This morning, we had a birthday party at a local playground. The kids were all 2-3 years old. I watched as other parents sat back and observed their kids playing while I chased after mine and made sure he didn’t hurt himself on the large play structure. “Why am I such a helicopter parent?” I wondered. It’s true – my husband and I tend to be very anxious, paranoid, and overprotective when it comes to our kids. As a disclaimer, I don’t think that there is a “right” or “wrong” parenting style. I would actually prefer to be more laid-back and relaxed about parenting, but it may be impossible for me.
In any case, at one point I thought to myself: “I think I can relax. I’m the only parent hovering over my child here. Let me take a step back and chat with some folks.” So I stepped a foot away from my son as he was climbing up a play ladder. One second later, he had tumbled to the ground 6 feet beneath him and had landed straight on his bottom. Shit.
I tried hard not to panic. He was crying and I scooped him and took him to a quiet area to evaluate him. “Can you feel my hands on your legs?” I asked. My heart was beating fast, imaging the worst-case scenario. “Yes,” he responded. Thank goodness. “Can you stand up and walk?”. He could. Phew. I watched him walk and wince in pain, touching his back. He was being a lot more cautious and didn’t want to play as much. I touched his spine, low back, tailbone, buttocks. “Does this hurt?” No, he said. But at first, it seemed like everything did hurt. He would start an activity and then reached down to touch his back. He was momentarily distracted by cupcakes, but then didn’t feel like playing anymore. “I’m tired, I don’t feel well…I want to go home.” Fuck.
I called our pediatrician’s advice line and it was recommended that I take him to Urgent Care. We stopped by our house first and I iced his back a bit. At that point, it seemed like he was climbing and running with less pain, so I second-guessed my logic for a minute. Still, there was no way I could live with myself if something was really wrong and I ignored it. So I took him in. At the urgent care, they have a playground in the waiting area. He climbed up the rope ladder, went down the slide, played on the seesaw. These people are going to think I’m crazy, I thought.
They didn’t say it, but the less than five minute evaluation spoke volumes. They palpated the affected areas – no pain. They asked him to walk – no pain. They asked him to run – fast, no pain. They lifted his legs up and down – no pain. “X-rays of the spine emit a lot of radiation,” the doctor said, “so I wouldn’t recommend it.” That’s all I needed to hear – we were out of there in no time.
I am still worried, of course. I think: what if he fractured his tailbone and the pain is worse when he wakes up from his nap? What if he ends up having a slipped disc/nerve injury/becomes paralyzed? I can’t help myself. Being in medicine, I see worst-case scenarios all of the time. People who didn’t have cancer until they did, were pain-free until they developed debilitating pain, lived normal lives until being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. So any time anything happens to my kids, I shift into worst-case scenario mode. It’s a terrible way to live.
In sum: I think that helicopter parenting is in my future for a good while longer.