It was bound to happen.
I'd known it since he was just a few months old, climbing the stairs before he could even crawl.
I'd known it back when I would regularly find him grinning at me from the top of the kitchen table, long before he learned how to walk.
I'd known it from the anxious looks on the faces of the other parents at the playground as he climbed far higher than seemed right for his age.
I'd known it as he shook off bumps and scrapes and bruises that would leave most toddlers sobbing.
I'd known we'd end up in the Emergency Room eventually.
Last night was the night. Our first, somehow, in our four-and-a-half-years of parenting. The boys were almost ready for bed, just finishing up their bedtime snack of cheese as they ran around the living room. I was getting things ready in the bedroom - the toddler's favourite blankets, the boy's pallet, my laptop ready to entertain me as they drifted off to sleep - when I heard the crash.
The crash was followed by a cry - The Cry - the one that causes you to drop everything and run to check for broken bones or gaping wounds. I found the toddler curled up on the floor, face down as he sobbed into his hands, and his older brother next to him, stroking his hair and asking him if he was okay.
I gently turned him over. It was the latter - gaping wounds - and chaos erupted as I called to the husband, "we need to go to the hospital!" There was that instant knowing that this needed a doctor. When he'd fallen yesterday and bumped his head, I sent the older one for a wet facecloth for the blood and ice for the swelling. When he'd danced his way off the counter a few months ago, I checked his pupils and watched his behaviour and snuggled him oh-so-tightly. When the oldest had that bad fever as a little baby, I kept him close and nursed him often and watched him carefully. But this - this needed more than a mother's touch could provide.
Facecloths and shoes and phones were grabbed. The oldest was strapped into his carseat while I snuggled the bleeding one on my lap, laws be damned. The husband (the one who was never good with the blood, the one who passed out as the oldest was crowning) drove, looked over, got queasy, looked away, drove some more. I whispered reassurance in my baby's ear, kissed his face, mopped up blood. He stopped crying halfway there, my tough little boy.
We talked to registration, waited, talked to triage, waited, talked to registration again, waited. Half an hour...one hour...two hours...two and a half. The bleeding had slowed and my little clown had returned. He made eyes at all the ladies. They cooed over him and clucked over his bleeding wound and fetched him more leaves when the ones he'd found on the floor had fallen apart. He pretended to be stuck behind the chairs while I hovered, nervous, not wanting him to bump his head again. Now that the bleeding had slowed, I could see how grossly deep it was - how was there even that much room between the surface of his skin and his skull?
When he got too antsy, I scooped him up again and wandered the waiting room. He wanted to be hung upside down and I was reluctant because hello, bleeding head wound. I could hear half the waiting room thinking for shame, hanging him upside down when his head is bleeding! and the other half thinking for shame, denying an injured child the one thing that is making him laugh! But he kept trying to fling himself back and sometimes I let him, just for a quick second - so much for consistency, so much for being kind yet firm, but all those good parenting rules go out the window when your sick or injured child looks at you with those big gorgeous eyes. What's that? You want some ice cream? And a pony? Anything for you, baby.
Finally we were called out of the waiting room and into the doctor's office, where a nurse applied numbing gel and covered the whole mess with tape and gauze and more tape. Then it was back to waiting, playing "this little piggy" and carrying on conversations in toddler-ese and trying to ignore the growing ache in your own limbs from two and half hours of holding and rocking and pacing.
At last the doctor came in, looking serious and short-tempered. I steeled myself as he began to speak. "So...you'd like me to put your kid back together for you?" I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding, laughed, nodded. But then he was called away - "STAT!" - and there was more waiting.
Half an hour later, I'd given in to the ache and found a chair, and the toddler had given in to the late hour and fallen asleep in my arms. I kissed him and rocked him and waited until finally the doctor was back and it was Time.
The nurse wrapped him in a blanket and he stirred but fell asleep again until the doctor poked that first stitch through and the screaming began. I held him down and held back tears and sometimes the most painful things really are for your own good.
Five stitches later, it was done. I scooped him up and he stopped sobbing but I was still shaking like a leaf; little man is tougher than his mama, that's for sure.
And so ended our very first trip to the ER. Back home and ready for bed for the second time that night, the little one fell right asleep. The older one (who had waited oh-so-patiently in the waiting room the entire time) chattered away about diggers and graders and whales and other things of Great Importance to a four-year-old boy. The husband and I, too hopped up on adrenaline to sleep, decompressed in front of our computer screens, heading to bed shortly after the boy's whispers were finally replaced with the deep, slow breaths of sleep.
This first trip, with this boy? It was inevitable.
Now it's just a matter of biding our time until the next one.