Thursday, February 9, 2012

Neil's Anniversary and Henry's Bike Wreck

Neil's last heart surgery was five years ago today. Irene remembers sitting in the waiting room with her sister Marian waiting for word from Dr. Bacha, thinking that as she was knitting the little hat she was working on, Dr. Bacha was stitching Neil's heart- while Marian read aloud Psalm 139 (you knit me together in my mother's womb). When he did arrive the report was encouraging: "We were much more successful than we had expected to be, achieving probably 95 percent of what we hoped for." We are so grateful for Dr. Bacha and the staff of Children's in Boston, and these days nothing slows Neil down.

Nor, unfortunately, does much of anything slow Henry down, and today he scared the hell out of his dad. We were on one our trips along the trails by the river, Henry riding his bike and me walking the dogs. There is a long grassy hill behind the site of the old Capitol, at the bottom of which is a line of trees and bushes and then an abrupt drop about twenty feet down an embankment.

We had been playing around the area of the Capitol and when we left Henry headed off down the hill, heedless of my warning that he should not ride so fast that he wouldn't be able to stop. By the time he was approaching the bottom of the hill he had reached terminal velocity and as far as I could tell had yet to touch his brakes. He was obviously enjoying himself immensely and was deaf to my screaming for him to slow down. He crossed the path at the bottom of the hill, crashed into and then over a concrete lamp post that was lying on the ground parallel to the line of trees and bushes, and disappeared headfirst over the embankment, still clinging to his bike.

I stood for a moment stunned, not quite grasping what I had just witnessed, then ran madly down the hill terrified of what I would find when I got to him. As I looked through the bushes and down the embankment I saw Henry's bike about six feet down to the right and one of his sneakers a little further down on the left. At the bottom, about twenty feet down, was Henry, pretty quiet and visibly shaken, but trying to climb back up. I thanked God that he was moving and asked if he was alright, his response being something to the effect of "Do I look like I'm alright?". He managed to crawl far enough up that I could grab his shirt and pull him the rest of the way. Examining him I found gunk running in streams out of his nose, a little blood in his mouth but no teeth loose or missing (other than the baby teeth he had already lost), superficial scrapes and scratches on his face and hands, a lot of dirt and leaves and sticks, but nothing broken or out of place as far as I could tell.

Having satisfied myself that he was more or less intact I retrieved his other shoe and his bike and then said a couple of unhelpful things in terms you really shouldn't use with a six year old. "I didn't mean to," he said; "I thought I could turn." Right. I could see the skid mark between the path and the bushes, but nothing on the other side of the path, meaning that only in the last six to eight feet of the fifty yards or so he had traveled had he made any attempt to slow down, which was probably at least twenty yards too late. His only other contribution was, "Thank goodness I had my helmet on."

I got his shoe back on, checked again that he was in one piece, he got back on his bike and we headed back toward home. And while I did say that nothing much slows him down, he was in fact riding much more slowly than usual on the return trip. I hope the lesson sticks, though my fear is he will remember the thrill and forget the unpleasant consequences at the end.