I feel “mommy guilt” over many things when it comes to my kids. Being a mother is the single most important thingI’ve ever done, and it crushes me when I mess up or make a mistake while I’m at it. I felt guilty when I accidentally clipped Brenna’s skin instead of her tiny, baby fingernail. I felt guilty when Joshua was diagnosed with Celiac Disease because it had taken so long to finally get an answer. I felt guilty when I scolded the kids too sternly after they’d flooded the kitchen sink.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had many reasons to feel “mommy guilt.” Let’s see… How about the fact that my sweet two-year-old broke his collarbone when he fell out of bed? Or how about the day when he slipped off a bench and smashed his poor face because I wasn’t close enough to catch him? Or that- in spite of my stringent hand-washing guidelines and numerous requests of “don’t touch baby Ash”- my poor 7-month-old still ended up his own case of pink eye? See? Lots of things to feel horrible about lately.
But there were two more this week. And they were honestly each so upsetting that they deserve their own paragraph of explanation, followed by another paragraph of self loathing.
Once happened a few nights ago. We were in a rush coming home from some activity (wrestling practice or gymnastics, I honestly don’t remember which). It was late and no one had eaten yet so I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table. Because several of our kids have Celiac Disease, our entire pantry is designated a gluten-free zone. Everything in the pantry is gluten-free and safe for our Celiac kids. We have a single, separate cupboard for the few things we buy that contain gluten. So this particular night, I grabbed a package of regular egg noodles from our gluten cupboard and a box of gluten-free spaghetti noodles from our pantry.
Joshua was sick with diarrhea and vomiting all night long. He even threw up off the top of his bunk bed, all down the side of the bunk bed, and all over the floor. It was spaghetti, completely undigested as if his poor stomach didn’t even try to break it down. And that was when I realized my mistake. I went to the pantry and confirmed my suspicions. The box of gluten-free noodles in our gluten-free pantry was actually a box of regular, wheat noodles placed there by mistake. Ugh, I felt terrible! I should have checked that label, just to be sure. But I was in such a rush and it was in the pantry and I just didn’t think about it. So basically I fed my child poison. Talk about guilt.
The second incident occurred last night, and it was terrifying. We were in a hurry again, just home from gymnastics. I quickly made dinner (checking labels this time) and sent the kids upstairs to put their pajamas on. I heard a loud thud and horrible screaming. It obviously wasn’t the kind of screaming that comes from a stubbed toe. There was real terror in my kids’ voices.
As I sprinted up the stairs two at a time, I heard Brenna screaming, “The dresser fell on Maddie!” It’s hard to describe the incredible fear that swallowed me at that moment. Knowing how large her dresser is, I was sure she was very hurt, if not worse. I raced into the room and dropped down beside Madalyn. She was awake and crying and seemed okay overall. I asked her to wiggle this and wiggle that. I checked her up and down for bruises. She honestly seemed unhurt. When I was sure that she was okay, I wrapped her in my arms and couldn’t let her go.
I tried to piece together a story. Brenna and Joshua weren’t totally sure what had happened. Madalyn said she opened her drawer and another drawer pulled out at the same time, and when she pulled harder it made the dresser tip. I assumed that Madalyn had been standing on the end of the bunk bed, as she often does when getting her pajamas, but she told me she was standing on the floor in front of her dresser. It made me shiver to think of her standing right in front of her dresser, which is heavy and 5-drawers tall, when it fell.
I couldn’t shake the many emotions I felt. Madalyn was cheerful and unharmed and kept insisted, “I think I’ll be just fine in the morning.” But- for those few seconds as I’d raced to her side- I’d lived without her, lived as if the worst had happened. And I couldn’t get past those feelings. I tried to figure out how she didn’t get crushed by that tall, heavy 5-drawer dresser as it fell. And the feelings of guilt- because such a large dresser should have been safely secured to the wall- were overwhelming.
