Why My Kids Choose My Husband Over Me in an Emergency

When you're single, it's kind of endearing, maybe, to freeze up during an emergency. Think of all the rom-coms you see that show a heroine cutely bumbling her way through, say, a kitchen fire. But once you become a mom, you need to be brave. All the time. Unfortunately, it's not like you flip a switch to make that happen. My son is 10 and my daughter is 8, and I confess: I am still ... eh when a crisis hits.


When some lucky people’s “fight or flight” reaction kicks in, they become eerily calm and clear-headed. (That would be firefighters, DEA agents, and my husband.) Others. Freak. Out. That latter category would be me.

I've always subscribed to the theory that becoming a mom magnifies parts of your personality. Kind people become kinder; Type-A people become even more so. And if you're, ahem, emotionally at sea during a crisis, you'll drift even farther from any shore of rational thought.

The best example I can give: Two years ago, exactly two days after moving to Portland, my son fell on a sprinkler head at a park and cut his knee to the bone. (If you've never seen bone before -- which I hadn't -- let me give you a little head's up. Prepare yourself. It is blindingly, almost hynpotizingly white.)

My son was in pain and shock ("Is that my bone?"), my daughter began screaming in terror ("That's his bone!"), and my head suddenly felt like it had detached from my body and was drifting away, like a balloon let loose at a birthday party.

"It's okay, it's okay," I assured my kids (because all us moms have that muscle memory). Then this is how I preceded to handle the situation. (And which I don't advise following.)

1. I took a dirty blanket from the back of our car and threw it over my son's leg so we no longer had to look at his bone. And by dirty, I mean there was visible mud on it.

2. I stopped a runner to ask where the nearest hospital was. But when he told me, this is what I heard, "Bone. Infection. Sepsis. Death."

3. Realizing I still had no idea how to get to the hospital, I decided we needed an ambulance. And so I called my husband at home to instruct him to call 911. “Wait, what?" he asked, bewildered.

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It wasn’t a great parenting moment. Probably the only reasonable thing I did was hug my kids and keep assuring, "It's going to be okay. Let's all calm down." But too little, too late. When firefighters showed up several minutes later (amused that this little slip of bone was the cause for emergency!), their promise that "you'll be okay, buddy" fell on deaf ears.

By the time my husband arrived at the scene, my son wisely latched onto him and ignored me for the following three hours in the emergency room. That accident -- and the resulting inch-long scar -- was the topic of most reports, drawings, and stories done during his third-grade year. And not in a "Hey, this was so cool" type way. More like "This was the worst day of my life!"

For a while -- okay, even now -- I Monday quarterbacked that incident. If I had just kept my cool ... If I had just held it together ...

But the truth is the fact that I didn't was a great lesson -- and one I still bring up to my kids: How most people are not simply "brave" or "not brave," but a combination of both. In fact, that's a perk of marriage; I can share my husband's fearlessness when it comes to medical emergencies; I think he appreciates how I propose scary-big projects, like moving our family cross country.

Real bravery takes practice, I tell my kids. And some days are simply better than others.

On New Year's Eve, I was awakened by someone trying to break into our house. I woke up my husband and we found some guy we'd never seen before, blitzed out of his mind, trying to get through our basement door.

It would be quite satisfying if I could tell you that I confronted the intruder with a baseball bat or got in his face and told him to hit the road -- now. Nah. That was my husband. (Who did both without even breaking a sweat.) All I did was call 911, then ran back upstairs to make sure my kids were safe and reassure them not to worry.

Not until afterward did I admit to myself that that, in and of itself, requires bravery.

Do you keep your cool during an emergency?

Image © iStock.com/Nomadsoul1

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