Thursday, April 2, 2015

"8-year old boy. Code 3": thoughts on raising a confident child

To be fair, I want you to know that Reed is absolutely fine. He got hurt in a snowboarding accident this past weekend but, in the end, unbelievably, he had no injuries.  Read on.

If you google "raising a confident kid," you come across a slew of articles with advice about how to instill confidence in your children.  These articles don't serve me; my problem is the opposite. Reed is incredibly confident, sometimes in excess. I honestly think he was born confident, and I hope he hangs on to it as he grows up, but at age 8, he already thinks he has it all figured out, and he is not interested in taking advice from anyone. 

Reed switched from skiing to snowboarding this year, and everyone who knows him understands why. He has more of a snowboarding vibe, if you will, and the swagger to go with it. Snowboarding suits him.  He loves that he and his very cool Uncle Chris are the only two snowboarders in the family, and says things like:  "Can you believe how good I am at snowboarding?"  

And the thing is, he really did learn quickly and shows a lot of control and athleticism on the slopes. And more importantly, he simply LOVES it. It does not matter how cold it is, he wants to go. We took him to Sugarloaf twice this season (it's expensive so it's a special treat to get to go) and each time, he could not sleep the night before. On the chairlift he would say things like: "I just can't believe I get to be here," or "This is so amazing."  He is grateful to be out there, and invigorated by the sun and the mountains, and I could not be more proud of this side of him.

 The first trip to Sugarloaf, in February, was the four of us.
 my quad squad
We were blessed with perfect weather, blue skies, and forever views. I appreciated so much that we can all do this together, and that the kids can ski or snowboard any of the trails we would want to go on. They are both showing control in their turns, so I am able to relax a bit instead of screaming my head off for them to SLOW DOWN all the way down the mountain. It is so much fun.

Skyler is a fantastic little skier, nothing fancy or showy, but she just cruises happily along, often singing aloud.

Reed, on the other hand, needs to be held back. I have to be very firm that he can't snowboard on double-black-diamonds at Sugarloaf, because he wants to try.

He quickly spotted the terrain park with a half-pipe and jumps and wanted to try it. I had to make a decision. He was very passionate about wanting to check it out, and I decided to let him, because I knew that if the jumps looked too big, we could ski around them.

He successfully made it down twice on our first trip, once with Tim and once with me. The jumps are pretty big, but I was happy to see that he slowed himself down at the top of each one so that he just got a little bit of air.

I might refer to Reed as a "wild-child" or say that he "has no fear," but those phrases actually over-simplify him.  He is not fearless, and he does have control, and he does have some limits when he's snowboarding. I very proudly watched him tackle these obstacles with both bravery and good sense.

By the time we made it to our second trip to Sugarloaf, this time with Sandi, Suzanne, Ella and Maya, he had been talking obsessively for weeks about two things:
--he wanted to snowboard without a jacket because he noticed some older snowboarders wearing hooded sweatshirts.
--he wanted to go back to the terrain park and try the half-pipe and the jumps again.

It was almost 40 degrees and sunny, so no jacket for Reed.

such a beautiful day in the mountains.

After about our 4th run, we decided to head to the terrain park and then break for lunch. Skyler went down a different trail (thank God) with the Carvers, and Reed and I dropped into the half pipe.

He did a few little turns in there, and did great. The next section, below the half pipe, has 4 jumps. He took the first two slowly, not much air, with sloppy landings. Third jump, a little more air and landed it perfectly. I saw him pump his fists in the air and I shouted at him that next time, I'd get out my phone to get video.

On the 4th jump, he got a little too much air and went flying.

Too much speed. Too much confidence. My brave boy in the air, blue blue sky in front of him; if only I could hit the pause button just there and we could reflect together on the price of being over confident...

I watched to see if he could pull off that landing, but he disappeared behind the jump. He landed flat on his back right under the jump, and wasn't moving. I got to him quickly and was frantic to get him out of the way, because we were both now out of view of the snowboarders flying down toward us, and I thought someone would land right on him.

