“Don’t worry. He’s fine,” my son’s kindergartner teacher said to me over the phone when I picked up her call at 11 a.m. “You just need to take him to the hospital for a broken ankle.”
Clearly, his teacher’s version of “fine” and my version are quite different.
After I sputtered out a few questions while scrambling to find my shoes, my keys and my sanity, my son’s teacher answered that he had stuck his foot under a merry-go-round contraption that they have at his school. The death-mobile ran over his foot, twisting his ankle, pulling him off and dragging him behind.
When we first visited my son’s school, we were charmed by the throwback playground equipment of yesteryear. Instead of seeing a modern plastic park with guardrails, my husband and I looked fondly at the antiquated metal equipment and were reminded of our own youth.
“Why’d they get rid of this stuff?” my husband asked, marveling at the sight. “It’s classic.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s because enough kids got burned or impaled.”
“Oh, yeah,” my husband said, looking at the playground in a new light. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
This year, the school celebrates its 40th anniversary, and I’m more than confident that this merry-go-rigor-mortis my son got hurt on has graced the schoolyard since opening day.
“How’d it happen?” I asked before jumping in the car to go pick him up.
“I can’t be sure,” the teacher said. “But I think maybe he did it on purpose — to see what would happen if he stuck his foot under it.”
When I was the same age as my son, we had a kindergarten picnic at a nearby park. The parents were invited to come along, and my mom rearranged her work schedule to join us.
The playground had monkey bars, but rather than gravel, the bars had a grate platform underneath them, standing about 2 feet above the ground. I believe the premise was that you could walk across the grate while moving your arms across the monkey bars as a way to practice, but I can’t be sure. What I can be sure about, given my crystal-clear memory of this event, is that when I dropped down from the monkey bars, my small feet didn’t land squarely on the grate. Rather, my right leg slipped right through it and got stuck.
I screamed bloody murder. The adults — teachers and parents alike — tried to pry me from the grate. I remember the pain being immense, and the panic on the adults’ faces only increased my own panic. Eventually, a parent thought to lather my leg in a substance. I recall it being butter — which I guess is possible, seeing as we were at a picnic — but more likely, it was sunscreen and I was too distracted by my chronic screaming to notice. The oily substance worked its way down my leg, and I was pried free at last.
My leg hurt. It throbbed. I cried, cuddled my mom and was given a Popsicle. Maybe 15 minutes later, I was ready to play again.
In a park full of fun options and friends, I had only one thing on my mind. Now that my leg was covered in butter (sunscreen?), would it get stuck again? Only one way to find out.
This time, I didn’t try crossing the monkey bars at the top. This mission had nothing to do with any swinging accomplishment. I walked right over to the grate and thrust my leg into it.
Ooh, it hurt. It hurt so much more than the first time because now my leg was battered, scratched and bruised from being pulled out previously. It was also swollen, which meant it got even more stuck this time.
I screamed, cried and was pulled out once again. But the thing that upset me the most was when my mom banned me from going on the grated monkey bars for the rest of the day. “Why not?!” I wailed. So mean!
How do children make it to adulthood?
When I picked up my son, he ran over and jumped in my arms. His teacher’s jaw dropped. “I really thought it was broken,” she said. “It was swelling up, and it’s so bruised.”
My son nodded gleefully. “Super bruised,” he said. “Wanna see how I did it, Mama?” And he skipped over to the spinning merry-go-round and stuck his foot under it.