my collection of motherhood memories.

  • Alli Butler

    They say that nobody is an atheist during a plane crash and I think that it is equally true when our children are injured. (It’s also true that nobody drives the speed limit.) When the ice or cloth is removed from your child’s face and his/her injury revealed – our “call to prayer” is almost always immediate: “Oh, God.”

    My mother had strict rules about taking the Lord’s name in vain. One day when she came running down the stairs yelling “ohmygodohmygodohmygod” I knew that something serious was going on. (My 3-year-old brother had tried to avoid taking a nap by jumping out a second story window – breaking both of his legs, an arm and concussing himself.) Thirty-two years later I can still feel the electrical charge of that day – and I wasn’t even the mom!

    Of course, I have been the mom in the ambulance with my injured child and nothing compares to that powerlessness. It is in those moments when we call upon whatever power in the world that we sense and put our helplessness out to the Universe and to God as a means of securing hope and if not control, at least a sense that someone else – someone strong and good and wise and kind – is in charge.

    I also find your contrasting feelings about your ex to be “normal” in this situation. He’s Q’s dad. He loves her fiercely and you know that he will bring her comfort and security, but his role for you has changed. He’s not the person that you want to cling to when you cry, babble incoherently when you are nervous, stroke your hair and hold your hand in the waiting room. That’s Jason. So your ex feels “both connected and distant.” I so get it. :)

    Also, may I say – arnica montana – topically and orally – best herb ever for bruising and swelling. Talk to a homeopath or someone at a natural food market or coo-op. Really. I swear by the stuff.

  • http://www.howtomatter.com Jeb Dickerson

    I’m thinking you’ve touched on something more important than meets the eye KT, and maybe my question came from some unconscious recognition of it.

    There’s an interesting intersection occurring at this moment in time, and I believe it’s unlike anything that has preceded it. Our ability to connect is unprecedented, at least in terms of breadth…though, certainly in my experience, depth as well. P’raps it’s a bit pathetic, but I’ve had more meaningful conversations with you, and others around the web, than I have in years with people I know and talk with in person. Much of that surely is a reflection of me and my own issues with relationships/intimacy, but I feel there’s more at play.

    The relative anonymity of these online connections creates, for me, a level of comfort that allows me to reveal more of myself than I would in person..again, even with folks I know well. Though I cant prove it, I suspect the same is true for many people, and so I think it’s important that we all properly value these relationships. I know they’re the butt of many a joke, but I’m guessing the folks that write these jokes don’t spend much time reaching out into these communities.

    So what the hell am I talking about here? Not totally sure. But stick with me for another moment, if you would. We’ve all, I think, heard of the concept of a ‘mastermind’, whereby 2 or more people get together to share ideas, and the result is the creation of something that is more than just the sum of the parts. Something entirely new, separate, tangible, is created through the collaboration. The idea that 1+1=3.

    And so I’m wondering about our amazing ability to connect, to share ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. And I’m thinking about how collaboration has a tendency to create a dynamic whereby something altogether new is created. And I’m imagining that the point at which these two things intersect, potential unbounded resides. And finally, I think this potential represents an opportunity for growth, for solutions, for creation…in short, for the manifestation of pretty close to anything.

    The opportunity this holds, on the macro level, is nearly too big to consider. But I can envision a time very soon when the barriers to progress begin falling down at a much more rapid pace than they have in the past.

    And the application for each of us, on a micro level, is no less impressive. Obviously, you wouldn’t have asked us to pray if you didn’t think there was value in it…a potential benefit to be gained. And whether that benefit comes from God (He of the Christian faith, or Another), the source, the universe, whatever…the point remains. Our collective focus on your daughter, on her well-being, had a benefit. Would the outcome have been different had you not offered your community a glimpse of what had happened? Maybe yes, maybe no (I’m leaning toward maybe yes). But regardless the outcome relating to the specific injury, there was a less tangible benefit for you and, if you didn’t know it, for us as well.

    The connection. The community. The collective effort in pursuit of a common purpose. There’s meaning here beyond my ability to grasp it. But that’s okay. I like to reach for the things that matter most.

    Thanks for indulging me, and inspiring this thought process. I’m very happy to know Q is well.

  • http://www.jenx67.com jenx67

    Not cheesy at all!

    Very engaging post – easy to read all the way through to the end.

    I could very much relate to the part about the ex husband, although we’ve had so much to get through in 10 years, it’s less alone all the time when we have to come together for things like this – celebrations, decisions, etc.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    I’m thankful for the happy ending you have & that all is well that ends well. Isn’t it a comfort to know that as you swayed & your vision blurred the spirit was interceding for you with groans that words can’t express (Romans 8:26)? My own difficult turns have been buffered by the intercession when I have been unable to pray.

    This post & your last, to me, really have the same conclusion. Isn’t life when all else has been stripped away about love? When solid ground has shifted & all that is left is our love to others and God’s love to us that is what is real & concrete. It really is all so basic; love your neighbor as yourself.

  • Susan

    I find myself shaking a bit. I am so glad you quickly got to the part where Q was ok. You put beautiful substance to a difficult, intangible, wrenching experience. Lots of love to you both.
    (I will warn C and S to desist from pointing out where Q’s nose is for awhile…ouch!)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Arathi, I had forgotten that you connect with other stepmoms on line. That’s so important. That’s one of the things I like best about online community—it’s so much easier to narrow in on specific types of people for specific types of support.

    Daisy, in the long list of parent fears, a car accident must be near the top. It’s hard to imagine what that must have been like. Thanks for the empathy!

    Alli, what you bring up about this immediate, instantaneous “call to prayer” is really interesting. I wonder—is it just the only possible response in the face of our own helplessness? There’s nothing we can do, so we’re grasping at straws, hoping that God does indeed exist? Or when we’re afraid like that, is it possible that our brain shuts down its skeptical chatter enough for God’s spirit in us to rise to the surface? I would love to hear someone who doesn’t really believe but has been in a scary situation like that tell me what they think is going on. (Thanks for the homeopathic advice, too. Does it work best if used right away?)

    Jeb, you’ve brought up more really interesting thoughts around this idea of building genuine community with people we’ve never met in person. I think you’re exactly right, that being open and deep and “real” with people can be easier on line than in person. I sort of feel like I can have a much deeper “mid-level” friendship with all the people who comment regularly on my blog than I can with my “mid-level” friends who live in my town, but then I feel this barrier. There’s a ceiling, that keeps these relationships from moving into the next realm. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a permanent ceiling, but right now I feel it. (Do you?) I like what you said about the potential you see for solutions and creation in these communities. I completely agree. Very exciting.

    jenx67, thanks for the anti-cheese endorsement! :) Sometimes, as a mom, it’s hard to know how our love for our kids comes across to the rest of the world, isn’t it? I love hearing more about your interactions and relationship with your ex-husband. Yet another way these online connections make me feel less alone in my crazy life.

    Elaine, you’ve summed it all up, for sure: “When solid ground has shifted & all that is left is our love to others and God’s love to us, that is what is real & concrete.” You always say you communicate best through your art, but I think you have a way with words, too. Thanks for sharing them here.

    Susan, thanks so much for the love and compassion. Q will thank you, I’m sure, for keeping the twins’ hands off her face for the next couple of weeks. :)