My two year old son gave us a bit of a fright today by deciding to hurtle himself down the full flight of stairs backwards before bouncing off the hall wall at the bottom. The interesting thing for me was the different reactions to the incident by the four members of this household.
He had been overly energetic all day, born slightly out of boredom and slightly out of fighting tiredness due to an exceptionally early nap, but where he would normally skip from one part of the house to another, today he dropped his head and ran as if he was Usain Bolt. I had just put dinner on and was in the kitchen getting everything ready and my wife was upstairs with our daughter. Now our son has not needed to be watched climbing the stairs for some time and quite often he does a better job of it than me, but on this occasion he attacked those stairs like he was hitting the travelator on an old episode of Gladiators. It seems that when he got to almost the top he missed a step and bounced backwards down the stairs then came to a sudden halt as he bounced off the wall at the bottom.
I heard the banging and knew instantly that something bad had happened and I had closed the 5m gap to where he lay in about half a nano-second, my son was screaming bloody murder, but it wasn’t his ‘I’m in severe pain’ cry, more of a ‘holy shit that scared me’ cry. His mum came thundering down the stairs screaming louder and more hysterically than him and our daughter was stood at the top of the stairs crying her eyes out because her mum had scared her and she was worried for her brother. None of this was helping him so I took him into the living room and told his mum and sister to stay where they were until they had calmed themselves down. I did a full head to toe check and everything seemed to be ok apart from a small bruise appearing on his forehead. I checked his pupils and he was really responsive so there didn’t seem to be any concussion. After he stopped crying he gave me a cuddle and was desperate to show me what happened, by this time his mum and sister had got a grip of themselves and were hugging him too.
What is it that’s in us that dictates how we respond to threats to our children? His mother forgot about all rationale and just became hysterical at the thought something bad had happened to her son. All logic had gone out of the window because of her overwhelming love for him creating such a devastating sense of hurt at his potential injury. His sister had such empathy for her brother being in pain that it made her simulate the effects as if she were in pain herself. This feeling of empathy amazes me and there are fantastic improvements in our understanding of childhood development, I’m rubbish at explaining so watch this video for a complete explanation. It is over 10 minutes long, but bear with it because it is fascinating and well worth it.
I’m a little perplexed by reaction though, it was almost cold and heartless but ruthlessly efficient and systematic in order to ensure his care. I feel that my instinct should have been to react like his mother, but instead I went in to ‘professional’ mode and put all feelings aside until I knew he was alright, then my body went into a little mini shock, hands trembling legs like jelly. The interesting thing was that this was not a conscious choice, but an automatic one. I do not for one instance believe that this is because I am a soldier and have been trained to take a ‘condor moment’, step back assess the situation then decide the best way forward, this was deeper than that. But what was it that made me and his mother react so differently?
On a completely separate note, why is it that I can show my son how to operate an iPod once, including unlocking it with a pass code and he suddenly becomes an expert, but having just fallen down the stairs he decides to almost do the same thing all over again by jumping down the stairs rather than walking?!!