Charlotte, who is six, caught her foot on a mat a few weeks ago, tripped, and went head first into a glass door at her dancing school. The glass shattered, Charlotte fell through it, and hit the ground bleeding.
Her mother (my daughter) was right behind her and froze. Other mothers came running. Someone called an ambulance.
By the time I got to the hospital. Charlotte was lying on her back on one of those roll away beds behind a curtain in the emergency room. Her mom was calm and talking to her. Staff was calm. Even Charlotte, pale and bloody, was calm.
She was lucky. That’s what everyone said. She had just two cuts on her forehead. No glass in her eyes. No glass in her hands. No deep lacerations that would require surgery.
You thank God at these moments. You thank your guardian angels and all your lucky stars because of what could have been.
The doctor cleaned the cuts on Charlotte’s forehead before I arrived. But I was there when he came back to suture them with glue. “I need you to lie very still,” he told Charlotte, explaining that the glue would sting a little and that it was important that she not move at all.
The glue did sting and Charlotte’s winced. But she kept looking at her mom who was holding her hand and telling her to take deep breaths, coaching her, keeping her calm. “You can do this, Charlotte. Just breathe your breaths. That’s it. That’s good. You’re doing a great job.”
And then it was done.
And then it was on to the second cut.
It was harder to be brave this time because now Charlotte knew what was coming. She held her mother’s hand and squeezed her eyes closed.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte. You have to open your eyes,” the doctor said. When she did they were filled with tears. But she continued to lie still.
I watched both Charlotte and my daughter being brave and calm and thought about how when I was 6 and 8 and 10 and probably even 12, my father would take me to the doctor’s for shots, and on the drive there promise that if I were a big girl and didn’t cry, he would buy me a hot fudge sundae.
And every time, I swore to him that I would be brave.
But in the doctor’s office, the instant I saw the white coat, I wailed. It’s why my mother refused to take me. “I can’t do it, Larry,” she said.
So he did. He never got angry with me for embarrassing him. He always said, “Next time, you’ll be brave, right?” And he always took me for ice cream anyway.
I told Charlotte this story after the doctor left the room. “You cried because you had to have a shot?” she said, disbelieving, not just the story but that I was ever 6 or 8 or 10 or 12.
Waiting to go home, she had a video call with her brother. He saw her go through the glass door and was worried about her. “I’m okay, Adam,” she said, the six-year-old consoling the nine-year-old.
A week later, I was lying flat on my back in an MRI machine, having a shoulder checked out, my eyes squeezed shut so that I wouldn’t see the coffin-like structure I was trapped in. The technician had given me headphones so I was listening to Dean Martin. And he’d given me a call button to squeeze in case I panicked.
I panicked, but only a little. And it was only a little because I was thinking about Charlotte.
She still has her baby teeth. She is only in first grade. And she likes “Frozen” better than “Brave.”
But she is brave. She didn’t wail. She didn’t even whimper. She did what she was told to do. She breathed her breaths and stayed still.
Usually, it’s young people who learn from older people. But it’s because of Charlotte that (my father would be proud) I actually breathed my breaths and stayed still, too.Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.