Our Little Hit Man

Sometimes, there’s no mistaking the fact that my children are being raised by two gay men, like when we go to Barnes & Noble and the first thing they want to do is jump up on the kiddie stage and belt out the new Madonna song.  “L-U-V!  Madonna!”

It’s happened more than once.

It’s not like we encourage it.  Maybe they were born that way.

Still, we weren’t too surprised when we took them to the park and they made a raised platform into a stage for their latest singing and dancing extravaganza.

“Y-O-U!  You wanna!”

What did surprise us was how we ended up in the emergency room twenty minutes later.

It all happened very fast.  Sutton stepped in front of Bennett, Bennett got annoyed and, like Nomi Malone in Showgirls (a reference they will surely come to appreciate someday), he gave Sutton a very deliberate and fateful shove.

Drew and I both saw her fall, but she was just out of our diving distance.  We dove anyway, and then we heard it…


More than the horrifying image of Sutton tumbling head-first off the “stage”, what I’ll remember most is the sound.  My daughter’s skull against the hard brick walkway below it.


Then, a scream.  The scream started instantly, which I knew was a good sign from when we were afraid Bennett had a concussion.  There was no debating, though.  This merited a trip to the ER.

I raced back to our minivan with our hysterical daughter in my arms.  I tried to feel her legs.  Were they moving?  Did she react when I touched them?  Geez, was I crazy for having such horrific thoughts?  The fall had uprooted significant chunks of her hair, which were coming out in my hands, covered in tears and snot.

Thankfully, though, no blood.  Everyone says head injuries bleed an unfathomable amount.  How was it that she was not bleeding at all?

It had been a huge fall.  Drew and I both guessed it was about two and a half feet, roughly the entire length of her fragile little body.  It was bad.

I sat on the floor of the van, holding Sutton’s hand, as Drew sped down the Bronx River Parkway.  We knew just how to get to the hospital because it had only been two weeks since Bennett was there.  Our second trip in less than a month for a possible concussion.  We fully expected a social worker to interrogate us in a dimly lit room.

After about ten minutes, Sutton calmed down.  I wiped her nose and dried her tears.  I tucked the loose strands of hair into the seatback pocket so she wouldn’t see them and panic.  She was moving all her limbs, and she said her head didn’t hurt now.

“Bennett pushed me off the stage,” she said, over and over.  She didn’t seem angry.  She was just recounting the story, the way she might say, “I saw four gooses” or “My donut was chocolate” after a happier trip out of the house.

I reassured her anyway.  “It was an accident.  Right, Bennett?”


The truth was, I couldn’t be sure.  Bennett had been going through a hitting phase.  Mostly, he hit the wall or his highchair tray when he was angry about something.  Sometimes, he hit his sister or me.

How did this happen to my kids?  They loved each other.  They were best friends.  They spontaneously held hands all the time.  How could one purposely do something that would land the other in the hospital?

Now Bennett was complaining.  He didn’t like being stuck in the ER.  He didn’t like the TV shows that were playing.  He was hungry.  I took him for a walk, but he didn’t like the big fish tank in the children’s hospital lobby.  He wanted to leave.

So I took him to the minivan, strapped him in his seat and closed the doors.  He thought I was taking him home, but the truth was I brought him here so I could yell at him at the volume I felt the situation demanded.


This failed to calm him down.

Four hours later, the doctor sent us home.  Sutton was fine.  No concussion, barely even a bump at the point of impact.

Drew and I have driven past the park since then, and we’ve revised our estimates downward.  The fall was closer to a foot and a half, if that.  Maybe we overreacted due to the circumstances.  Maybe the horror of the moment was bigger than just the fall.  We needed a doctor to calm us.  We needed to hear that our little girl wasn’t so badly hurt, but we also wanted to believe that our little boy wasn’t really so bad.

It wasn’t long ago that both kids were completely baffled by violence.  Now, however it happened, it’s part of our lives.

