When The Bone Breaks

Mali fractured her collarbone one week ago today. She has a buckle fracture, which means her clavicle is bent, and only busted partway through.

She is fine. It's her mom who is still reeling. And not for the reasons you may think.

We were sitting in a local cafe with Iz and her friend Jorge, having a bit of cake to celebrate Jorge's birthday, when Mali slipped backwards off her chair, went bottoms-up, and landed with a crash on her head, neck, and shoulder.

At first, I figured she was scared but probably fine. But she didn't stop crying, not inside after two minutes, and not outside after five. Not even with snuggling, not even with undivided attention. Something was wrong.

I carried her back inside the cafe, and told the two big kids that they needed to pack up their cake because Mali was hurt and we needed to leave immediately. My mind raced as I drove home. What if Mali had dislocated her shoulder? What if she'd given herself a concussion? Time for a medical consult with the advice nurse.

But as I picked up the phone, I suddenly remembered: It was 3:30. Leelo's bus was coming to our house at 4:00. And Leelo's Therapist R, who would normally meet him at the bus as she does two days a week so she can work with him until 6:00, was on vacation for two weeks.

Crap crap crap. I had to figure out what to do with Leelo, first, before I called the nurse, before the nurse set me up with an appointment or told me to go to Urgent Care. Mali needed all of my attention. That by itself would piss Leelo off, and make him act out. But her crying and sadness would aggravate him even more. I could not safely manage both her and Leelo in a waiting room or doctor's office.

But who could take Leelo? Most of my friends cannot drop everything and race over, as they are crazy-busy people with herds of their own children. Many of them are going through rocky periods themselves. And even though a few friends might have been free, I didn't feel comfortable asking for Leelo-minding from anyone who hasn't spent a *lot* of time with him and his unpredictability during the past few months. One unanticipated injury per day is my limit.

I realized that really, I only had two safe choices: Sage and Jennyalice. And Jennyalice's son Jake was on school break, so she was already maxed. Her life was already so maxed. As was the sandwiched Sage's. No. I could not call either of them.

So I called Seymour. I told him what had happened, and asked if he could come home early. He agreed that Mali needed to be looked at and said that yes, of course, he could come home right how, but, um -- he was working on a really critical media publishing deadline. Is there any way I could ask someone else to help?

He has never before hesitated to come home early upon request, so I knew his deadline was a serious one. I told him not to worry and hung up.

I looked in the car seat behind me and saw that Mali had fallen asleep. She never falls asleep in the car during the day. Oh, god, I thought, she fell on her head! She passed out! She has a concussion! Maybe her brain is bleeeeeding!

I started to sniffle a bit. "Mommy?" said Iz, from the way-back seat, "You aren't going to cry, are you? It makes me really uncomfortable when adults cry."

"No, no," I reassured her, even though my voice was cracking.

I took a deep breath and decided that calling Sage, whose two children are older and need slightly less minding than Jennyalice's, was my only choice. Imposing upon my completely stressed-out friend was my only option. My son is so difficult to be around that, in an emergency, even he could count his options.

That is when I started to cry. We have so many friends, so many wonderful friends. But when it comes to Leelo, we can feel so alone. Not because people wouldn't try, wouldn't offer, but because Leelo's needs are too severe, too dangerous, too immediate. There are only a handful of people with whom I can leave him and feel safe, knowing that no one is going to get hurt. Or who, if they do get hurt, will come back, who won't be shocked or disgusted or offended, who can look past Leelo's behavior and hold onto his sweetness, silliness, and beauty. And still love him.

Sage said that no problem, she would be over right away. Of course! I cried anew, this time out of gratitude.

By this time we were parked in the driveway. I called the advice nurse. She told me not to worry too much about a concussion, as children usually need to fall from twice their height, or be accelerating, to have a concussion. But she did think Mali needed to go to Urgent Care.

I called Jorge's mom and asked if she would mind picking him up early. She said it was no problem.

Sage arrived. I blubbered my thanks. Iz and Jorge played Rock Band. Mali woke up and cried some more. I drove her back down our hill, passing Leelo's bus on the way.

Jennyalice called as I drove to Urgent Care, asking me what I planned to do about dinner. She was involved, much as I'd tried to keep her out of my day's web of complications, because our group's close-knit interdependence means that Jennyalice is one of the few people whom Sage trusts to pick up her son AJ. Which is the only way Sage was able to come watch Leelo.

Jennyalice offered to take my kids some Burger King. I said that sounded just great, and told her what they would eat. And thanked her. And sniffled a bit more, feeling even more lucky to have such thoughtful people in my life.

Mali and I had a routine visit to Urgent Care. It was early, wait times were brief, the x-ray machine was scary but bearable, and the pediatrician on duty was all business. We were out of there with a clavicle buckle fracture diagnosis and Mali's new sling in less than an hour.

Mali and I arrived home to a happy house that smelled of fresh-baked cornbread. Everyone had apparently had a great time while we were at the clinic. Jorge's mom Sandia had stayed for a while and helped supervise a lot of swimming and silliness. Sage, who is Leelo's speech therapist, kept him plentifully busy, and somehow found time to make us minestrone and the aforementioned corn bread. Jennyalice's Burger King delivery was met with a lot of enthusiasm, especially from Leelo, who knows that the Burger King logo means red straws, and who went through increasingly complicated verbal gymnastics in trying to coerce some of those precious straws from Jennyalice.

