Parenting Tragedies

red Every so often I am reminded of how easy it is to completely screw up as a parent, and that some of those mistakes could last forever.

I love fireworks. Not the noisy firecrackers, M80s or quarter sticks of my childhood that were used to blow up helpless frogs or kill piles of bullhead in the pond in one single boom, but rather the ones that fizzle and spit arcs of sparkling colors through the night sky. Every summer we spend a couple nights lighting up our backyard with them. The boys love it too. (So far the girls have never seen them because they are always already asleep by the time the summer sun sets.)


Last night the boys talked us into a bonfire which, for us, is almost always the predecessor of fireworks. Sure enough as soon as the fire was roaring, the boys started begging for their kiddie sets we bought them last summer. Poppers, sparklers, snap dragons, smoke bombs… all the little kid goodies. They were having so much fun that I suggested to my husband that he go into the cellar to get a few of the real  fireworks. Lots of excited squealing ensued, so of course my husband obliged.


He returned moments later with a couple big ground lightshow canisters, and three of the sky shooters. We watched the lovely ground sparklers, and then my husband went to set up the first sky canister on the back lawn. The ground was damp, so he set it up on a wagon. I corralled the boys toward the driveway, far enough away that the embers would not rain down on them. Up they shot, one by one, red, green, white, purple, blowing apart like mini stars bursting into fleeting universes. Seven, eight, we counted the lovely blasts. Jade, in his awe, wandered forward a few paces. Nine shot up, but ten shot out, straight out like gunfire into the swampy trees, exploding green glitter flares just a couple feet off the ground.

My stomach turned. Instantly my brain had calculated the odds of a 360 degree circle with one small boy standing on its edge with nothing to block the shot. Its height, its power, it could have blown Jade’s face to bits. In one second, his life might have been irrevocably altered, or taken, because of a parenting lapse of forethought. I felt so guilty, and still do. Even though nothing bad happened, just knowing that the difference between laughter and tragedy was a simple matter of chance haunts me.

And it triggers my guilt and sorrow over a different parenting error made six years ago that completely changed Kimani’s life forever. Watching her seize, not knowing what it was but knowing it was bad, and then letting the NICU nurse convince me that she was ok, and that I could go home… It is that firework moment where you see so clearly after the fact that if only you had thought to steady the canister with cement blocks… your child would not have been ripped apart. If only I had thought to insist on Kimani being cleared by the attending physician… if only I had shown him the picture I snapped of her tiny body contorted in a neurological misfire. Surely he would have known right away what happened. He would have ordered the tests and flooded her with a special dose of antibiotics just to be safe. Eleven precious hours would not have been wasted while the bacteria ate away at her brain.


For the most part I have forgiven myself for what happened to Kimani. I am not a doctor, and I was susceptible to trusting a professional NICU nurse. Had last night turned tragic, I would never be able to forgive myself or my husband… I know that because I have lived with how hard it is for me to let go of mistakes that cost my children a great price.

And so innocent, naive, and beautiful are the years of childhood that Jade did not even realize what might have happened to him. His night went forward filled with smiles and fun, and he went to sleep happy. And that is the way I want him to stay.


  1. krlr says

    I often feel we’re stumbling forward on the edge of the cliff and the next great tragedy is only a footstep or 20 away. And yet I don’t want my kids suffocated by my anxiety so we blow off fireworks too. I always marvel what a tremendous crap shoot this life is. May we all find the smiles.

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