The kids have learned from the experience, but so far, not the lessons we might’ve hoped.  Mostly, they’ve learned that if you get hurt, your dads freak out and take you to the hospital, where they let you eat chocolate chip cookies from the cafeteria.  Bennett will trip and fall in the living room, then announce, “I’m hurt.  I need to go to the hospital.”

He still hits.  We’re working on it.  We’ve tried time outs.  We’ve tried rewarding him with YouTube videos if he can go all day without hitting.  We read him kiddie propaganda books like “Hands are Not For Hitting” to get the message across.

It wasn’t such a severe hit at the park that day.  They never are.  He doesn’t have the strength.  His hands are tiny and soft like cotton swabs.  He swats with them, and half the time when he takes a swing at you, he misses altogether.  When he does it, you want to laugh.

We don’t laugh, though.  Those tiny, meek little swipes he takes can have quite an impact.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Drew’s response in the comment section.  Also, Drew pointed out to me that the kids weren’t singing the Madonna song that day.  They were actually singing “I Want to Rock” from Yo Gabba Gabba, another favorite of theirs.

36 comments on “Our Little Hit Man

  1. Oh Jerry this hurt MY HEAD to read! I’m grateful to have your blog so when my daughter catches up to that age I will be slightly more prepared.

  2. So glad that Sutton is okay. Try not to worry too much about Bennett’s pushing her — I’m the oldest of five and our family lore is full of stories of us trying to damage each other. It’s not an early warning sign of sociopathy, it’s part of learning empathy by seeing the consequences of actions. Not that it’s any less scary for being part of the normal development process.

  3. That hurt my heart. Too many flashbacks. I acutely experience physical pain. Yes, it is sometimes necessary to experience, but I feel for her because I literally bleed easily. Subjective post.

  4. i know what you mean about the THUNK! that kept me awake for days after my 3-year old son fell down the stairs sept 2011 (that got us rushing to the ER also with my son acting like nothing happened). that sound is so much worse than the visual.
    my son is just older than his sister by a year and a half and we have a lot of episodes like this. one day they seem to want to injure each other but the next day you cant keep them from kissing and hugging. : )

  5. I don’t say it enough, but I’m so fortunate to have Jerry to put these memories into permanent words for our family. This particular memory, however, still feels too close for comfort. It really helps to hear so many of you other parents commenting on the non-sociopathic nature of toddlers; that we’re not softies for the recurring nightmare of hearing little ones’ heads hit brick, and there is no greater sadness than the grief of watching your children become veterans of the ER. There truly is comfort in numbers.

    The one thing that I would add, from my perspective, is that the day took on a truly horrible additional twist when we got home from the hospital, that night. I was bathing the kids just like usual at 7 pm, and Jerry was in the other room putting clothes away, and sadly, Bennett hadn’t had enough aggression for the day. He started splashing me and hitting Sutton in the tub.

    Jerry heard me scold him from the other room, and declared an end violence in our home. He came in, snatched Bennett — soaking wet — from the tub, and, as B screamed and shook and yelled ‘I’m not finished!!!!,’ took him in the other room to dry him, put him in pajamas and promptly deposited him in the kids’ room — locked away in his crib tent. (Yes, we’re still using crib tents. Don’t judge.)

    Door closed. End of Bennett’s no-good, terribly-rotten, really-bad day.

    The screams and protests from our son were almost (*almost*) as piercing as Sutton’s cries from the brick walkway earlier in the day, and it hurt more, because there were moments of pure rage in his screams. (‘I wasn’t done! I want to watch videos with you guys! Let me out!’)

    I know it was the right thing to do — and I knew it would hard. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be. For 45 minutes, as our little emergency room veteran, Sutton, got dressed, picked out videos and had her bedtime stories personally chosen and read to her, Bennett screamed like he was having dental work performed with no novocaine. (Sutton took a perverse pleasure in announcing to us, at random intervals, ‘Why is Bennett crying? Because he pushed me off the ledge? Oh yeah,’ thus asking and answering her own questions, a kind of hilariously charming habit at other times…but not tonight. But she *did* like the attention she got at bedtime without having to divvy up the video and book choosing.)

