Lauren is a redheaded Jew
and she doesn't belong in a Catholic school
any more than I do. She wears her hair in a high ponytail, the kind that sprouts out of the very top of the skull. She prefers pink
barrettes and I have never seen her wearing less than ten at a time, all over her
head. It's a good thing she is such a sweet kid because the way her face scrunches up into a grin, I am liable to let her get away with absolute murder. Freckles that would break your heart. She is shy and cheerful; she is six years old.
I should preface the following by assuring you that the after-school program where I work is not a deathcamp, despite the grisly stories I've been telling lately. There's the 5-year-old's electrocution
, as well as the 9-year-old's broken arm ("broken" as in "humerus snapped cleanly in half inside a useless dangling meat tube") and the 8-year-old's accident
with the epi-pen
("accident" as in "injecting himself with a full dose of bee sting medication, not actually having been stung by a bee, thereby flooding his system with unneeded adrenaline,
causing his heart to flutter, sending him into mild convulsions and making him think he was going to die."). They all ended up ok. We've been lucky.
Our program is well-staffed, and we watch the kids as best we can. But even under the highest standards of attention and care, bad things are still going to happen. There are some kids you could lock in a rubber room, and they'd still find a button to choke on.
Lauren is not accident-prone, careless, or dumb. She was only running too fast, and she crashed into a sharp corner, and then there was a horrible, horrible wail trying to get out of the throat of this child, and her face was covered in blood.
I've heard that many new parents learn to tell the difference between an "I'm hungry" cry
and a "my diaper has grown unpleasant" cry. I used to think that was nonsense, but that was before this job. I am not dealing with babies, but I can immediately tell the difference
between tears caused by pain
and those caused by emotional distress. A kid who is frustrated
or disappointed or mad will cry louder, and more slowly. There's all the time in the world to be upset, and, logically, the longer you cry, the longer someone is likely to rock you and try to make it better. When you feel like crap, it's nice to be the center of kind attention for a while.
A pain cry communicates terror and urgency. HELP ME NOW.
When Patrick broke his arm, all he could get out was a sort of stuttering howl, broken up by panicky gasps. Lauren sounded like a wounded puppy
who doesn't understand what's going on, only knows it hurts.
Between the other grownups running around trying to forestall a massive kid riot/stampede, fetch ice, call Lauren's parent
s, and clean up the bloody trail she'd left, I was left on my own, holding this child in my arms on the floor of the main office. I don't think I've ever
seen that much blood come out of anybody. It was amazing. When it comes to personal fluids, I know I should be more careful, but when a kid is in trouble it never occurs to me to ask for gloves. These kids are generally wealthy white upper-class Catholic
s, a pretty safe demographic, but still, I know, I know. At the time, I didn't worry about it, just tried to get the poor kid mopped up.
The bleeding would not stop, and I really wanted it to. Only half her crying was from pain - the other half was panic, and most of that was from seeing her own blood all over the place. All my co-workers had temporarily abandoned me, and there were no bandages or even kleenex
within reach. I was not about to let go of this little girl - she was clinging to me and whimpering, and prying her fingers loose from my arm was a cruelty I could not consider.
When a child who cannot yet pronounce her "R"s right is bleeding into her own eyes, making that stop becomes my priority. This is why I took the (clean, new, sealed) maxipad out of my back pocket, and put it on her head.
It worked; the Kotex
did exactly what it was designed to do. As the flow of blood tapered off, I was able to see that whatever she had run into, she'd knocked a hole in her head. Like, a hole.
I would later find out that I was looking into Lauren's sinus cavity, right between her eyes. An inch either way, and the story would not have turned out as well as it did. The ending we were blessed with is this: I managed to get most of the horrifying quantity of blood cleaned up before Lauren's very kind father showed up and took her straight to the ER, which we had called, where a plastic surgeon was standing by. She got seven stitches, some subcutaneous. Her sinus cavity was sealed up good as new, they put the tiniest of bandages on her nose, and sent her home to eat all the ice cream she wants. Her mother called us when they got home, to say Thank you, over and over.
There is a holy moment that occurs after a child stops crying and before she falls asleep.
Occasionally, I get to hold that moment in my lap.