I’m not a runner—never have been and likely never will be. But last weekend I ran faster than I’ve ever run before to save my four-year-old daughter Syona from a major mishap.
Syona has cerebral palsy and received her first manual wheelchair about a month ago. She’s been learning how to drive it ever since. Like any kid who’s learning to move around, we’ve had some mishaps—finger injuries, a few scrapes (both the walls and Syona) and even an instance when the wheelchair tipped. (We’re working on adding another anti-tipper to avoid an accident like that again.) Syona’s wheelchair is narrow (28 centimeters) and really light. It picks up speed quickly, which is great for self-propelling, but not so great when you’re careening down a hill and unable to stop (but I’ll get to that in a minute).
Over the weekend, we were at a fundraising event that took place on a school track and field. Syona and I were on a paved area, playing with her new friend Jillian, who also uses a wheelchair. The girls were playing on a flat surface with the nearest slope about three meters away. Syona was at my side, within arm’s reach. Jillian dropped her bag of chips on the ground, so I bent over to pick them up. She was upset that some had fallen out of the bag, so I took a look around and told her we had managed to save a few. I turned back to Syona—except she wasn’t there. I started the “mom scan” of the area. I found my kid. But she wasn’t safe. She was rolling, out of control, and picking up speed towards a temporary metal ramp with a two-foot drop onto a pitted track. In that moment, I gasped, yelled and took off. I have never run faster in my life.
I caught her wheelchair when she was about one foot away from the drop.
And in the seconds it took me to reach Syona, her life flashed before my eyes. (I feel dramatic even writing that, but it’s true.) All I could think was, if this happens… It. Will. Be. Very. Bad. Not bruises, cuts and a broken bone bad. But really, really bad. Like ambulance and emergency trauma bad. Her wheelchair wouldn’t have tipped or fallen backwards. It would have fallen forward and it would have been her head that broke her fall. In addition to the impact, she would have landed with her wheelchair on top of her 25-pound body. It was one of the most frightening moments in my life. My heart was in my throat and, once we were all safe, my hands would not stop shaking. We stayed for the rest of the event, but I don’t think I held one coherent conversation after that. Syona, by the way, was totally fine. It all happened so quickly she didn’t even freak out or yell for help.
It’s easy to look back and wonder if I was overdramatic and overreacted. But when you have a child who is only just starting to discover her mobility—and that exploration involves a set of wheels that can pick up speed quickly—the stakes are high and there is no gearing up. You learn through trial and error though. I never had a toddling toddler, so I never learned any save-your-child-from-falling-down-a-set-of-stairs-in-the-nick-of-time skills.
Despite the panic, and the remnants of this moment that will likely hold a place in my parent memory forever, I keep reminding myself that Syona is OK. That nothing happened. That someone or something was looking out for us.
And if you ever happen to pass by a mom and a little girl in a hot pink chair practising yelling for help, you will know why.
Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.