    I was never more grateful than when it was time to open up the bedroom door and take Sutton in. Jerry and I agreed that we needed to calm him down, hold him, talk to him — and to include him in the final moments of bedtime preparedness: where we painstakingly recount the activities of our day (we call this ‘Let’s Talk About Our Day’ (patent pending!) Segment — and the obligatory recitation of Goodnight Moon (by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Clement Hurd).

    Holding our shuddering, emotionally-spent little boy was like a drug to me. It was soothing and calmed my frayed nerves. I wanted to comfort him, to tell him that we never wanted to make him this upset — but I tried to keep my boundaries clear. But trust me — I held him a lot longer than I normally do.

    It was the culmination of an incredibly upsetting day. Seeing both of your kids in varying forms of pain is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (I’m looking at you, J-Lo!)…and holding Bennett felt like a weird salve for the entire day. As I felt his body start to relax (and after telling him 100 times that no, this did not mean he could watch videos now…), I felt my own body relax.

    They went to sleep quickly, and Jerry and I went into our bedroom and listened to them banter on the video monitor before they finally fell asleep — no hard feelings…no grudges…no blame for the unprovoked attack.

    That’s when my mourning took on a whole level of intensity. Once I knew that they were OK, I think my entire body lost all control.

    I had one of those cries that could only be labeled an ‘ugly cry,’ and that moniker was, frankly, understated for this level of crying.

    I wept for Sutton, for the fear of anything EVER happening to her and for the relief of knowing that our 2.5 year old was not paralyzed or staying overnight in the hospital. I wept for Bennett and for the fear of ever taking my anger out on him for an act of violence that all toddlers live through. I wept for Jerry, who remained grace under pressure as he held Sutton’s clumps of hair in his hand and sat, squashed, in the backseat of the mini-van. And I wept for myself.

    Super selfishly.

    And I wept for the 3 months of incredibly intense change we’ve gone through: the upheaval. The move cross-country. The new job. The new friends. The missing of old friends who truly were family. The feeling of growing old. The loss of our babies as they turn into toddlers. The strange feeling of helplessness as one realizes that you can’t put a protective bubble around your kids forever.

    And Jerry sat by my side as I wailed and cried and soaked the comforter.

    And each day since then has been a little easier.

    But the life lessons I’ve tried to take away have been these: Don’t take a single day for granted — it was just another Sunday that we never dreamt would turn into another trip to the ER. Don’t miss a second, because the time moves too quickly. And, if you can, I strongly recommend falling in love with a really good writer so that you don’t have to document every memory…just let him do the heavy lifting. (And comment periodically.)

    • This post…you both are such wonderful, incredible people and parents. I love you Drewben! Miss you even though I rarely saw you when you guys lived in LA and love that I can “keep in touch” by reading this blog. What a gift. xoxo!

    • Jerry, Your post about the “hit man” made me my heart race, so scary, so hard. But then, Drew, your detailed comment about it ~ completely undid me. I just read it aloud to Michael and had to pass the computer to him to finish it because I was sobbing. I’ve always said the bum deal in parenting (and now grandparenting for me!) is the worry attached to the crazy love. Deborah (aka mother of Julia)

      • Thanks, Deborah. I couldn’t agree more. Love and worry do go hand in hand, don’t they? Thankfully the fun times far outnumber the trips to the ER. 🙂

  6. I love hearing about all the honest stuff that happens to parents…a few years ago my boys were playing in my sons top bunk and my younger son fell off or so that was the story they both told…he was ok, I initially thought he had broken his arm but it was just bruised and scraped…then this year my older son made his first pennance. what story do you think he told? he was explaining pennance to his little brother and he said “remember the time I pushed you off of my bunk bed? that is what I am going to tell the priest” and I added “you can add the fact that you lied about it and said he had fallen”…my boys love each other to bits but they still can be jerks to each other all the time…it is just the nature of siblings:)

  7. Dear darling Jerry…

    You can NEVER be too careful when your child hits his/her head. This absolutely merited the trip to the ER and this absolutely merited being upset. You and Drew did the right thing (hysterics included) and a lesson is in there for everyone to learn when the moment is right. Cause-and-effect sometimes take a little longer for kids when it has to do with other human bodies, so you just need to find the right moment and context in which to talk to both Bennett and Sutton about what happened.

