So, this weekend I dropped my baby niece right on her head. Well, not exactly dropped...she crawled off the sofa bed on which I was sitting. Unfortunately, I was the responsible adult in the vicinity when it happened, the adult who didn't even notice the baby getting closer and closer to the edge of the bed. The worst part of all of this is that I was videotaping my daughter and other nieces when it happened, so in the tape you can watch the progress of Baby J. as she enters harm's way. It's like watching a simulation of the Titanic hitting the iceberg.
My first reaction upon hearing THWAP! WAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!! was fear - what if she broke her neck? What if she's permanently disfigured? (Witness how quickly anxiety can override my intelligence - she fell two feet, not thirty stories, and I was honestly worried she might have broken her neck.) Once I saw that she was screaming and breathing, not bleeding with useless limbs hanging awkwardly from her torso, my second thought was: "Her mother is going to kill me."
I've always been a little intimidated by my sisters-in-law. I'm not quite like them, not that they are so like each other, but they all seem to have that big-family apathy that comes from years of deflecting simultaneous criticisms from multiple sources at the same dinner table. I come from a small family with one sister, and I worry incessantly about her opinion and the opinions of my parents. My beloved, sibling seven of eight (which translates into sixteen nuclear in-laws for me, along with fourteen nieces and nephews, versus three total human beings on my side's nuclear) doesn't give a rat's ass if one of his siblings momentarily disapproves of him, because chances are others would only approve of him if someone else disapproved. It's a totally different world, and one to which after five years of marriage I am only partially acclimated.
So not only did I worry that my niece was seriously injured (she wasn't), I worried that my reputation as a fit parent was, too. Even though I would've been HOLDING my niece if she would allow me to do so without screaming. Even though I wouldn't have hurt her for the world and everyone knows that. I know, intellectually, that it's impossible to watch everyone at every moment. There were four other children competing for my attention at the moment it happened. But I still feel like somehow I should be able to - and this comes from the same deranged part of my brain that tells me I should be able to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, recycle the grease, stop global warming, raise my child, romance my husband, publish a book and exercise four times a week, all while avoiding wrinkles, traffic accidents and nervous breakdowns.
Fortunately for me, the sister-in-law whose child I neglected - the same SAHM sister-in-law who bakes well and makes her own greeting cards - didn't make me feel bad for the accident. She was actually extremely cool about the whole thing, which reminded me of the benefit of marrying into a big family - there are a whole lot of people who have your back when you screw up honestly. And unlike in my family, where as the oldest child I've been the first to do a lot of things, there is always someone else who did the exact same thing between two months and fifteen years ago.
Even if when I did it, I did it on camera.