Please go by Sage's and Jennyalice's sites, and tell them how great they are.


Mali has been mostly fine. As I've been telling most well-wishers, if your kid has to get a break in something, a clavicle is a good choice. Mali has to be careful not to bump her collarbone before it heals, or it might break all the way through. It doesn't hurt unless it's jostled or stretched, so she wears a sling mostly to remind other people that she's not supposed to run, jump, or climb for two weeks. She's pissed at being excluded from the playground time at school, so I've been picking her up after lunch every day. I don't really mind the extra time with her, even though I am under deadline. Mali is a delight and a kick, plus she can entertain herself quite ably.

The only ongoing stress is, really, her brother. He likes to hit her. He likes to push her. Vigilance is even more critical than our previous take on critical. Which he seems to sense, and which has made him increasingly crafty about his ambush methods, like unlocking both back doors when I'm not watching, so that if I tell him to go outside and play, he can sneak back in the other door and attack Mali. A few days ago his unrelenting assaults literally drove me to drink -- thank heavens it was babysitting night -- as once our two angels from on high descended to take over my children, it took two strong mixed drinks to make me stop shaking with anxiety.

A fracture is a rite of passage in childhood. It's stressful at the time, and makes for some inconvenience during the healing period, but it not usually a matter of ongoing stress. Unless you have a brother like Leelo. Our little exponent. Add him to any scenario and the intensity increases, the complexity increases by several factors. It's not his fault. But I just wish, sometimes, that everything wasn't so hard.

And you know what? Mali's injury is minor. The amount of time for which I needed help with Leelo was very brief. The fact that I have friends who can come help with Leelo in a crisis is miraculous. If you felt any vicarious anguish in reading my story, please know that, compared to many of the people I know and know of -- and even more I don't -- I am one of the lucky ones.

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  1. I'm so sorry to hear Mali got hurt, that's never fun. We just got out of the hospital with sierra and it was hell!

    You are blessed to have friends who can help you out like that, and I'm jealous of the way you all can juggle your kids between you and help each other out. If only we had something like that around here! Everyone is too afraid of Jaymes to watch him. He spent Sierra's hospital stay with her, we shared a little cot thing. He was actually pretty angelic, other than stealing whatever the nurses put down.

  2. Oh my! Dropping in to send Mali some get-well-soon vibes, and some well wishes to the rest of the fam.

  3. Anonymous2:21 PM

    I understand this on many levels, and I am so happy you have that wonderful web of friends who shuffle and dance and move heaven and earth to help when it matters most. Every special needs family needs that--big and small.

  4. Anonymous3:29 PM

    I am 30 minutes away. You can call me also. My Christopher was just like Leelo, no problem here.
    I know no fear.

  5. I will remember to read this post when I feel like I am failing everyone around me. Thanks for making us sound so great. It is nothing you haven't done for our family before.

    How many times have you saved me with your meatballs?

    Love you and your precious family.

  6. Anonymous4:41 PM

    I love your post! Thank you!

    Also, when I was thirteen, I broke my collar bone playing soccer. I went to go get the ball from someone as they were dribbling and fell squarely on my shoulder. It was a clean break and was lucky that the bone didn't pop out. But I was healed up in like 8 weeks and back at soccer again like nothing happened! Your child will be like this too especially with a kick butt mommy like you!

  7. You make me very, very, very grateful that my Little Man is my youngest. I don't know how I could do it otherwise. Glad it worked out. You are blessed and I am celebrating that with you!

  8. My son had this happen when he was little-he was less than two and I had already given birth to his little sister so I had my hands full. He was and (is) a bit of a stoic so I never realized he'd broken something until a few days after it had happened, when we felt a lump on his collarbone. I was devastated. But the doctor was really reassuring. My son wore the brace (just like Mali) and was good as new. If you have to break something, that's the thing to break.

    He's now twenty-three. So I did manage to get him into adulthood in one piece!

  9. Anonymous7:45 PM

    I'm so sorry that happened. Sucky. Thank heavens Mali is OK, and Leelo too. I wish you all lived in DC...I would totally sit for free.

  10. This is a crazy journey. Good friends in the tribe help to make it so much more tolerable. We get what we give.
    Of course, a morning spritz of HAPPY cologne to influence ones mood is helpful.
    love ya squid

  11. Hey there you. Please add me to the list of people you'd call in an emergency. There is safety--or at least perhaps a shred more sanity--in numbers, and your friends are more resilient than you think. Glad to hear that M is on the mend. XOXO.

  12. What a great post this is. Yes, you are very lucky to have the friends you have. But your children are also very lucky to have you. Iz is lucky to have a mom she can tell that crying makes her uncomfortable, and Leelo is lucky to have a mom who does everything she can to keep him out of situations she knows will upset him and cause him to act out, and Mali is lucky to have a mom who thinks spending extra time with her every day, even when she's on deadline, is a joy. Sounds to me like you're doing a great job.

  13. Anonymous7:59 PM

    Oh GOD. Hang in there. Broken preschoolers are my worst nightmare, literally, and look at you living through it and kicking ass and taking names. Tell Mali I said hugs, and that I will carry her around again next time I see her.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.