After the kids were in bed, I was still distraught over our close call. I went to Maddie’s room and found my little “night owl” playing quietly with her dolls. I asked if she wanted to come sleep in my bed and she politely and honestly answered, “No thank you, Mommy. I am busy right now.”
“Please?” I persisted, unwilling to leave her side or to sleep without her tonight.
“Okay,” Madalyn agreed, without another hesitation. I carried her to my bed, tucked her in next to me, and held her close. And then I just couldn’t stop the tears even though I tried to. Madalyn pushed herself up on her elbow and looked at me for a moment.
“Why are you sad, Mama?” she asked sweetly.
“I just got scared when that dresser fell today,” I sniffled, trying to minimize my fear so that I wouldn’t frighten Madalyn.
Maddie looked at me with those big brown eyes. She seemed to understand so much right then and she surprised me when she asked, “Did you think I got killed? Did you think I got killed when I fell under the dresser?”
I didn’t want to scare her, but I had to answer honestly. I just couldn’t help it. And so I nodded, and whispered yes. It was the first time that I’d audibly acknowledged the reason I was so afraid, the reason I couldn’t move past what had happened. Madalyn could have died under that enormous dresser, and I couldn’t understand how she’d escaped so completely unharmed.
The tears began to flow again, and my sweet four-year-old stroked my face. “I thought I got killed too,” Maddie admitted. Then she watched my tears with such empathy in her eyes and murmered, “Oh, Mommy… I didn’t die.” I hugged her close, amazed that this angel of mine was comforting me when I should have been reassuring her.
Still trying to understand what exactly happened, I asked Madalyn to explain again.
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, remembering. “I stood up on my tippy-tip toes and I opened my drawer to get some jammies and another drawer opened too. Then the dresser started to tip and I fell under my dresser.” Here she paused in her story so that she could reenact with her little fingers. She held one hand up straight and explained that that was her dresser. Then she held one finger up and explained that that was her. The little finger-Maddie stood next to the hand-dresser. Madalyn wiggled her finger around and chirped in a high, falsetto voice, “Hmm. What jammies should I wear tonight? This one or this one…” Then she tipped her hand over and explained, “And then I fell under my dresser.”
“But, Maddie,” I said, still amazed that she wasn’t hurt. “How did you get out from under the dresser? When it fell, why didn’t it land on top of you?”
“Josh grabbed me,” Maddie said simply and smiled at me.
“Joshua grabbed you?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, Josh knew the dresser would tip. When I fell under my dresser he ran in and grabbed me out.”
This new addition to the story had my mind reeling. I couldn’t imagine my five-year-old son being strong enough or fast enough to save Madalyn from a falling dresser, and he’d already told me that he was in the other room when it happened.
Today Madalyn is still adamant. She says she was standing next to her dresser, she opened the jammie drawer, her dresser tipped, she fell under her dresser and Joshua grabbed her out. When I asked Joshua again what happened, he told me the same story he had told last night- that he heard the girls’ scream and he ran in and saw the dresser was on the ground. I explained to Josh that Madalyn said he had saved her and had pulled her out of the way as the dresser fell. Joshua looked at me soberly and answered with child-like innocence, “It must have been an angel then.”
Maddie is also still unharmed. She has a small bruise on her leg and another on her shoulder, and there is a tiny scrape in the middle of her back. But she says that nothing hurts and she is moving and playing like normal. Her two bruises and her one scrape are all so tiny they are barely noticeable, and I’m not even sure if the dresser incident caused them.
I am still a mess of emotions. I feel so guilty for not having that dresser bolted to the wall. (That is Rick’s project today- by tomorrow morning everything will be secured to the wall.) Bolted furniture to the walls was something I’d heard about, but never bothered to do. I should have! I get sick to my stomach when I think of how close we came to ultimate disaster, something that could have been entirely prevented. I still feel breathless somehow, like I’ve been running for a while and can’t catch my breath. Mostly I just feel incredibly grateful that Maddie is okay! Things could have been very bad, and I am so, so thankful that she is okay! I know miracles do happen, because one happened here last night.