It was HOT yesterday after lunch. Pete was napping, I was napping, and the older kids were enjoying a mom-mandated hour of watching TV in the cool A/C. And my husband was laboring hard in our full-sun backyard to reconstruct the kids’ swing set.
Unfortunately, I had been the one to go to Home Depot to buy some replacement hardware for this contraption, and I didn’t realize that two key bolts I pulled from the appropriate bin were misplaced there and were too big in diameter. Bill had warned me that sometimes the wrong lengths get put in the bins, so I had checked for that. I should have realized that the wrong diameters would be in there as well.
Also, unfortunately, I had been the one to go to Home Depot to buy some replacement hardware, because the hardware aisle was just past the section where they displayed their outdoor “end-of-season” furniture including a gazebo swing for nearly half off. And I had a coupon for another 10% off, making this swing for my unbearably hot full-sun backyard too good of a deal to pass up.
Since the kids’ swing set was at a standstill (lacking those bolts), and since his exhausted wife was snoozing, my hardworking guy unloaded my swing from the car and began assembling the needed tools. At this point I was up from my nap and asked him if he wanted to go get the right bolts so he could finish the swing set, but he figured he might as well do my swing which would be faster, and then go to Home Depot later, maybe after dinner. I offered to help, and we set to work in the blazing hot, full-sun backyard.
I was feeling badly that I wasn’t much help. I was moving as slowly as, well, a pregnant woman in late July, and doing much more of the stand-here-and-hold-this than the run-there-and-fetch-that. So my husband, who had been laboring hard in the hot, full-sun backyard and had not rested for a half hour on a soft bed in an air conditioned house, continued to do all the hard stuff, all for my benefit, since it was my gazebo swing he was assembling.
We had completed the frame, and he was doing a last tightening of the bolts, and I was covering all the exposed hardware with little plastic covers. I turned from gathering some bolt covers to see him down on his knees with his hands to his forehead. The bolts he was tightening were overhead, and his ratchet had slipped and fallen right between his eyes. Later he told me he had actually seen stars. All I know is that he pulled his gloved hand away from his head just a bit and a huge drop of very red blood landed on the patio. I ran in for a cool, damp cloth, and then sat him down in a chair in the tiniest bit of shade.
The cut was big and ugly and bleeding profusely, as head wounds are apt to do. I called the health center on post, and found out they can do stitches (good to know for the future), but it was late afternoon and they had no appointments. So it was off to the emergency room. A family trip – woohoo!
It didn’t take long, really. We were there about an hour altogether, and he only needed to have his head crazy glued together, which is good. The kids were impatient, but not badly behaved. Billy wanted to look at a Newsweek magazine, and we let him. Nice photos of blown up Army Hummers…you know, just what I want my kid seeing. I can’t help but want to shelter them from the hard realities of life, especially when those realities might be very personal for them. I’d rather they learn about genocide in Ruwanda than soldiers dying.
And right there in the emergency room waiting area, they were able to witness other hard realities of life. Another family came in. I guessed it was a sick woman, her five children, and her mother who drove her and was now assuming responsibility for the kids while she sought medical help for fever and chills. They were from the “high-rent district” as my husband sarcastically called it. Afterward Fritz remarked that the grandmother’s voice was different than most women he knew. I explained that her voice was likely deep and gravelly because of years of smoking. She was also loud…and mean. The kids noticed it, and I couldn’t protect them from what they saw any more than I could protect the little boy, about their age, who seemed to be the target of the bulk of her nastiness.
I really didn’t understand it. The two older kids, a girl and a boy, looked to be in the 12 to 15 year range. Surely the older girl could have babysat the other ones, I thought. The grandmother told someone on her cell phone that she was stuck with the kids and had to try to keep from killing them…a phrase I sometimes use, too, but usually with a tone of frustration, not loathing. At one point she had four of the kids around her, but the one little boy had been banished to a seat a bit apart. She was handing out a snack, and the little boy, excluded from the group, began to cry. She called him a “crybaby,” permitted him over, gave him a handful, and then sent him back to his corner. She then began to dote over his little sister, about 4 years old, asking for kisses for more treats. What really broke my heart was the look on the older kids’ faces: completely undisturbed by her treatment of the boy. The oldest girl smiled and played with the littlest girl and seemed quite as ease with the whole situation: not just a numb acceptance of abuse, but almost an approval.
And so the cycle goes.
Soon, we left, and my kids were free to tell me what they thought. I guess they got a lesson in empathy. They couldn’t believe that any grown-up, certainly not a grandmother (grandmothers being even more loving than mothers, in their personal experience), would talk to kids like that. All of my rules about talking to others, including the golden rule of not calling people “stupid,” seemed to have been broken by this woman. Why? they wanted to know. Why did she treat them like that? The best answer I could give was that she didn’t know any better. She never learned that it’s not okay.
We had drive-through for dinner, because it was past that time. And then we went to Home Depot, and I got the right bolts (and nothing else). At home, we managed to finish the swing before bedtime. Now, I have a comfortable, shaded spot where I can hold my little ones close and tell them how much I love them. And where my husband can sit and drink a cold beer when he needs a break from working on whatever other projects his wife devises as she wanders through Home Depot.