Like most parents, I fully understand that accidents – automobile accidents, in particular – pose the greatest risk of death for children. Everyday falls are among the next four most common causes of deaths among children. Yet, many of us do little more than require helmets for sports and other activities likely to involve falling. At times, I’ve been particularly nonchalant about falls, going so far as to claim that children “bounce” until they’re, at least, three years old. And, considering I survived my own helmet-less childhood unscathed, I admit, I’ve been less insistent than I should be about my children’s wearing helmets while bicycling and riding their scooters and “wave” boards.
I’m lucky. Other than the usual scrapes and bruises, my four children have collectively suffered fractures (due to inline skating, snowboarding, and climbing) and a split chin (tri-cycling). Very lucky.
Last night, we learned that a friend’s 15-year-old son fell while riding his skateboard, suffered a concussion, and died. Although news reports note that Caleb was not wearing a helmet, it’s not clear it would have mattered.
The news made me physically ill. I leaned forward and clutched my stomach, certain that I was going to throw up. Of course, I was devastated for Caleb’s family and friends, unsure about how best to offer them comfort and support. I also found myself more generally unable to comprehend this tragedy, to find any meaning in the death of this all American boy. My own
religious beliefs, shaken by my
brother's death nearly three years ago, remain an unconvincing basis for believing in the existence of some Divine plan. Caleb’s parents opted to donate their son’s organs, which hardly softens the blow. As part of a plan, it reeks too much of
Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.
No. It was just an accident – a fall, a tumble, the kind of misstep that could happen to anyone, to anyone’s child, to my child.
That is frightening, sickening even.
For the moment, I’ve banned skateboarding – a reasonable response, until you learn that children fall and get hurt – including traumatic head injuries – more often playing
basketball or soccer than they do riding a skateboard. I also hesitate because I’m not sure that the fear of losing a child is the best reason for restricting her activities. Caleb died
"living life to the fullest as he always did." Isn’t that what we all want?
Perhaps the more life-affirming response to Caleb’s accident would be to encourage our children to live life fully, and as
safely as possible.