There is no respite here from the heat.
Before the sun rises, it blankets you in darkness. During the day, it melts all that it envelops. In the evening, it suffocates you with its relentlessness. But they don’t mind. They run and jump and teeter totter into shady spots. They beg to go to the pool. We hide in the air conditioning.
Today, the afternoon air is slow and thick. We stay at the school playground with friends until the school guard sends us home. We walk to the bus stop, sweaty and buzzing. I carry backpacks full of the day’s treasures: crumpled drawings, colorfully messy paintings, rocks, seeds, and plastic bottle caps. My children carry the secrets of an ordinary day away from home.
The bus will not come for 10 more minutes. The older kids begin playing games: running, laughing, jumping. They jump from the benches, over fallen palm leaves, and straight up to see how high. The parents check their phones, uselessly fan their faces with whatever scraps of paper their children have handed them, make small talk.
The kids continue to laugh and run and jump. My youngest joins in, two steps behind, two octaves louder, two inches shorter. He is oblivious to his physical shortcomings. He runs, laughs and jumps anyway. Run, laugh, jump. Be careful. Run, laugh, jump. One more time. Run, laugh, jump. Fall. Thunk!
Turn. Gasp. Drop the phone. Breathe. Pick him up. Stay calm. Feel frantic. Look. Look harder. It’s so bright. It’s too hot.
He is screaming. This is a good sign. Flashback to a moment earlier. I saw it happen in the instant I looked up from my phone. I saw him fall forward onto his face. What was I doing on my phone?
His nose is unmarked. His teeth are all there. Where’s the blood? His finger. He’s screaming about his finger. There’s a little blood. A contusion, not a cut. He’s broken this finger. No wait. He’s moving it. Has he broken his finger? His four year old finger, so small. A twig. A toothpick. So easily broken. Keep scanning. His elbows. His elbows are scratched and bleeding. He must have gotten his elbows out first. Is that possible?
See a flash of him face first on the pavement. Feel sick. A tissue appears. Look up. A crowd has gathered. His brother is calm and still. He’s worried. “He’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.” I hear myself talking. There are too many people. The bus is coming. We need to go. To move. To get away from here. I am clutching my son.
A mother whose name I do not know has gathered my bag and phone. She looks nervous. “It’s okay,” she says. Is she talking to me, or my son, or her own daughter? When did all these people get here? Smothered by the heat, all this movement is languid. I am shaky.
We shuffle into the queue. Kids are ducking under adult arms into the bus. Adults, full of bags, scooters, judgement and pity for the mom whose son has had a very nasty fall. We all cram in through the narrow doors. There is space to put my son on the platform reserved for bags, not an actual seat, but high enough so I am eye level with him. The air on the bus is cool. The glare from the sun is gone.
My son is still crying. His finger, he says, really hurts but it is not bleeding much. Is it swelling? I can see him now, clearly. He’s scared but somehow – miraculously – okay. The mother whose name I don’t know is next to me, still holding my things. She is telling me about the time her daughter broke her finger. She sees my son too and we are both calmer. Her story about how she waited two days to bring her daughter to the doctor is reassuring. She explains how quickly her daughter healed. She tells me I’ll know if I should go to the doctor. She is kind.
My son’s still wearing his hat. He’s still crying, more softly now, almost a whimper. We’re nearing our stop. “Why don’t I take your hat off? You’ll be cooler.” I take my things from the mother. I pull his hat off as he rests his head on my shoulder in one fluid motion. My other son says goodbye to his friends. We step off the cool bus and back into the oppressive humidity. I assure us all that we’ll be alright. We’ll rest on the couch. We’ll watch a movie. We’ll have a snack.
We pass our neighbor. I say hello. He looks behind me to my son, whose head is cocked in the nook of my neck. Soon he won’t be small enough to carry this way. My neighbor’s eyes widen. “Is he ok?” He sees the wet eyes and tear stained cheeks. “Yes. He fell at the bus stop but he’ll be fine.” My voice sounds small.
What is that look, neighbor? Why are you looking at me like that?
But I don’t stop walking. We are nearly home now. Just in the door, up the elevator, and home. We wait for the elevator. I take a deep breath. We’re bruised but still standing.
What is that? In the mirror? What is on his head? What is on his head?! His head! “Honey, look at Mama.” Don’t fall asleep. Look at me!
Get off the elevator. Get inside. “What is it, mom?” I think my eldest is talking. Get to the couch. How did I not think to check his head? Purple, blue, and red. An angry rainbow. I see gravel marks. “Why are you crying, Mama?”
Call his father: Come home. I think we need to go to doctor. I don’t know how bad. He isn’t complaining about his head but you should see it. It’s bad.
I’m crying. I watch him carefully. I get a wet cloth and pat at the lump on his forehead. I’m careful. Gentle. It stretches from just between his eyes to his hairline. A large oval, the color of stormy skies. I get him a drink. I Google “concussion kids” and “head trauma and 4 year old.” He’s speaking normally. He says his head hurts, but just a little. He has not vomited. He has not fallen asleep. He is speaking normally. His eyes are focused. I Google no further.
I put ice on his head. I give him cold water to soak his finger. He smiles. He pats his fingers in the water and giggles. I hover and fuss with the pillows. I hand him his iPad. He smiles wider. I hover and fuss some more. I ask him to move his finger. “Like this?” I take a deep breath and smile.
He tells his dad he fell but now he’s watching his iPad. He didn’t have a snack yet but he would like one. The afternoon air in our condo is cool. I take a deep breath. And another.
There is no respite from the worry.
Before the sun rises, it blankets you with thoughts of yesterday and what is to come tomorrow. During the day, it rests on your shoulders with a weight you’re not sure you can carry. In the evening, it suffocates you with its relentlessness.
Your kids run and jump and teeter-totter into precarious positions. You hold your breath by the pool. You hide behind brave smiles. Are they safe? Are they happy? Have you taught them enough? Do you hover too much?
Worry is a part of living in this space. You accept it. You are a parent.