I went upstairs for the night and headed to the bathroom as I always do to take my birth control pill. Like a moron, I must have left the little packet on the counter the night before without realizing it. When I picked it up, one pill fell to the floor and another three were missing. I knew P must have been messing with them, the question then became had she ingested the three missing pills. I frantically searched on the floor, the tub, the toilet looking for them – nothing. At that moment I was scared and certain she had eaten them – her curiosity is just so high these days. What kind of terrible mother leaves pharmaceuticals where her toddler can get to them? I was equal parts mad at her, mad at me and riddled with fear on what could happen.
The things that ran through my head as I ran to her room to wake her are as ridiculous as they were terrifying – what if the pills screw up her hormones or her organs or worse…
I let my anxiety take over, woke her from a sound sleep and demanded answers. Demanded answers from a three year old. She kept saying ‘I don’t know mommy, I forget mommy’, groggy and confused. What must have been going through her head. I’m awful. Then I grabbed by her shoulders and shook her. Shook my baby. In that moment of rage and fear I wanted to shake the answers out or shake the pills out – I don’t know what I was thinking. That is what scares me most of all – I was not thinking.
She started crying and I’ll never forget that look of disbelief in her eyes. It was that look that smack me back into reality and I took a breathe. What the hell was wrong with me? I should be locked up – never ever ever shake a baby – those words running on repeat in my brain. I wanted to take her in my arms and beg for her forgiveness, but I had to know if she had swallowed those damn pills. I had to know if I should call an ambulance or drive her to the hospital, make her throw up. Both of us crying now, I begged “Please dear God, just answer me P – did you take the pills?” Sniffling and still trembling she confessed that she hadn’t eaten them, she just played with them and threw them in the toilet. And I believed her. I’d shaken my baby girl to get the truth out of her – what kind of monster am I? I scared her and I made her cry. I jeopardized her trust in me. I failed.
It was the worst three minutes of my life.
Once I pulled myself together, I called poison control. A pleasant young man, Chad, working the late shift, reassured me that even if she did take the pills the effect would be minimal – an upset stomach perhaps, nothing more. No need to panic, no need to worry. Chad was too late for that advice. Chad will never know, but these side effects will linger forever. I shook my child, I lost control, I frighten the one person in the world I’m supposed to shield from all the nastiness. I became the thing I dread most – someone who hurts my daughter.
After things calmed down, I let her climb into my bed just in case she did get sick. Truth is I was desperate to be near her – desperate to fix the damage I did. Her little eyes looking up at me, wanting to hop in like countless times before, but hesitant to believe me. We laid there in silence for a while. Both of us breathing heavy. I wanted to reach out and cradle her in arms, rock her to sleep. Take a step backwards and erase what I had done. But there is no erasing it. There is only the chance to learn from it. To never let my fear and anger govern my actions and words towards my daughter.
The sane part of me knows that shake, though unforgivable, did not endanger P. She probably gets more aggressive clowning around on the playground at preschool. But the emotional part of me is consumed with failure, I know I crossed a line. I never want my child to fear me. And that is exactly what happened.
A few minutes passed and I took P’s hand and kissed it gently. “Mommy is so sorry. I’m so sorry I yelled and scared you and I’m so sorry I shook you. I’m so sorry.”
“Ok Mommy” and with that she rolled over kissed me. In a room surrounded by darkness, somehow those little lips found mine. We held onto each other – a tight squeeze that seemed to restart my broken heart.
These beautiful creatures are so quick to forgive. Even when we least deserve it. She woke this morning oblivious to what happened just hours before. Who knows? She might even have thought it a dream…a nightmare. We start anew and grow from this. I feel wretched and unworthy of this tiny love of mine. I’m glad she will forget about it, if she hasn’t already. But I know I never will.