That I can't sleep tonight isn't surprising really, given what I see when I close my eyes.
It's a nightmare, except it really happened today, so in addition to the terrifying visuals I have the added benefit of true guilt and real fear.
I am in front of the open oven, hands grasping two foil-wrapped sweet potatoes for dinner. I had placed E by the sofa, 10 yards away, surrounded by toys but I can hear that she is at the gate that blocks the stairs to the basement, as there is the telltale rattle of metal on metal. I am relieved that she is far away from the hot oven. She is safe and I am almost done.
She is safe.
Then I hear a strange sound from E. Grunting, definitely. Scared, maybe.
Just a little too far away.
I run for the gate. Which is open.
I look down the stairs and there she is, 6 steps down, crawling toward her big sister who is singing and drawing at my desk in the basement, out of sight.
I gasp or shriek or choke, I'm not sure which, maybe all three. At the sound, she looks back toward me and begins to fall. It's a tumble for the first step, then a flailing log roll, sideways down the next 6 or so steps to the bottom. She picks up speed as she goes, of course, as do I.
At the bottom now, we're both screaming. I grab her, clutch her to me and instinctively run to Z. Circle the wagons.
I tremble and shriek some more, until the real tears come. Then I stare at E, her pupils, her limbs, looking for signs of harm. She stops crying quickly and lunges for the pointy tip of the yellow pencil in Z's hand, then the floor. Time to crawl some more.
I call the pediatrician. I call CG. The nurse says all the things I already know: You're lucky the stairs are carpeted. No loss of consciousness is good. Check her pupils, watch for vomiting, sleepiness, changes in behavior. She's resilient. She's probably fine. Stay put. CG comes right home, takes me in his arms, appears not to hate me for breaking the first rule of motherdom: Do not break the baby.
I thought I closed the gate.
I must not have latched it.
It was just a minute.
She was already half way down the stairs.
There's dinner to make and an evening appointment for CG to keep and I limp through the usual dinnertime insanity, keeping a wary eye on E all the while. E keeps crawling toward the gate at the top of the basement stairs and rattling it. Rattling me.
At the end of dinner, E starts rubbing her eyes and I breathe in sharply. DANGER! SLEEPINESS!
CG touches my back and says gently, because he knows me and he's kind: It's her bedtime. She's just tired.
I nurse her, crying, stroking her face and her hair. I place her in her crib, apologize one last time and wish I had prayers to say to protect her.
I wish I could flash forward to tomorrow morning when she wakes up and crawls to the baby gates to rattle them some more and show me she's okay, she's tough, she's ready for more adventures.
I wish I could flash back to putting the sweet potatoes in the oven and make it not happen, at least check that freaking gate.
(Here's where you tell me all about how you, or your child, or your Rhodes Scholar, All-American brother fell down 50 flights of stairs as a kid and is perfectly fine.)
(Now that I've exorcised that, maybe I'll be able to sleep. Maybe?)