    If it’s any consolation: our kids have been broken a few times. The oldest had the silliest fall with the most atrocious consequences; before stitches we all saw bone…nearly ten years later he tells an absolutely fantastic story about how the scar got there, but we in the family know he tripped over his own feet and hit a cinder block that split the knee open. The youngest once got a hold of a Good News razor and shaved his upper lip open… We thought we were going to get social workers crawling all over us, or Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay questioning us in a dimly-lit room.

    It is a well-known fact in this household that I have the highest degree of sangfroid when it comes to this type of emergency. I am calm, cool and collected while people are bleeding, screaming, writhing in pain; I soothe, coo, sing, pamper, assuage, alleviate…when it’s over and everyone is back to normal I cry so much I nearly dehydrate. I shake; I relive the moment. Forevermore I will be able to summon up the sight of the injury, the pain the child felt, the medical bill that resulted…and I will shiver…

    You’re both doing a great job. It is beyond your control that Sutton and Bennett will have the dynamic relationship siblings have; when they are in their twenties and enough time has gone by, they will tell you about things they did to each other behind your backs or did without your permission. This incident, scary and traumatic, is just the beginning…you see them as “pusher” and “pushee,” but they will remember it differently. And they will reverse roles…and reverse them again…and complicity will grow and you and Drew will sit there at dinner, surrounded by friends and family, and one of the kids will say “remember that time we told our parents that we had gone here and we’d really gone there, and we ran out of gas, and the ATM wouldn’t work, and we got a ride to the gas station…” and you’ll be horrified and glad you didn’t hear about it when it happened.

    Remember to always run for head injuries, exposed bone, blood that spurts or oozes rapidly…and yell at the kids…you’ll give them fodder for the future. They probably think you’re both hilarious. Not that they’d tell you NOW!

  8. There’s something about kids and injuries….they are so resilient when it comes to recovery, whereas we adults tend to milk our boo-boo’s for all their worth.

    Build your stamina now because when they are older and start the sport’s genre..all the helmets, pads, & mouth guards can’t protect what races through my blood and causes my hair to turn grayer…..

    Great Post!

  9. Thank you once again for such a lovely post. Drew your comment had me more choked up than the initial story!

    You’re both doing a wonderful job. As everyone said you were completely right to get Sutton checked out, I too have heard that thunk while mid dive trying to stop it and the memory of that sound still makes me feel sick even though as soon as we got to hospital Dylan was fine.

    Toddlers hit, some bite, Dylan is a pusher although thankfully he does seem better now than he was a few months ago it’s still something I worry about, I’d hate for anyone to see him doing it and dismiss my sweet, kind wonderful little boy as naughty but it’s a work in progress.

    • I have to admit I’ve seen some kids who were very aggressive and thought, “Their parents must suck.” I’ve even wondered if there’s hitting (or at least spanking) going on in their home to make them act that way. My bad. I know no one’s ever laid a hand on Bennett but for whatever reason he’s started doing this. Sutton had a biting phase, too, even though we never bit her. She got over it, and I’m sure Bennett will, too. I just hope it’s soon. 🙂

  10. Greetings! You two dads are my heroes! Diving in there to save the day. From my developmental psychology course on children, it’s normal that their form of expression is more physical (not that hitting is okay as they learn boundaries and societal expectations, especially as my friend’s five year old constantly hits as a way of asserting himself despite both parents not doing so). It’s really tough being a parent, teaching kids what is okay and not okay, and you’re both fabulous. The key is awareness and both of you are doing that (versus some parents in shopping malls who let their kids run wild, bully other kids, and smack adults behinds).

