An update on Nate


So many people have asked me how Nate is managing, so I wanted to let everyone know that he is healing. it’s going to be several weeks before he can go without his bandage, but the doctors have assured me that his hand will heal normally. Right now it doesn’t sound like he will need any skin grafts.

He’s mostly back to his usual self, which means that he is up to trouble and we have to constantly chase him around as he runs away, now with his bandaged arm in the air.

I feel very lucky.


Gabe’s version

“Let’s eat our cake,” I tell her.

“Okay,” she says. We pretend to eat the dirt we rolled into balls and decorated with acorns and bits of stick. We’re playing castle in the tarp-fort that Daddy made.

“Nate!” I call to my little brother, who is eating the dirt cake for real. “Stop eating the dirt. Just pretend.” I show him how. He pretends for a second, then runs out of the castle over to Daddy. Daddy is chopping wood by the fire.

“Don’t eat my cake!” Anna screams at me. I wasn’t, but I don’t bother telling her. She never listens to me.

“Nate, no!” Mommy yells, so loud that I jump. I run out of the castle. Daddy is holding Nate and screaming. Mommy and Daddy are yelling for us to get into the car.

“Let’s go! We have to go to the hospital!” Mommy tells me. “Nate burned his hand!”

I’m scared. Then I look at Nate. Skin is falling off of his hand. He’s screaming and crying. I start to cry, too.

“Come on, Gabe. We have to get into the car. Go get into your seat,” Daddy says. I hear him, but I can’t move. I’m too scared. Mommy pulls my hand and we go towards the car.

Nate is already buckled in by the time I get into my seat. He’s holding his hand out and crying. “My and urts,” he cries. “Mommy, my and urts!”

“I know it does,” Mommy says, holding his arm tightly. “I’m sorry, Natey-boo,” she says. She sounds sad.

I sneak a look at Nate’s hand. The skin is gray and falling off. He’s screaming.

“I don’t want to look at his hand!” Anna says. “It’s terrible!” She’s almost crying too.

I’m so scared.

We drive super slow by the lake, past our ice cream shop. I had a cotton-candy ice cream cone, but I couldn’t finish it all. Daddy is angry. He’s yelling and saying words that I don’t understand. He goes fast around a car and then honks the horn.

“My and urts!” Nate cries. “It urts!” he says.

“I know, baby boy,” Mommy says. “We are going to the doctor to make it all better.”

I’m not so sure. It looks like it won’t ever be better. I’m so scared. “Mommy,” I ask, “is Nate going to die?”

“No, he’s not, sweetie,” Mommy says. But I’m not sure. Maybe he will. The skin is falling off his hand. Underneath there is red stuff.

“My and urts!” Nate screams. Why won’t he be quiet?

Anna covers her ears. “I don’t want to hear him!” she yells.

Everyone is talking and yelling. I am so scared, so I cover my ears too. I don’t yell. I just stay inside. If Nate dies, I will miss him. Maybe he will go to heaven to be with Mom-Mom. Mom-Mom will take care of him there, and maybe his hand will be all better in heaven. But I will miss him. I don’t want him to die. If he stays alive, I will teach him to be careful by the fire. When we go camping, I will follow him around and keep him safe. I promise. Mom-Mom, please don’t let Nate die. I love him and I like having him for a little brother.

“It urts!” Nate cries. I can still hear him through my hands.

“I know, sweet boy,” Mommy says. “It will be okay.” She turns all the way around and looks at me. She looks worried. “Gabe, we’re almost there. I promise.”

That makes me feel better.


On guilt and motherhood in an ambulance

Before tragedy struck

I want to preface this post with a bold statement: I rarely, if ever, have felt guilty as a mom. In fact, I hardly ever experience guilt. I have recently wondered if that makes me a sociopath. Hopefully not. But as a mom, I try to give my kids all that I have to give — at least I did until recently. I have always tried not to leave myself any room to feel guilty.

This weekend, while we were camping with the kids, Nate, our youngest, fell into the campfire. He burned his hand badly, and I spent most of the night in two ERs getting him treatment. It was a complete accident. Geoff was starting the fire while the kids played in their fort on the other side of our campsite. Midway through setting up the fire, Nate wandered over to Geoff, who was sawing apart a log. Geoff warned Nate to stay back, and Nate turned and started walking away, looking at Geoff over his shoulder. He took a few steps and tripped directly into the fire, which, thank God, was low, tiny. Geoff saw what happened and immediately pulled him out, but the damage was instantaneous. We all jumped into the car and headed to the nearest hospital.

Where was I while this happened? I was reading a book. In my chair. Watching from afar. I’m embarrassed to admit it. I think of my best friends, the ones who are moms, and I know that each one of them would have been following behind their babies wherever they went around the campsite. There was an open fire and I was reading a book. It’s unforgivable.

The attending doctor at the first ER was concerned that Nate should receive care from a pediatric burn unit. He told me that Nate would need to be put under while his wounded hand was cleaned and the damage accessed. So we transferred to another hospital, closer to home, now at 9 p.m.

Nate fell asleep in the ambulance. It was heartbreaking to see his car seat belted into a stretcher. He looked so tiny and helpless. When the EMT covered him with a white hospital blanket, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. What if the fire had been bigger? What if Geoff hadn’t pulled him out so quickly? All the impossibilities came flooding in at once. If the EMT, sitting across from me in the ambulance, noticed me crying, she didn’t say. How could she have known how much I hate white hospital blankets, how they will always only be shrouds to me ever since my mom died? How could she have known that covering my baby with one to keep him warm in the air-conditioning would put me back in that room with my mom who died so suddenly that I couldn’t even make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye? She couldn’t. She meant well, and truthfully, it all turned out fine.

We made it to the second hospital, and a team of burn doctors assured me that Nate’s hand will heal without surgery. They bandaged his hand, sent us home, and all is well today. He’s learning to be a lefty without much complaint. But I still can’t shake this too-close-for-comfort feeling of near-miss, and I can’t let go of the blame. Maybe I shouldn’t.

elleroy was here



Six days and counting. We’re all excited, but I intend to draw it out. I’m going to savor each and every moment leading up to our departure.

Six days until our first camping trip of the summer. Six days until we load the car with the bare necessities. Six days until we close up the house, leaving the realities and responsibilities behind. Six days until we return to ourselves.

In preparation I will make a list. Food we want, the special things that we eat only in the wilderness. Sugary cereals, smoked sausages to roast over the fire, eggs to cook quickly after our hike, whole melons, and marshmallows, of course marshmallows. And beer.

Also on the list: sunscreen, band aids, flip flops, a new frisbee, some rope, bug spray, ice. Only the necessities, remember?

After shopping, I will pack, arranging everything carefully so unpacking will be effortless. I will stuff the cooler and have it ready to toss in the trunk at the last moment.

I will check the directions and show the kids the campground on the map. I will begin the process of detangling from the demands of home. I will begin to let go.

I will make a playlist of music, a small pile of books to direct my thoughts in their wandering. I will pack my art supplies and sketchbook. Finally, when all is readied, I will wait, excitedly. I will close up the house, shut the curtains and leave things neat to ease our return.

At last, when the sixth day arrives, I will help load the car. I will buckle the baby into his carseat and watch as the kids settle themselves into their seats. As we begin to drive I’ll let my thoughts go, watching and listening. Being. At last.