A library visit yesterday started off with me and the three Littles standing on the ground floor of the library, waiting for the elevator door to open. When it did open, Middle reached out and placed her palm flat against the door, apparently to “help” it open. But her hand slid right along with the door into the crack between the elevator door and the wall. Her hand stuck there. The door stuck there.
My years of growing up provided me with such an abundance of warnings about the dangers of elevators, escalators, skinned fingers, broken fingers, mangled and lost fingers. Somehow, I failed to convey these fears to my own children: Keep your hands out of cracks where automated doors and railings are concerned. Better yet, don’t even touch them.
I looked at Middle, grabbed her hand. “Can you pull it out?” I asked, tugging gently. “No,” she answered. The door was still trying to close, the force pulling her hand even further inside the crack, except now her hand was too thick to fit further in. But that door wanted it, it wanted it, it did. And Middle was stuck, paralysed, her eyes wide with surprise, fear. She screamed, then.
There’s a moment, when time stands still in crisis, where you survey the scene, take in the problem, the potential solution, and realize that while everything depends on you (the lone witness) to get the problem solved, you (the lone witness) don’t actually have the resources to help, the power to stop an automatic door, to free your child’s hand from a crack in the wall. So you yell, you yell into the quiet library, “Can somebody help?” And some men come running, at first in slow motion, as if it hasn’t really clicked yet—Child’s Hand. Stuck. In Elevator. And then it clicks, and they run faster, and then they run so fast you can tell you are in an Actual Emergency. They run deliberately, right for that elevator door, like they know how to fix this problem, like they know what buttons to push. One runs right inside the elevator. He must push a button. Thank God he pushes the right one.
The elevator door slid open, releasing Middle’s hand, which was red from base knuckles halfway up her fingers. It began to swell. The nice library man—one of the men who’d come running—got a gauze bandage and medical tape, wrapping and securing it gently over Middle’s four fingers. He’d never done this before, he said, but Middle didn’t care. The gauze bandage was for psyche’s sake (Middle’s), only. But the icepack brought by the library man did help with swelling.
I walk around without really thinking of all the many things that could go wrong in a day. But when we exit crisis, there’s a deeper knowing of how many things could really go wrong, how bad it could be, as well as deep gratitude that they haven't and it isn't. It’s a revelation I take in, an internal shaking that lasts ten minutes through the filling out of the incident report, through the wrapping of Middle’s hand, through the wiping of all those tears. In spite of this, the Littles have a sense only of a moment’s present danger, or lack of it—not all the coulds and what ifs I could apply to the future. Tiny, in her stroller, had stared at the scene with apparent curiosity and now appeared disinterested, clamoring for Chex cereal pieces. Middle, was relieved, and fixated on the nurture represented in the gauze bandage, the pack of ice. And Oldest, seemingly oblivious to the gravity of said crisis, emits an exasperated huff and said, “We’re wasting all our time at the library!”