A bit of a break

Time for a midweek parenting tale to break the monotony of dating posts, with “break” being the operative word. I’ve led a fairly charmed life when it comes to serious injuries. Until I started playing Australian Rules Football in my twenties I’d never broken a single bone in my body. Even now, all I’ve done is have a slightly cracked wrist bone once and broken a few ribs, which is remarkable considering the things I’ve put my body through.

This luck had pretty much continued with my children too, with nothing more serious than a smashed nail when one had his finger slammed in a gate to show for their childhood years. At least, that was the case until my then-six-year-old finally fulfilled the promise he’d been showing in the injury stakes for so many years.

It happened on a sunny afternoon in July 2019. With excitement building as we fast approached a family holiday to Greece, as well as the bonus of the end of school looming, my kids were in full on demob happy mode. They were constantly laughing and jumping around, and making plans for the summer. A constant stream of their friends came and ate and drank and went, many of whom ended up in the garden sitting or jumping on our trampoline.

We’ve always had a trampoline, at least since my eldest turned four and we got one for her birthday. I’m not talking about a three foot bouncer; I think the current one is about four metres across and stands about a metre or more above the floor. It’s not unusual to see three, four or five kids jumping and running about on it at any one point, and flips have become a thing regularly practiced and perfected (though, sadly, not yet by me).

Unlike so many others who have them, I’ve always gone away from the idea that they need a cage around them. Growing up with quite boisterous siblings myself I knew that a cage gives a sense of security that takes away from the sense of danger, and becomes a literal safety net that is relied upon rather than the metaphorical one that is naturally built into each of us as humans. If the kids knew there was no danger or risk then they wouldn’t learn to process it, so wouldn’t be prepared if ever they were in a situation without a safety net.

For over a decade children (and adults) have jumped on that trampoline without problem. I can count on one hand the number of times a child has fallen off, and each time it’s resulted in them landing on grass, crying a little out of shock and then getting back on within minutes (unless their parents freaked out and wouldn’t let them). It was the parents who had the most problem with this approach, with some not letting their kids play on it and leaving them watching forelornly as their peers bounced and played with abandon and without incident.

At least, that record was intact until my youngest came along and decided to parkour off the side.

Jumping with his older brother and some of his older brother’s friends had given him a degree of confidence that made him feel sure he didn’t need to get off normally and could simply jump off the side. He’d done it before and been fine, but this time he didn’t notice that the wind from the previous night’s storm had blown the safety cover over the springs up a bit, and his jump coincided with his foot getting caught on this cover. He tumbled forwards, apparently landing left arm first on the ground. He later described hearing a snap in a way that still makes the bottom of my stomach flip a little.

I was indoors washing up, and looked up as I heard someone start crying. I’m not a negligent parent who lets their kids run totally feral, but neither am I a helicopter parent who either hovers protectively over their offspring at all times or a dog whistle parent who comes running every time they hear the merest whimper. After all, in this case my boy wasn’t screaming nor panicking, merely issuing the normal cry of a child who had fallen down. A child who, remarkably calmly, then ruined that normality by calling out “Daddy, I’ve broken my arm.”

I’ve heard these claims before, so didn’t take it too seriously, at least until I looked out at the garden and saw him. Even from the other end of the garden, I could see that his arm looked more like the arm of Mr Tickle than it should. Arms simply shouldn’t be U shaped, and I knew instantly and sickeningly that it was indeed broken badly and that this wasn’t something I could fix with a cold compress and a cuddle.

I ran to him as quickly but calmly as I could, with the words “SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!” running on loop through my mind but knowing I couldn’t let a single second of my panic show lest it cause more panic amongst the other children. Whilst giving him a good cuddle to calm him down, my youngest daughter noticed that his arm had somehow grown another elbow joint and understandably, utterly, totally freaked out. She screamed and screamed in a way that made me want to hold, calm and reassure her with every fibre of my being, but I also knew that my boy had to be my top priority at that moment in time.

Feeling this pull was heartbreaking. I was on my own, a single dad with no other adult to call upon at home to divide the challenges with and make sure everything was covered, and never had this been put into starker focus than at that moment.

Thankfully, whilst there was no other adult around, I did have other children. My eldest daughter saw the look on my face and instantly knew it was serious, so stepped up in a way that still makes me proud. Hugging her little sister tightly, she calmed her a little and took her inside while I assessed the situation. It was bad, but not as bad as it could’ve been; there were no bones poking through, no massive swelling which might have meant blood vessels being cut through internally and he hadn’t hit his head at all. I could do this.

I told my eldest daughter to take her little sister to the childminder, who happens to live in the house behind us and who also happens to be one of the most amazing people I know. She looks after my youngest two after school every day, and if anyone could calm her down then she could. My son then went inside with his friends and packed an overnight bag for his brother, just in case we needed to stay in for whatever reason. In truth I knew it almost certainly wouldn’t be needed, but it gave him something productive to do and took him and his friends away from the immediate area. Having the scene cleared meant I could now focus on my boy without interruption.

As I put my boy in a makeshift sling made out of a towel, I called my dad to come round and sit with them before I drove the two of us to the hospital. With my youngest girl at the childminders I’m pretty sure my eldest two would have been more than able to cope by themselves for the evening, but didn’t know if they would have shock of their own to come out and might need a grown-up to talk to.

My rational brain was going through all of this while my insides were churning. No parent ever wants to see their child in any pain at all, least of all pain that you can’t make go away yourself. Dealing with the practicalities was what I needed to do to get through the moments, but I’ve never felt so helpless even though I was dealing with it as best I knew how.

The drive to the hospital was one of calm reassurance, during which time I tried calling my ex several times to let her know what had happened. She didn’t pick up any answerphone messages for an hour or more, by which time we had been triaged and were waiting for the doctor to see us. I knew right away that she needed to know and wanted her to be there as I knew that having both parents by his side would be best for my boy. It didn’t matter how uncomfortable she made me feel, what she’d done to me or how much I personally didn’t want to be around her; her presence would make my boy happier and that’s all that mattered.

We ended up being sent to a different hospital a few hours later where they set his arm in plaster and gave him enough painkillers that he was higher than a kite. We were there until about 2.30am, though his mum decided to leave at about 1.00am for reasons that she never explained. Each to their own in those situations.

Kids are resilient. By the time the next day rolled around, he was back in good spirits and didn’t complain once about his cast. If anything he enjoyed the notoriety of being the first to have such an accident, and loved sowing his “armour” off to his friends when we picked his sister up from school the next day. He’d enjoyed a day of cuddles and movies with me, and didn’t even moan too much when I told him he wasn’t allowed back on the trampoline until his cast came off.

Despite many comments from family members I’ve still got no plans to get a trampoline cage or sink the trampoline into the ground; the lessons it has taught my kids are too valuable at this point. Yes, there is a chance that it’ll happen again, but if anything it’s an even smaller chance than it was before. The other kids and their friends still jump on it but, if anything, they are all even more careful getting off than they were before, and have definitely learned a lesson from their brother’s misadventure. I’m sure this story will itself prompt people to tell me how reckless and dangerous I’m being, and how they themselves would never allow their children to jump on a trampoline at all, let alone one without a safety net, but that’s fine. They can parent their way, I’ll parent mine.

I’m trying to teach my kids to assess risk and learn to manage it appropriately, not to see risk and refuse to take part unless someone else removes that risk entirely. This was a tough way for them to see the risks manifested, but I’ve been so proud of them and their reactions since that it’s showing that – with my kids and our family – those lessons are being learned and appreciated.

I just hope it doesn’t happen again any time soon – I’m not sure my heart could take it!

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