Sometimes when I look at my son’s beautiful face, my gaze lingers for a moment on the scar beside his eye. That scar reminds me of one of my worst days as a parent. I can’t remember why I loaded my three children, aged 5, 3, and 18 months, into the van to go to Big Lots that day. I can only assume it was one of those meaningless excursions designed to keep everyone from going crazy after being stuck inside the house too long.
We wandered up and down the aisles, me in the lead with my three ducks following behind, when suddenly I heard a thud and a wail. I turned to see my baby boy sprawled on the floor gushing blood from his face. Those who have seen a head wound know they bleed like a mighty river.
Words can’t describe the panic I felt. I scooped him up and ran to a large central aisle yelling, “I need help! I think I need an ambulance! Please help me!” Someone handed me an entire roll of paper towels which I didn’t even pause to unwind as I shoved them up against his bleeding face. I have a blurry recollection of my other two children standing close by, a woman shopper with concern etched on her face, and the manager saying an ambulance was on the way. I was covered in blood. I was in shock.
By the time the firetruck arrived, I could pull the towels away and see that the bleeding had pretty much stopped. The fire fighters looked at my son and declared he would need stitches, but I could drive him to the hospital myself for that.
The manager came over and asked if I knew what had happened. I was so embarrassed because I hadn’t actually seen the accident. I knew that he fell somehow and hit his face on the edge of a metal shelf on his way down. Then the manager looked at my son’s feet and said, “Oh. He’s only wearing socks.” It felt like a blaming punch in the gut. No wonder he fell and sliced his head open.
I was shaking by the time I drove to the hospital. Thankfully, my husband met me there and took the little one inside for treatment while I drove the older two home. The words the manager spoke were haunting me as my mind raced from thought to thought: But the socks had rubber grips on the bottom…he always wears them…is this my fault?…why did I even go to the stupid store for no reason?…what if he had hit a fraction lower, would he be blind?
It’s been seven years since that accident, and it dawned on me a few weeks ago that I still feel guilty when I see that scar on my little boy’s face. In fact, I realized the scar was producing two very powerful emotions in me: Shame that my child was injured on my watch. I didn’t even see what happened. I messed up somehow and he got hurt. And Fear because even if it wasn’t all my fault, I can’t control everything. What if he gets hurt again? What if it’s even worse next time?
It hasn’t been easy, but I decided that I can’t continue to live my life in shame and fear. I have made an intentional effort to replace those feelings with a new message. The words I have chosen to focus on are Gratitude and Resiliency. I can choose how I see the scar on my son’s face. Instead of letting it provoke shame and fear in me, I can allow it to remind me of the amazing capability of our bodies and minds to heal and move forward after bad things happen.
The scar can help me feel grateful for the ways we recover from injury and hardship, thankful for whatever level of health we are experiencing today, and mindful of the precious gift of life. It can remind me to be appreciative and invested in the present tense not knowing or worrying about what the future might bring, or rehashing past mistakes.
It’s hard to believe that one little scar can have such a powerful message of darkness or light. It’s even harder to believe that I have the choice of which message to hear.