As I helplessly watched the baby roll off of her changing table and head toward the floor, I had a flashback to a similar incident that happened 36 years ago.
Last week, Maggie, the baby I watch twice a week, decided to roll over when I was two steps away from her. She was lying on her table and I told her to stay still. She understands words, even though she can’t speak many yet. She usually listens. However, this time, I turned to grab a diaper from her diaper bag, and when I looked back, she was on her way to the floor. I could see her horrified expression, which probably mirrored my own. I ran to get her and was only able to catch her head. I think I remember some twisting and contortion of the rest of her body, but I was focused on saving her head. After a lot of frightened crying, she finally calmed down. It wasn’t until I tried to stand her up that I realized that one of her feet was hurt.
When her mother got home, she took the accident in stride, telling me that Maggie once flipped off the narrow end of the changing table and ended up in the laundry basket. The mother took Maggie to the doctor the next day for X-rays. The X-rays showed an intact foot, with no broken bones, but, a week later, Maggie is still refusing to stand on that foot, which means that she gets carried everywhere until she heals. I can’t complain, seeing as her injury happened on my watch.
The other incident took place in 1977 and involved an infant named Luke. Luke’s parents lived in a modern, wooden, three-story A-frame house with balconies and backless staircases. I was 17, and this was my first babysitting job with them. It was Halloween weekend and when I arrived, Luke’s parents said that they were going to a costume party and would change into their costumes when they arrived at the party. The little boy, Luke, was a few months shy of a year old. He was totally bald, very pale, and in the crawling stage.
A few hours after his parents left, he fell down 20 backless steps into the basement level before I could get to him. I know this sounds negligent, but anyone with a crawling infant knows how fast they move. We had been in the little TV room and he quickly crawled out the door to the top of the steps and fell down them. I ran down the steps to get him, calmed him down, and called my mother. She told me not to let him go to sleep, in case he had a concussion.
I carried Luke back into the TV room and closed the door, to prevent any more escapes. Luke watched television while I watched him.
Suddenly, I heard a pounding on the TV room door. I opened it and saw Luke’s father covered in blood and holding a large knife. I screamed. He screamed.
“Why didn’t you answer the phone?” he asked, in a panic.
“I didn’t hear it ring,” I answered. “Are you okay? What happened to you?”
“Why didn’t you hear the phone? I called over and over,” he asked, ignoring my question. This was many decades before cell phones, and home phones were the only means of instant communication. Their downstairs phone was in the kitchen.
“The TV was on and the door was closed, ” I answered. “This room must become sound proof when the door is closed.”
“Oh,” the father said. “It does.” He visibly relaxed, but he was still spattered with blood.
“Why do you have blood all over you?” I asked. He seemed confused, then looked down at himself.
“This is my Halloween costume,” he said. “My wife and I got dressed when we got to the party,” he reminded me.
“Where is your wife?” I asked.
“She’s still at the party. She didn’t worry when you didn’t answer the phone. She said that you probably didn’t hear it if you were in the TV room.”
I looked at him, covered in blood, clutching a rubber knife, wearing a bandanna and an eye patch. “You’re a pirate, ” I realized belatedly.
“Yes,” he said. He looked down on the floor next to the couch, where Luke was asleep on a blanket. “What’re those marks on his head?” he asked, alarm returning to his voice.
“Oh my God,” I said. During the time that I was talking to Luke’s father, large black and blue bumps had appeared on his bald head. “That just happened,” I said. “He fell down the steps an hour ago, but he didn’t have any bruises until now.”
“He fell down the steps?” he asked in amazement. “I’m going to pick up my wife and we’ll be right back. Stay in this room and close the door. I won’t call.” He made a dash for the front door.
When he and his wife returned, the wife was very calm. “Don’t worry about it, Patsy,” she said. “He moves very fast and he’s fallen before. Bruises on his bald head usually look worse than they are. I’ll keep an eye on him tonight and take him to the doctor tomorrow if he looks worse.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank you so much.”
She laughed. “I hear that my husband scared you out of your wits when you saw him.” I nodded. “You should go home and relax,” she said.
“Thanks, I will,” I said. “And I’m sorry about what happened to Luke.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said.
After I was paid for endangering the life of their child, I gathered up my belongings and started toward the door.
“Wait,” the mother called out.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Are you available next Saturday night?”
“Sure,” I said.