He was gasping for air and crying but not able to move. "Is he hurt?" someone shouted.  There were 3 or 4 people standing to the side of the jump. I said: "Nope!  Just looks like he got the wind knocked out of him."  I leaned over him and said, "you're okay!  you're okay!"  I got someone to help me drag him over to the side of the jump, and just in time to avoid a flying snowboarder coming right toward us.

People started to gather and look. "He's fine! Just scared"! I must have sounded like a crazy woman, insisting to everyone who asked, that he was okay, while he was flat on his back, crying and not moving. Meanwhile, he could barely get a breath and he was gasping. He said to me: "I can't get down from here. But I want to go inside." I kissed the tears off of his cheeks. "You're going to be FINE."

Someone radioed the ski patrol and time contracted, so next thing I know ski patrol was there, asking Reed questions, doing an exam, taking vitals, calling for back up on the radio, referring to spinal injury, possible fracture:  "8-year-old boy. Code 3."  (I have since learned that Code 3 means "serious injury/ fracture.)

At this moment I told myself that I could not panic. As an already anxious person, not panicking was a near impossible feat. I started to cry but I stopped myself. Reed was right there, hearing my voice, and hearing the way I was answering questions. "Are you mom?" Can you describe what happened?" I knew that his state of mind was inexorably linked to mine, so I somehow was able to remain calm and made sure my voice was clear.

This brave boy needed a brave mama.

I next had to bring Suzanne and Sandi into the loop. They were skiing with Skyler, knowing Skyler would freak if she knew how bad this was. I wanted to keep her calm so that she would be okay staying at the mountain while I would, as was becoming increasingly clear, ride in the ambulance to the hospital with Reed.

The first text was me still in denial. But when I read the rest of these texts, I think: how did I manage to do that?  My hands were shaking as I typed these.

The ski patrol took off Reed's helmet, slipped on a plastic neck collar, strapped him to a back board, encouraged him to take deep breaths if he could, and asked him a lot of questions:  "Do you know where you are? What grade are you in?  Who is your teacher?" He was able to answer all of the questions, but he struggled to get the words out. He also was able to wiggle his fingers and toes which allowed me catch my own breath a little. But I kept hearing these ski patrol guys describing the injury on the walkies and it was all so surreal. "spinal injury. spinal injury. spinal injury."

I skied down behind Reed on the ski patrol toboggan.  Halfway down, the ski patrol stopped to check on Reed, and he then turned around and looked at me and said: "You're doing a terrific job, mom."  We watched all the concerned faces and parting crowds as we made our way past the lodge and down into the clinic.

Sandi, our dear friend and favorite nurse, met us at the clinic and was standing there waiting for us when they brought Reed in. Sandi did two things that gave me information about how to feel:  she had tears in her eyes (not good), and she took a huge breath and thanked God when she saw that Reed could move his hands and feet (very good).

The next few minutes were a flurry of quick decisions about leaving my car, finding my insurance card, and handing over skis and gloves and helmets to Sandi.  I managed to pull off one key task before I left.  I called Suzanne (eating lunch in the lodge) who let me talk to Skyler and I knew I needed to get through what I had to say without crying, otherwise I would've scared her. I told her:  "You go ahead and ski with your friends for the rest of the day.  We have to go to the hospital just to be double sure that Reed is okay, but I think he's just fine." She said:  "Okay mama." I can't believe I did that without crying. Brave kids need a brave mama.

I climbed into the ambulance and said to the driver:  "How far are we going?" I assumed ten minutes. He said: "About an hour." An hour on the curviest, bumpiest mountain road to the nearest hospital in Farmington.

The EMT in the ambulance (bless him!) let me sit next to Reed, and one more miracle is that I did not get car sick on that road; I knew I could not, so I did not. Reed was so uncomfortable strapped to that board. He is high on the spectrum of wiggliness to begin with, so this was torture for him, and it made his back hurt worse than it already did. The EMT said that those hard back boards are "archaic" in the level of discomfort they cause, but a necessary precaution.

