Saving Sam from himself
My sister and I have a totem, adapted from words spoken by Roseanne Barr: If, at the end of the day, the kids are still alive, its been a good day. Its harder than youd think, keeping them that way. As one friend said about his toddler, Hes on a daily mission to kill himself, in the most gruesome way possible.My sons are very active, boy boys and nobodys angels; small Sam, their cousin, is as kinetic, and then some.I have friends with nice, compliant children, usually daughters, who are shocked by the behavior of dervish types. But Ive seen the efforts stern and consistent of parents like my sister Lucy: I know how many times Sam is dragged away home from gatherings, howling in the car, she crimson-faced.Some kids are just this way.Lucy once talked to one mother of three lively boys, a community leader in education, who said, Youll keep some friends and lose others.Maybe Id get them back later, Lucy ventured.Probably not, the woman said brightly.The larger issue, of course, is not keeping friends, but keeping track.Once when Lucy was carrying luggage out of a room in a high-rise hotel in Puerto Rico, which she and Sam visited with another sister, she suddenly dropped the bags and sprinted for the elevator. Its doors were closed. Sam, 2, had embarked and ridden away. He could be anywhere, on any of 23 floors.She hit Lounge and saw, pausing in the middle of the busy reception, a tiny lone boy. On that same trip Sam escaped at the New York airport, and was retrieved outside, heading swiftly for the curb, where limos and buses rolled by.I just wanted to see three or four taxis, he said, exasperated, and howled for 35 minutes when bound into his stroller.Trained by years of worrying, I think of myself as alert, but Sam eluded me at a busy airport one Christmas when I took him by the hand to wait for luggage. He was beside me as I leaned in for a bag, and then he wasnt. Not even worried yet, I glanced in a six-foot radius … 10-foot … . He must have burst into a run the instant I turned my head. I bolted.He went that way! an understanding woman shouted.My mother says I broke out of the crowd wearing an expression of anguish.She was smiling. Sam sat on her lap.Last weekend, to give my sister, a single mother, a break, I took Sam to our towns beloved dirt park, where my sons, Teddy and Roy, jump mountain bikes.Sam, now 4, brought his small bike, with training wheels and no brakes. As I watched, standing with two other mothers, he occasionally dropped down a jump, pedals spinning unchecked, legs stiffly sideways. Sometimes hed just chuck the bike, empty, downslope. He was staying out of the way, and so when Carson, son of my friend Lynn, developed brake trouble, I offered to take him to the bike shop, and asked Lynn to watch Sam.The repair was simple, and Carson and I returned to the dirt park within 20 minutes. In one stunned glance, I took in the litter, ambulance, and three police and rescue vehicles. Three of the six children on the track had been mine.I see Teddy and Roy! Carson shouted.I braked, left the truck half in the street, and ran.Wheres Sam? Wheres Sam?!Hes fine, Lynn, pale herself, called.A boy I didnt know had broken his arm. A compound fracture. Thankfully, his header had caused no worse.As for Sam, he had first busily led medics to the hurt boy, and had now locked himself in Lynns car. He stood inside wolfing the donut shed bought for her son, declaring he didnt know how to open the doors. And still alive.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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