On Monday night I stood a foot away from my Miracle Niece and watched as she fell six feet off my parents' back porch, knowing that at the end of that fall, she would be met by concrete steps.
Did you catch that?
I WATCHED AS SHE FELL SIX FEET OFF THE PORCH AND THEN LANDED ON CONCRETE STEPS.
That moment and the two seconds after that that it took me to fly down the stairs to find her were, WITHOUT QUESTION, the worst moments of my life.
My cousin was over with her 7 and 10 year old daughters. The girls LOVE Baby AJ and were holding her hand as she toddled around (she CAN walk without a finger to hold onto but she chooses not to). I followed them out onto the back porch because I knew they were going to take her down the stairs into the garden and I knew enough to not let the 14-month-old get escorted down the back steps by a 7-year-old, no matter how loving and well-meaning she might be.
So we were all standing on the back porch, which is really more of a small landing off the back door...it's like a three or four foot square.
One minute I'm watching to see if they really were going to go down the stairs, in which case I was going to pick up the baby and carry her down, and then the next minute Baby AJ has broken free from the 7-year-old, is somehow between the planters that line the edge of the porch, and is falling off.
And then my heart, if you were wondering, totally and completely stopped.
I WAS RIGHT THERE.
In the teeny, tiny fraction of a second warning I had that Baby AJ was going to fall, I remember thinking that I should grab her, but also not knock the 7-year-old down the stairs in the process. As fast as that thought shot through my head, it wasn't fast enough to actually react, so I stood there WATCHING THE BABY FALL.
I flew down the stairs and saw that she had, horrifyingly, landed on the cement steps, rolled down them, and was laying at the foot of the basement.
There are a lot of things about the next minute of my life that I don't remember, but I do remember that the 10-year-old wanted to pick her up, but I knew you weren't supposed to move her, I remember that she started crying (which is a good thing, I know), the sight of this tiny body that I love SO MUCH laying there in shock and pain, the sound of my voice as I screamed my brother's name, and the sound that came out of my SIL (Who Does Not Wear John Deere Pajamas) when she realized what had happened to her baby.
My brother thought she'd only fallen down the steps so he picked her up, she continued to scream bloody murder, my mom called 911 and then we waited.
I didn't fall apart right then though.
I got on my knees and held the crying 7-year-old and promised her 100 times that it wasn't her fault. It really wasn't her fault because the baby got away -- there wasn't anything she could have done about it. I stroked her hair and I told her that it would be okay. I remember thinking that I desperately didn't want her to feel any guilt over this, but I knew I would be FAR less kind to myself.
I knew in my head that it wasn't my fault, but I also knew that if I'd reacted faster, if I'd held onto the baby as soon as we stepped outside, if we'd done anything that would have changed our paths, this wouldn't have happened. Therefore, it was totally my fault.
HOW COULD I HAVE LET THIS HAPPEN!?!?
So the ambulance came, the neighbors all came out of their houses, and off my tiny niece went to the trauma center. I told the 10-year-old to be kind to her sister, to tell her sister that it wasn't her fault, and then when they went home I sat on my parents' couch and finally cried.
My brother called from the hospital and said that the doctors said it happens all the time, that she'd be fine, but that they'd observe her for a few hours. We agreed that I'd go sleep at my brother and SIL's house and keep the dogs company.
So then I went and sat on *their* couch and cried. Ugly cried, for sure.
The dogs were so sweet and obviously concerned that Aunt Elizabeth was so sad and were wonderful friends to me. One of the neighbors came over and kept me company until it was late, but my brother and SIL were due home with Baby AJ soon, so I dozed on the couch a bit and waited.
I'd had a couple of updates (she had FRACTURED HER SKULL, but was going to be fine) and then a couple of pictures (she was still plenty cute, though the swelling on the left side of her face sort of displaced her ear a bit), but I wanted them to bring her home so I could kiss her and see her for myself.
They ended up staying in the hospital past the original estimate of a few hours, so when my brother came home to get stuff in the 4AM hour, I took myself the two blocks back to my house and sort of slept until my alarm went off an hour and a half later.
So you know how when you're really tired, you're sort of a mess anyway? Well imagine how much of a mess I was when I was running on an hour and a half of sleep and had woken up to the HORRIFYING realization that I had just watched my tiny, precious, baby niece fall off the porch and break her head.
I went to work anyway and was generally pretty dazed and spent multiple hours crying in a conference room (it also happened to be the day before our twice-a-year HUGE milestone meeting that I'm in charge of, so the timing was awesome), but they were on their way home from the hospital that afternoon and I was watching the clock like a CHAMP until I could go see her.
I went to their house that afternoon and my whole family was sitting around in their garden talking and laughing and being pretty normal. My darling nephew was telling me that Baby AJ had hurt her head and everyone else was relieved and tired but pretty okay (even my brother and SIL!).
AUNT ELIZABETH, on the other hand, could hardly form a sentence without starting to cry again.
Baby AJ was going to be fine. She wasn't moving too far away from her mother, probably had a headache, and was black and blue under her left ear, but she was fine.
I WAS NOT.
I'm still not all that okay, but at least I only cry when I think about the fall and the screaming and how I was comforting the 7-year-old, but really I was probably the one who needed the hug.
My SIL, bless her, told me not to think that this meant I was ever going to get out of babysitting duty.
(You know what's awful? That when I went to save that picture to my laptop, I already had photos called "AJ Hospital" because of that poor darling and the quality time she spent at Stanford last summer. THIS HAD BETTER BE THE LAST TIME, AJ!!!!)
Also: The post-head-injury hairdo is adorable.
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