I guess until the moment Death actually takes me to the other side, I will remember with great clarity the moment my own mortality occurred to me. I knew people died. I knew animals died. Dying was, oddly enough, part of living.
But then one moment I was thinking about Kirk Cameron or New Kids on the Block or whoever the cute-boy flavor of the day was, and the next moment, I was gripped with the horrible fear that comes in knowing I will some day be buried six feet beneath the ground. Forget Heaven and Hell and eternity-promising realities. At that moment, all I knew was heart-pounding dread, and I couldn’t imagine anything else that could so suddenly inspire such depths of fear and sadness.
Then I had kids.
Nothing in this world or eternal worlds beyond can ever – EVER – scare me like the thought of a moment’s pain for my daughters. My eyes are welling with tears just typing the words “pain for my daughters.” The reality that the world is a cruel place that will cause them to cry and know all kinds of hurting is almost more than I can stand sometimes. I would do anything, including give up my own life, if it meant being able to spare them any of that eventual pain.
Knowing I can’t save them from Life’s little heartbreaks is tough enough. But when one of my babies gets hurt, I immediately start wondering if there is anything I could’ve done to stop it. The answer is usually “no,” but that doesn’t stop me from thinking back a million and one times to the moment when something happens and beating myself up over the fact that I should’ve been able to prevent it.
Yesterday, we were getting ready to rearrange our living room, and Sarah was sitting beside the entertainment center looking through the DVDs. One minute everything was fine, and the next, there was a huge crash followed by screaming from both kids. I ran around the corner to see Randall grabbing Sarah up off the floor.
Glass was everywhere. Aubrey was scared and crying. Sarah was screaming. Randall was Casper-white and holding on to Sarah as if both their survivals counted on it.
The shelf had tipped. A thick glass bowl slid off and broke on Sarah’s head. My poor little princess who perpetually feels like the world is crashing around her got a taste of what that actually feels like. The knots on her head were huge and immediate, much like a cartoon character who gets hit in the head with an anvil. She looked like she had two throbbing horns, she was shaking with fear, and her legs were bleeding where the glass had cut her.
Randall took Aubrey and calmed her down, and I shifted into Mommy mode. I’ve always thought I was a fairly strong person, but not until my daughters came along did I realize the full depths of my ability to summon strength and composure without hesitation.
At that moment, my fear is unimportant. My job is to take away my child’s fear.
I could tell Randall was holding it together for Sarah’s sake, but he was visibly shaken. He kept Aubrey away so she wasn’t further scared by Sarah’s pain, and I got Sarah dressed and took her to the ER to rule out a concussion or who even knows what else. At that moment, we didn’t know what might be wrong. We just knew our daughter had two half-inch-tall knots on her head that seemed to be growing exponentially every time we looked at her.
By the time we got to the ER, she felt better. She was hungry. She asked a million questions about cars we saw, toys she wanted to play with later and when she could get something to eat.
For her, at least, it was a normal day. It was anything but normal for us.
When we got home, she acted like we had been to the store, the park or somewhere equally normal and inconsequential. Randall skirted around her as much as possible and still looked shaken. His feelings of guilt – while unnecessary – were apparent. After a while, I hugged him and said, “She’s okay, Daddy. It wasn’t your fault.”
The dam of fear and sadness finally broke. I picked Sarah up, and the three of us stood there in a never-let-go hug for a very necessarily long period of time. And while I might’ve been the one that brought us together in that moment, I wasn’t really the important one in that space. The moment was more about a father, a daughter and the realization that Life has its own plans no matter how much we think we are in control.
Sarah was about 10 months old the first time she called Randall “Daddy.” In fact, it was in the same house where all this took place that the princess declared she had found her king. He adopted her last summer, and he shows how much he genuinely loves her every day. No one in our life has ever questioned his love for her as his real daughter. It’s not just a role he accepted. She is part of every breath he takes.
But in that moment, as he held her, sobbing with grief and guilt over what had happened, I think his fatherly heart stretched its capacity tenfold beyond his imagination. He had experienced the thing that keeps parents awake at night and brings tears to their eyes from the mere thought of it – his baby had been hurt, and he couldn’t stop it. I truly believe in that moment that the idea of being willing to give up your own life to save your child a moment’s pain became more than a feeling or a concept for him. And that’s not to say he didn’t already understand that feeling– there’s no doubt that before yesterday it was something he would’ve proclaimed with certainty.
However, in that moment when the glass shattered and there was screaming and blood and confusion all around her, the understanding that he would do anything to protect his children – and the reality of being completely unable to do so sometimes – became a palpable, gut-wrenching, belief-altering reality. You could feel the frustration and faith-shaking remorse pouring out of him. It was an overwhelming moment, and I have never been so proud to call Randall Mixon my husband as I was while standing in the middle of our living room holding this strong, grown man while he gave center stage to his grief and held on so tightly to that skinny little princess whose only response was to pull her eyes down like a basset hound and say, “Daddy, do I look like a dog?”
In true childlike fashion, the gravity of the moment escaped her. Thankfully. She will probably hear for years what a “knot head” she is or how she was so hardheaded that she broke a half-inch-thick glass bowl. She will remember we rearranged the living room and that she and I went to the emergency room, that we stopped at “rice and beans” to eat lunch on the way home, that she got a red Popsicle from the nurse and maybe even that Mama was driving really fast.
But she’ll never remember the way my hand shook when we were cleaning her up or the pain in Randall’s eyes when he nearly squeezed her in two with a hug of relief and sadness. She will move onto breakups with boys, getting turned down for jobs, feeling like she needs to find her place in the world and all the fears and heartaches we all thought were so awful when we were growing up and finding our place in the world.
And then (perhaps) some day she will have kids of her own…