Retrospect and hindsight can be miraculous things. Something about the passage of time, the cleaning-up of messes, and the soothing of terrified toddlers just seems to make a story more laughable the next day. But yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t laughing.
Eamon had baseball practice. What else, right? Dan brought him there but then had to return to work, so the rest of the gang and I arrived shortly afterward to relieve him. I am embarrassed to admit that I was feeling rather in-control-of-things. The kids and the house were reasonably clean and organized. I even had a Grand Master Plan for dinner. Around here and at this stage in my life in-control-of-things is at best an occasional, fleeting feeling.
After occupying the kids at the playground for a bit, I took the baby and Gabrielle along as I wandered closer to the ball field to watch Eamon practicing.
I should not have done that.
I became pre-occupied with watching him hit and was only vaguely aware of the fact that Gabrielle had meandered a few yards away to where Kateri was playing. On the very edge of a tall piece of granite that jutted out from the bank of a steep hill. Now I do not use the word “tall” casually. This built-in rock was about 10 feet in height. A good mother might have been more aware of its presence and the threat that it represented to a tiny girl. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? Please?
Anyway, Gabby perched her bottom at the very top of this precipice for several minutes before I noticed her. And by then it was too late. Just as I began my hasty stride toward her, just as I opened my mouth to say, “Don’t move, Mommy’s coming to get you!” she slipped and she began to slide.
I arrived just in time to stand beside Kateri. Cue the slow motion. The two of us watched helplessly as Gabrielle slid feet first, down, down, down, with her arms raised up toward me.
“Mamaaaaaaaaaaa!” she called out as she slid to her hapless fate. And hapless it was. Because the ground at the bottom of this particular cliff-on-the-sidelines-of-a-baseball-field was a bit soggy. Okay, more than a bit soggy. It was boggy. As in up to her knees.
Since I had watched the entire episode and knew her descent had been a rather gentle one, I was not too worried about serious injury. I tried to remain calm, but Gabby made no such attempt.
“Oh, help, help, help!” She screeched, as she tried to pull her feet from the muck, reached helplessly toward me, and then shrieked again.
Valiant Kateri rushed down into the bog and boosted her little sister by the bottom while I reached—still holding Raphael in my arms—to grab hold of her. It was just like one of those over-dramatized rock climbing disaster movies. Our fingers stretched toward one another.
“Grab… my…hand!” I shouted into the wind.
“I…can’t!” she cried.
In the end, Kateri gave one brave and final all-out heave-ho, I leaned farther down than it probably was safe to do while still holding the baby, and… cue the triumphant music… we connected. By one arm, I pulled Gabrielle to safety, sat her sobbing, trembling body down on the wet grass and kissed her.
I looked up and saw Eamon standing over us.
“Uhhhhh, is that your family over there?” another kid on his team had said to him. “One of them just fell in the swamp.” So sorry, Eamon.
I looked past my son and saw bleachers full of baseball parents gaping at us. Where were they when we needed them? Anyway, practice was over.
After a rudimentary clean-up, the eight of us stopped at the grocery store (remember that Grand Master Plan for dinner?) on the way home. When we exited the store, we walked through the parking lot and toward the van, duck-like, in single-file. Grass stained boys, grubby girls, and Gabrielle sporting soggy sandals and mismatched, orange leopard-print shorts that were the only change of clothing I had in the diaper bag. Pushing a cart and carrying an exhausted and clinging Raphael, I brought up the rear with my muddied shirt, uncombed hair, and weary expression.
As I passed a pickup truck parked next the van, I noticed a young man in the driver’s seat, looking over the gang of us with a grin. It was a real grin. A genuine grin. Both amused and admiring. I couldn’t help but smile back.