By the time we were getting close to the hospital, the EMT said to Reed: "You know all the girls at school are going to love this story," to which Reed smiled and then replied, "I am not wearing this thing to school, am I?"  His breathing was better now and he was able to talk. He even smiled. He then started talking about school, friends, terrain parks, jumps, and the trail he wanted to start on next time we come to Sugarloaf.  The EMT said:  "I love this kid."  I exhaled for what felt like the first time since the jump, and took this picture so I could show him later.

en route to the hospital

We finally arrived at the hospital, and Reed was begging to be unstrapped. The doctor came in right away and examined his back, asked him what hurt. The doctor asked him if his head hurt.  Reed said "Yes.  It feels like I have a million of the sharpest daggers sticking in it." I made eye contact with the doctor and made a face that said "he has a flair for the dramatic" (like his mother).  Pupils checked out fine and Reed was now talking fast and more easily. After another minute, they unstrapped him from the board and took off the collar. He was so relieved. He pulled up his knees and moved his head from side to side. 

The very smart doctor decided to "watch and wait" for 30 minutes before we sent him to x-ray. Within that 30 minutes, Reed sat up and talked my ear off. He then talked to his dad on the phone for a while. When the nurse asked him if he was hungry, he said:  "Well, what do you have?"  He was hoping for his favorite, spaghetti with extra parmesan cheese, but he was happy with a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. When the nurse brought it, he said:  "YES!  I never get white bread."

In other words, the kid was fine.

Aw bud, the back board did not do good things for your hair.

Within the next hour, he got up and walked around the room. He was sore and stiff, but that's about it. After a full afternoon of skiing (while receiving reassuring texts from me), Sandi, Suzanne, their girls, and Skyler arrived at the hospital, with my car, to find us discharged and hanging out in the waiting room.  

We stopped at the store for treats and drove home.  When we got home, Tim had made Reed spaghetti with extra parmesan cheese and gotten him a huge balloon that said "Congratulations."  (He said it was either that, or Happy Easter.)

Skyler thought this was hilarious. "CONGRATULATIONS!  You almost broke your back!"

After Reed went to bed that night, I sat down and felt all of the anxiety and fear I'd been keeping at bay just flood over me.  The next day, I could not stop replaying the jump over and over and over in my head.

This whole experience has left me extremely reflective and searching for the life lessons.
The moral of the story could be:
1) snowboarding is dangerous, terrain parks even more so
2) see Emilie? You don't need to worry so much; it turned out to be nothing
3) a kid like Reed is bound to get hurt eventually
4) this is the price I pay for the gift of getting be Reed's mom.

I am going with lesson #4. I am honored to raise a child with so much confidence and bravery. I love that Reed wants to experience the world full throttle, and he never has to be convinced to try something new.

I absolutely philosophically agree that kids need to learn from their own mistakes, and that as a parent, I should not helicopter and hover and save him from all pain. I don't always abide by this philosophy and am sometimes guilty of taking care of too many things for my kids. And if had the power to pause Reed mid-air in that moment, surrounded by the blue sky and before he landed, I would have wanted to for sure.

On the flip side, I would not make a different decision about taking him snowboarding, or specifically taking him on that trail. I would not do anything differently. I will take him snowboarding again as soon as we can go. And while I know it is easy to say knowing that he was not hurt more seriously, I believe that if he had been hospitalized or came home in a back brace, I would eventually feel the same way. I don't want Reed to stop taking risks. I sometimes wish I could wrap him in bubble wrap, but I don't want him to change who he is.

Reed learned lessons with this accident that he could only learn by feeling them in his body, and being as scared as he was. There is no story I could tell him or advice I could give him that would have lasting effects on his future decision making, but I do believe he will be more cautious now.  For example, he now only wants to go on "the smaller terrain park at Sugarloaf" next time we go.

Raising a confident kid means sometimes you find yourself watching that kid go flying over a jump and you're not sure how he will land. 

As his mom, I have decided that my job isn't to catch him.  
My job is to say: Congratulations, baby. You are really and truly living your life.