This is how it happens. You sit down to write a to-do list and your child falls out of a 2nd story window. In the twinkling of an eye it all changes.
I keep coming back to this half-finished to-do list and staring at the last check box I wrote before I heard the scream. I can’t remember now which important task merited its own check box. I do remember the scream.
That task, whatever it was, just doesn’t matter anymore–the check box only serving to remind me how thin this veil between life and death; how one minute you’re writing a to-do list and the next, you might be mourning a dead child.
Except she didn’t die. She didn’t even break a bone, which is its own kind of astonishing mercy. And this is also how it happens: you come so close to peril and yet you emerge unscathed.
How does that even happen? This is how: sitting on her brothers’ top bunk bed, pressing her head against the window screen and shouting down to our dog in the backyard.
“Why are you barthing, Darby?” she asks. “Darby! Why are you barthing?”
And then the screen pops loose, she tumbles out the window. She lands about six feet below on the roof of the porch. A few inches to the right and she would have fallen 15 feet onto concrete.
I heard the scream and don’t even remember flying up the stairs but suddenly I was there and she was in my arms, all bloody nose and scraped elbows.
She sobbed in my arms. “Mama! The screen brote! The screen brote!”
I marshaled the older kids downstairs and they stood at the ready while I examined Jasiel all over. Jewel fetched ice, James comforted the other twin who was crying, too. Jasiel’s nose stopped bleeding. She could move her arms. No swelling. She stopped crying.
“I’m OK, Mama! I’m OK!”
I watched her all night, checking her every five minutes for changed breathing or confused behavior. She was tired but she wasn’t injured. How could she come so close to peril and yet be so unharmed?
And yet, this is how it happens.
But I’m not OK. The tsunami of condemnation and fear that has crashed down on my head has seen me weeping into my pillow before falling asleep, trembling with night terrors, vomiting under the weight of all the terrible what ifs.
This is how you become a crazy person, I think as I find myself awake in the dark morning hours. You almost lose a child and suddenly you’re wandering the house checking and rechecking all the locks at 2am.
It was such a close call. Any other upstairs window and she would have landed on the concrete patio. Even if she’d landed differently, perhaps rolled an inch or two she would have fallen on concrete.
A few inches between life and death oh, merciful God….
Jorai (left) and Jasiel (right), age 4
I felt–I feel like a horrible mother. Those windows–self-locking. I had no idea the twins knew how to open them. I can hardly open them! And how many times have I told them not to climb up on their brother’s top bunk?
I was making a to-do list. I was about to start dinner. I’d been keeping my eye on them all afternoon. And yet. I look away for a few minutes to write a to-do list and a child falls out a window. How does that happen? How can I be an involved, watchful mother and freak accidents still happen?
Still, this is how it happens.
And then, this thought: my children are not baptized.
If, God forbid, she had died, I would never be able to forgive myself. Yes, I trust the unconditional love of God. Yes, I believe she would have been swept up into the arms of God.
But still, have I been remiss in my maternal obligation? Such a long, complicated journey out of our spiritually abusive past and baptizing the children seemed like something we could sort out…later. Infant baptism has always been one of those difficult, sticking points. It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight. Until now.
In the stark light of this morning, the idea of waiting until “later” seems like such hubris. We can baptize them later? As if we’re somehow guaranteed a “later”? What if there is no…”later”? A few inches to the right and Jasiel’s “later” might not have been.
Yes, I believe in God’s unconditional love but something in me desperately needs to make it official. I need the ritual. She needs the ritual. Because we don’t really know if we have a “later.”
Sometimes, this is how it happens–we have to make things happen.
I am shaking. I’ve been throwing up. I’m jumpy. This morning I ran over a grate in a parking lot and it made a weird bumping noise. I screamed, threw the car into park, jumped out. I thought maybe I’d hit a person.
How does a mother go on without her child? I think of my dear friend Joy who lost her daughter three years ago and suddenly, she seems like a giant in the faith to me. How does she even manage to smile? How does she carry on?
“Focus on the fact that Jasiel’s OK,” Matt said to me. “Focus on the gracious, merciful hand of God sparing our child.”
But what if God hadn’t spared our child? What if she had fallen to the concrete? Would His hand still be gracious then?
This is how faith happens–sometimes you just choose to believe despite the what if. She fell but she didn’t die, thanks be to God.
Matt starts chuckling.
“What?” I say. “What could possibly be funny?”
“Well, in 20 years when someone asks our twins how they got baptized, Jasiel will say: Yeah, when I was four I fell out a 2nd story window and my mom got so scared she hauled us down to the local priest and got us baptized right away.”
Yes, this is how it happens.