Last weekend we attended a fall party. I arrived late, with our younger son who took a nap when the party was getting started. My husband met me at the car.
“Older son has a mark on his face. He didn’t even notice when it happened. I didn’t want you to worry, he’s totally fine.” The injury had occurred within the rented bouncy house that was on the front lawn. Kids were still squealing and squashing each other in the plastic and mesh of the bouncy house as I found my way to the backyard. Parents called out words of caution every now and then, knowing that their words were lost on those who were squealing.
I searched the party for my son and found him with his best friend, digging beneath some trees. It was the ideal hideout. Similar to those I imagined as a young girl, when I read Bridge to Terabithia. They peered out at me, an adult invader, coming into their kingdom.
“You all right?” I asked. He did indeed have a mark below his right eye and it seemed somewhat puffy. But he was happy and said it didn’t hurt. I tried to appear laissez faire about it — not wanting to appear the panicky mommy. We stayed at the party a few more hours. He returned to the bouncy house several times, each time I was on the other side of the mesh walls, following his every move and scanning the other kids to see if they were overly rough or physical. If need be, I told myself, I would scramble into that house and remove any offenders.
Since last week his eye has turned black and blue. His pre-school teacher immediately asked my husband what happened when he took him to school on Monday. Neighbors on Halloween asked us if it was part of his costume or not. There’s no mistaking that he’s got “a bruiser.”
As the mother of two boys, I know there will be many more black eyes. Just tonight my older son was launching himself from one end of the sofa to the other, without a care in the world. One nickname we have for his younger brother is “Rough and Tumble” — he, too, seems focused on barreling through any barriers he finds. I try to caution them in these moments, but also don’t want to raise two boys who are afraid to try new things, or to push themselves physically. I seek some balance — tell him no more couch jumping, but let him stand on a wooden stool to reach the high back of another chair. My rationale doesn’t ring true even in my own mind; it’s not long before he will challenge me on my cautionary advice, I’m sure.
I want to protect both of my sons from the bruises — inside and out — that will surely come as they continue to mature. In reality while this black eye is difficult for me to look at without wincing, I know that it will be even more difficult to be alongside my sons as they navigate broken hearts, failed friendships and the disappointments that life can present. Someday I know I’ll long for the days of the bouncy house when the wounds are more easily healed.