    As they grow, and learn, they will understand that words (which can also have even more impact than hitting), when used nicely and kindly can have an even bigger impact than hitting, an impulse that well, most adults contain. Most.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself as they sound like their behaving as any normal children do. It must be tough with society, and social workers, but I know that both of you will only serve to impress them with your excellent model that many other parents (trust me on that one), could learn from.

    Thank you for being our teachers. 😀


    • Thanks, Pink! You’re very kind. I could probably use a developmental psychology course on children myself. Funny how no one ever has to take a course to become a parent. No wonder we’re all so clueless as to how to do it right. 🙂

      • Greetings!

        Every child is different, and really, those courses are soooo boring. I think your instincts, loving care, awareness, and knowing how much we don’t know are what make you and your partner fabulous parents. Not because perfection is a goal, but because excellence is your standard. 😀 I think you two are awesome role models. In comparison to many other families I know, I think you and your family are a lot healthier, happier, and harmonious in comparison. So kudos to you! 😀


  11. When I look back on the horrific violence my brothers and sister and I doled out on one another (yes, Dave had a particulary bad temper, too,) I am amazed we are all still alive. So, yes, I think this kind of thing is normal. Having said that, I am sorry you had to go through it, especially so soon after your last traumatic (though wonderfully blogged,) trip to the hospital.

    • Dave had a bad temper? Shocking! I guess it’s natural for siblings to beat the crap out of each other. Maybe China’s one-child policy isn’t such a bad idea after all. 😉

  12. So glad your little lady is doing well, and I’m sure your little man will grow out of this phase. It is scary when we see our children hurt, and puzzling when our other children are the ones hurting them.

  13. So touching it makes my heart hurt but then just as quickly makes me smile, recognizing that the most painful events from our lives often become, with a moment of clarity, the most instructive and most beautiful. You both are so gifted at identifying these special moments, pretty much while they’re happening rather than years later, understanding the human emotions and feelings that are inherent in them and then, if those skills weren’t enough, are able to recount them with such finesse that we all feel the joy and beauty that comes from such moments in life. Thank you!

  14. So touching it makes my heart hurt but then just as quickly makes me smile, recognizing that the most painful events from our lives often become, with a moment of clarity, the most instructive and most beautiful. You both are so gifted at identifying these special moments, pretty much while they’re happening rather than years later, understanding the human emotions and feelings that are inherent in them and then, if those skills weren’t enough, are able to recount them with such finesse that we all feel the joy and beauty that comes from such moments in life. Thank you!

  15. When I was like 3, I was running with my older brother in our house’s hallway. For some reason he pushed me over. I hit my forehead with the corner of the door and the next thing I remember (After the loud THUNK) was my family on my mom’s old blue Malibu, heading right towards the ER. She kept cleaning the blood from my face crying while I told her “Mommy, don’t cry. I’m not crying. See?” I was worried that she was sooo worried about me!

  16. Before I had children, I swore there would be no hitting or wrestling in my home. I personally hate violence because it makes me nervous. Then I had 3 boys. My husband said to me “oh here it comes with 3 boys” and I persisted that I could stop it from happening “with proper discipline” of course. Yeah right! We really didn’t have fighting, we had hits and wrestling….even wrestling matches to see who got the bathroom first. I am still surprised that none of them wet their pants in those times (and they were teenagers). As they grow, there are still hits and competitions of sorts and I still hate it. They have bruises from each other and I still hate it…but I have accepted the fact that they have not hurt each other to ever warrant a trip to the ER. MInd you we have been there for other reasons. Someday I hope they grow out of it and I won’t have to cringe when they hit each other just to hit each other. Hang in there Daddies! Your children will survive and love each other. It will be you who will silently suffer the most. That’s what you have each other for.

    • Thanks for the perspective. It sounds like a cliche, but I guess boys really do just have a lot of energy and aggression to get out. At least I only have one hitter (so far)!

  17. Ha, and I thought the blood-curdling scream would have been from either you or Drew as you hit the ground just in front of little Sutton!

    Isn’t it amazing how resilient little kids are? Glad things all turned out ok…more or less.

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