Pinball Wizard

My one-year old looks like he just lost a prize-fight. To be fair, most one-year olds (especially, but not uniquely boys) shine with shiners from time to time, so this isn’t especially newsworthy. Still, there’s just something about dropping your kid off at the child watch at the gym while he’s sporting a puffy eyelid and greenish-purple coloring to make you scan the windows for Child Protective Services.

When Joshua was learning to walk, we bought a walker — basically the same device used for the elderly or those who otherwise have difficulties walking, except in primary colors and shaped like a car with a handle coming out of the trunk like a poorly conceived spoiler. Joshua never used it much, aside from stuffing blocks inside it. We kept it in case we had another kid, and had another kid we did.

Because of its vaguely car-like shape, the walker also looks a bit like two ascending steps with a padded handle elevated above them. When viewed from behind, it looks like a car for you to push around. When viewed from the front, it is a pair of stairs demanding to be climbed, as if great rewards rest just two steps above. When you are just learning to walk and wearing socks, it is, in addition to being a walker, a Stairway to Pain.

As Jack’s walking has been developing in fitful bursts, I brought out the walker to give him some help. He ignored it for most of a week. Then, over the weekend, temptation seized my baby boy and he HAD to climb those two not-steps with the devil-may-care abandon possessed only by the very young and the very stupid. Up he went, and with my hands waiting for his marshmallow feet to betray his upright stance, down he went, gently onto the rug. He repeated this a dozen or so times before he lost interest or finally deduced that neither fame nor fortune awaited him up top. I moved the walker out of the way and Jack began playing with other things without ever again looking at the walker.

Later that day, I stepped out of the room for a moment to tend to dinner. Before I left the room Jack was on the opposite side of the room from the walker, fully invested in banging two toys together. In the time it took me to walk ten feet, put three sweet potatoes in the oven, and set the timer, Jack had crossed the room, climbed his Stairway to Heaven, and tumbled into his own personal hell. I don’t know exactly how he fell or what he bumped his face on; I merely heard the thump known to all parents as “My Kid Probably Just Fell And Hurt Himself But Maybe He Killed Himself In A Child-Proofed Room And I’ll Never Forgive Myself.” I ran in as the crying began and saw him next to the walker/baby-killer. This particular walker was once the Toy-of-the-Year for Parents Magazine. They obviously didn’t have any kids trying to climb to space with it.

Jack got over his bump quickly. It didn’t begin swelling or discoloring immediately, so I had no idea what had actually happened. By the time those sweet potatoes came out of the oven, he looked like Elmer Fudd after taking a frying pan to the head.

I recall Joshua’s pediatrician looking him over during one of his check-ups, and matter-of-factly observing some bruises as though they were not just unusual, but expected. This was the first time that I exhaled a bit as a parent, realizing that my kid’s abrasions and contusions were not an indictment of my parenting, but an affirmation that my kid is no different from every other pre-person pinballing his way through childhood. So, thank you, Jack, for sacrificing your body for my self-esteem. I’ll pay you back by trying not to spend all of your inheritance before I die.

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