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The first time I almost killed my daughter, she was still in the womb. I was in my second trimester and it was the dead of winter and I was heading out to teach a yoga class. I didn't see the black ice as I passed behind my car to get to the driver's side, so I was caught completely by surprise when my sneakered feet flew out from under me and I landed, hard, on my left butt cheek, so hard that I bounced.
I made no noise when I fell—only sat there, stunned—but my neighbor still ran over. He had been smoking a cigarette on his front porch when, suddenly, I'd slipped out of view. "Be careful!" I shouted to him as I dragged myself across the driveway. He ignored me because I was a pregnant woman dragging my prone body across ice and pulled me to my feet.
Suddenly, the worst of possibilities popped into my mind. "Will the baby be okay?" I asked, looking up at him, on the verge of tears and embarrassed as hell about it.
It wasn't until I was safely in my car and on my way to the yoga studio that I allowed myself to let go, sobbing as I tried to determine whether or not I could still sense my baby.
The second time I almost killed my daughter, she was maybe half a year old. I left her on her back in the middle of my queen-sized bed and ran into the other room to hang up her just-cleaned onesies. Then I heard a loud thud.
This is how I learned that she had figured out how to roll.
She was quiet at first, much as I had been when I had fallen in our driveway all those months ago, but then she started crying. I was afraid to put her down for her nap after that, afraid that she wouldn't wake up. But after Googling "what to do when baby falls," I determined that she likely didn't have a concussion or other head injury.
Still, I felt I was holding my breath the entire time she slept, and I kept tip-toeing into her room to place a hand on her back and make sure she was still breathing.
Having a child is like having an extreme sports nut living in your home. My daughter is forever flinging her head back so I can hang her upside down. Or she is trying to dive off couches or chairs or the edge of the bed.
The girl has no fear or, more likely, no comprehension of consequences.
After the first rush of guilt, I try to remind myself that we're all just doing our best, and that our attentions are oftentimes pulled in opposing directions, and that life is hard.
And there have been many incidences when I have felt powerless to protect her. Like the time she choked on a too-big piece of solid food. Or the many times she swallowed carpet fibers, refusing to let me pry her jaw open and stick my fingers inside her mouth and dig them out. Or the time she face-planted against the hard wooden corner of the coffee table in the back room when she was learning how to pull herself up to stand. Or the time (only moments before) she forgot that she didn't know how to walk and ended up somersaulting forward, only to land on a pillow (thank the Lord!)
The most recent time I almost killed my daughter was only yesterday. I was feeling overextended, so I let her roam the first floor of the house pretty much unattended while I sat in my home office, immersed in work. I do this all the time. I have thoroughly baby-proofed the main level of the house and, if she starts going for the cat food, I hear her right away.
The only problem? This time, I had left the safety gate in front of the hardwood steps leading upstairs ajar.
By the time I realized it was disturbingly quiet outside my office door, it was too late. I sprinted into the living room, saw the gate wide open, and looked up just in time to see Em's butt as she turned left into the master bedroom. When I finally caught up with her, she was on the far side of my bed, oblivious to my terror, giggling as she played with my holiday slipper socks. (I swear to god, she is obsessed with my holiday slipper socks.)
Nothing happened... but it could have. I feel as if the first 16 months of motherhood have been filled with moments when things could have happened.
But I supposed that's to be expected. After the first rush of guilt, I try to remind myself that we're all just doing our best, and that our attentions are oftentimes pulled in opposing directions, and that life is hard. I tell myself that children are resilient, and that we all make mistakes, and that—despite these lapses—my daughter is still alive.
I tell myself that everything's going to be just fine.
And then I feel a rush of pride. Because my daughter made it up the stairs all by herself. Because my daughter is fearless.
"You go girl," I whisper to her, so that my husband—who nearly suffered a heart attack at this latest near miss—can't hear.