Saturday morning. We decide to go out to the shops for a wander. S holds my hand; we have a lovely walk across the market, saying hello to dogs. She has brought her own shopping bag with her, which we decorated together last week.
We pop into our favourite bakery to get a gingerbread man, and to look at their Christmas decorations. The gingerbread man goes into S’s bag. We go to Boots to buy a drink, at which point I am handed the gingerbread man in the bag so that she can carry the drink. She knows she can’t open the drink until we get home, but I can’t make her understand that she can carry both the drink and the gingerbread man in her shopping bag. I carry the bag; she clutches a carton of Ribena, and off we trundle.
We decide to walk through a shopping centre; I am hopeful they will have their Christmas decorations up already. They don’t seem to have much going on, but at the bottom of the mall in the distance, I can see what looks like a large tree. That looks pretty fun, so we head on down to take a look.
The big tree is in fact a “Christmas Tree Helter Skelter” – a big helter skelter with green ribbons up and down it to make it look like a tree. This terrifies me; I know once S realises what it is, she’ll want to go on it. She’s too small to go on it alone, and since I’ve just seen a lady with a toddler on her lap get stuck half way down, and then kicked in the back by the next person coming down, I don’t fancy going with her. I try to persuade S to go elsewhere, but she’s having none of it. She tries to move through the crowd closer to the entrance to the helter skelter. Eventually, I make an executive decision, and do something I hate doing: I pick S up and walk into a shop. She is understandably cross with me, but there’s no way I can let her go down this slide. We walk into a shop with a massive Christmas section, and all is forgiven when she spies a train.
Everything is fine, until it’s time to leave that shop. We leave through a different door, but my daughter is far from stupid; as soon as we head for the door, she remembers where she is, and what was outside of the door earlier. She wants to go back and go on the slide. I try to distract her with the Christmas lights in the next shop… it doesn’t work. I keep hold of her hand as she tries to drag me towards the slide… or to slip from my grasp and run to the slide. I keep talking to her, saying “we’re going to go into this shop and we’ll look at the pretty lights and trees and go on the moving stairs, and…”
It doesn’t work. She keeps struggling… until… she stops. Suddenly my stubborn, slide-loving toddler is screaming and crying. Not the “terrible-twos-I-want-what-I-can’t-have” screaming you are imagining; terrifying screaming. Screaming that gets worse when I pick her up and accidentally move her right arm. I’m still unsure as to what is causing the screaming, so I take her into the shop and we go on the escalator for no reason other than to try and cheer her up. This escalator, combined with the walk back down the stairs afterwards, is one of her favourite things. I know this shop has an exit on the other side of the building, so we can leave without going anywhere near the slide… I just need her to calm down so that I can go to the food hall and get a loaf of bread before we go.
There is no calming down. We get to the top of the escalator and I find myself on my knees in front of my child, hugging her and asking where it hurts. She can’t tell me. She’s crying uncontrollably; there is snot all over her face. She doesn’t want to walk so I pick her up again (more screaming) and walk to the lift. She cries all the way down in the lift, all the way through the shop (I’ve given up on the food hall), and into the street. She cries along the street, across the road past the bicycles she usually loves to look at. We stop again as I try to get her to walk – she’s just so heavy these days!
More screaming, more carrying. Then we walk past a shop with balloons at the entrance. The crying stops briefly while she says “look Mummy, balloons!” We keep going; she continues to cry until she stops to point out some flowers. In desperation, I decide to walk home through another shopping centre, in the hope there will be something (anything) in there to brighten her mood. There is nothing. She cries all the way to our front door, when I have to put her down in order to find a key and open the door. She screams at this. I usher her through the door, close it behind us and carry her up the stairs to our living room.
By this point, I am panicking. I am imagining an afternoon at A&E, plaster casts, social services. I am imagining that I must have broken or dislocated something in my child’s right arm. I have hurt her terribly; she is in such pain, she’s crying inconsolably and it’s all my fault. I am a terrible mother. I don’t deserve to have this beautiful, amazing child. I have done something terrible to her. All the way home, I’ve been replaying that moment in my head: did I pull her arm? I don’t remember pulling her arm. I don’t remember twisting it. I don’t remember yanking it. I must have done something, though. There must have been something, or she wouldn’t be screaming in pain like this.
I open her drink for her, the one she has clutched in her left hand all the way home. She drinks it between great, gulping sobs and splutters. I gently remove her coat and we work together to get her hoodie off. I ask if she’d like some medicine and she manages a very forlorn “yes.” At this point I remember the other thing we were meant to buy at the shops today: Calpol. I give her some Ibuprofen, put the syringe in the sink and come back to sit with her. She wants to watch Fireman Sam, so I put it on. We have a brief discussion about where it hurts and through a series of “does it hurt here?” questions I determine that her right elbow is where the pain is. She won’t move her arm at all, and is holding her drink with only her left hand. I am horrified. Her arm looks like it belongs to one of those puppet masters who use a fake arm to disguise the fact their real one is moving the puppet. Rod Hull.
My phone rings, and it’s my mother calling about… I don’t know what, because I pick up the phone and say “I think I need to take S to A&E.” I explain briefly what happened, and my mother seems less panicked than I am. She’s raised six kids, and my brother spent half his childhood in A&E; she’s seen it all before. She tells me to press my way along S’s arm, firmly enough to be able to feel the bones but not too hard. I’m scared to touch her, but I give it a go.
By this point, Fireman Sam is rescuing Charlie from the brink of death, dangling from the top of a lighthouse. Charlie has already been rescued from this approximately 85 times this week; Fireman Sam has become our go-to movie lately. I realise S is watching TV, drinking her drink and most importantly, not crying. I gingerly reach for her right arm, and feel for the bones. They’re all there. Her shoulder feels fine. I poke at her wrist; it’s fine. I am more than slightly apprehensive about going near the elbow, but I do. She doesn’t even flinch.
By the end of my call with my mother, S is shouting out “buh-bye Nana!” and blowing kisses with her right hand.
I spend the rest of the day “testing” her arm by rough housing, tickling and playing. I pick her up and cuddle her lots. We have a lazy afternoon of playing with toys and watching dvds. The arm is never brought up again.
S goes to bed early, having eschewed a nap earlier in the day. I turn off her light, come downstairs and cry. I have no idea what caused this terrible pain that was seemingly there one minute and gone the next. And since I don’t know what caused it, I don’t know what I can do to avoid it happening again.
I know this wasn’t just toddler tantruming; for one thing, S does not really do tantrums. She cries until she sees a train or a balloon or a flower, and then she forgets whatever the problem was. But it wasn’t that sort of crying. It was proper wailing. Proper “I’m in pain and I want my mummy” crying. She has never cried like that before. Even when she was teething, she didn’t cry like that.
A friend has suggested she just yanked herself at a funny angle and had a momentary pain but was so shocked by something she’d never experienced before, it caused her to cry that much. It’s the only thing I can possibly think of either.
We’re avoiding that shopping centre until the helter skelter has vacated the premises!