When my baby was in an orthopedic boot, I felt the spotlight-hot glare of judgment everywhere we went. I was forced to relive my parenting mistake with every look.
infant sitting in macrame swing wearing boot
The boot didn’t keep James from smiling!
| Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Forrester

Whenever someone noticed my 1-year-old’s orthopedic boot, I had two options. I could tell the truth: “We were going down the slide together, which, yes, I know you shouldn’t do, but we did anyway, and his leg got caught. He has a tiny fracture, and he’s in this boot for a month.” Exhausting. Or I could tell a version of the truth. I usually picked option two. “He had a little sliding accident,” I would say. No big deal! That’s how the doctor treated it. Happens all the time; just put this boot on him. Just put this nightmare shoe on him while he writhes around like a zombified human on The Walking Dead. No big deal!

But it was a big deal. It was traumatic. I had hurt my son, and now I had my own shame compounded by the shameless ogling of strangers. The grocery store, neighborhood walks, the playground. Everywhere we went, I felt the spotlight-hot glare of judgment. Had I ever made people feel this way? Had my behavior ever forced someone to relive parenting mistakes?

Then there was James. For the first week, he couldn’t figure out the mechanics. He had started walking only a month before, and now he had the added obstacle of a (really very cute) boot. Suddenly, he was crawling again, and it felt like I had crippled him—an ugly word for an ugly feeling. In the movie version of this experience, a sage, grandparently person would approach me somewhere and say, “These things happen. Forgive yourself.”

I had no visitation by an elder with kind eyes, dressed all in white. But I had time. By Week 2, James had learned to walk with the boot. He had stopped thrashing around like a crocodile while I put it on. And I had stopped feeling so embarrassed. It does happen. Of course it happens. They even have a name for it—"toddler’s fracture."

When we went out, I found that I could face the question more honestly. “We went down the slide, and his leg got caught. The doctor said he can go down smaller slides on his own, but we shouldn’t try to go together.” I wouldn’t say anything ominous like, “Let that be a lesson to you,” but I hoped there was a lesson there all the same. And it turned out, most people were kind: sympathetic to the trauma of it and to James’s hardship without being judgy.

As hard as the ordeal was, it made me a more charitable fellow parent. It made me want to give space for mistakes—my own, and those of people around me. And it made me never want to deal with an orthopedic boot of any size ever again. Fingers crossed on that one.

This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine's October 2019 issue as 'What My Son's Fracture Taught Me About Parenting.'

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