The moment it happened is frozen in my mind.
The loud school bell ringing out the morning call to class — big kids running across the blacktop, trying to get to class before the teacher closes the door.
Moms chatting and laughing, making coffee dates and lamenting the pile of laundry waiting for them at home.
My little girl by my side, watching her big brother head off to school — a place she still wouldn’t attend for two more years. She in her 3-year-old exuberance was smiling and laughing.
And then, the crash.
Big, third-grade boy — late to class — didn’t see my tiny wisp of a girl and plowed into her as he ran. She didn’t see it coming, couldn’t even put her hands out to catch her fall.
I will never forget the sound I heard as her tiny head hit the blacktop. An eerie calm took over me, and everything seemed to happen in slow-motion. I sat down and took her tiny body in my arms, and for just a brief bit of time she was out cold. My baby, my girl — who had just moments before been smiling and laughing — was just not there.
And then, the tears. She was back, with quiet sobbing tears, in a voice that I didn’t quite recognize. Low, moaning sounds punctuated with tears.
It scared me.
And yet, I still felt that eerie feeling of calm. I needed to get her home, needed to call the doctor. Why I didn’t think she needed an ambulance, I will never know. I just felt like I could do this, I could take care of my girl and she would be fine.
When I got her home and called the advice nurse, her message was clear.
Call 911. Now.
My husband held her, listening to the low, moaning sobs and trying to keep her awake.
When the paramedics came, her tiny body seemed so much more fragile than it had just an hour earlier. As they loaded her on the gurney into the ambulance, I remembered — she needed Bunny. The bunny she had slept with since her first birthday… the bunny that was supposed to protect her from these very dangers.
I bolted into the house to retrieve Bunny, then climbed into the ambulance with my girl. As we sped to Children’s Hospital, her eyes were closing. I kept telling her to stay awake.
What the paramedic said to me was haunting. “It’s not a problem if she goes to sleep. The problem will be if we can’t wake her up.” With those words, the seriousness of the situation hit me in the gut.
Walking the halls of Children’s Hospital, waiting for the CT scan to be completed, I saw them around every corner. Worried mothers with little children, playing with the doctor’s office stash of toys like everything was normal.
But these children I saw were very sick — some bandaged, some hooked up to tubes and dragging IV carts behind them. These mothers worried each and every day that their child would not be OK tomorrow.
It was an eye-opening experience, to see these women and fathers and grandparents, waiting in small rooms with obviously sick children, yet exuding calm and hope and continuing to parent, even when their child’s future was unclear.
My daughter was fine a — mild concussion and some badly-damaged glasses were her only remaining wounds as we left the hospital. Life would return to normal, or at least our version of it.
But those other mothers, those whose every waking second is spent cherishing the mundane, the usual, the ordinary — they showed me the other side of the mothering door. Where spilled milk at breakfast isn’t a bother. Where laughing and being silly is cherished because it’s rare. A mothering world where a mother just sees every day as a miracle, worries herself to sleep each night, then gets back up to do it again the very next day.
If we needed to, any one of us would fight for our child’s life and be strong in the face of tragedy.
It’s what we do.
But once you’ve seen the other side, no matter how briefly — you never want to go there.
This piece originally ran on Moonfrye