Dylan was screaming in pain, the sort of fear-driven sobbing that’s hard-wired right into your nervous system, zero to panic in nothing seconds flat, and I was trying to calm Dylan and assess the damage while also turning my head to vent my frustration in Riley’s direction. Technically an accident but also pure carelessness on Riley’s part and goddammit I’d just said — Just said! Just! Said! — not to slam the door while they were playing and he’d done it anyway, right on his brother’s fingers. I wasn’t sure if bones were broken and a deep sliced-open pinch of flesh on Dylan’s knuckle was dripping blood and it was just one of those moments, everyone yelling and crying, total shitshow.
Later I scolded Riley for not listening, not being more careful, not even sticking around to make sure Dylan was okay but bolting out of sheer self-preservation. He was nodding and round-eyed but also maybe getting a little lippy about being on the receiving end of a lecture: “Okay. Okay.” You know that bullshit? Okay my ass. You don’t get to be TIRED of being in trouble. You put something in audible italics and I’m going to be in your face for like ten more hours, just repeating my various points over and over while you agree with FULL SOLEMN ENTHUSIASM EACH TIME.
Anyway. I went to bed that night filled with all sorts of murky worries about empathy and selfishness and taking consequences seriously. I was thinking, I need to know this *means* something to you. It hadn’t seemed to, is the thing. It was like he was upset about us being upset with him, not upset that he’d hurt his brother.
But the next night when I was tucking him in his eyes suddenly pooled and tears ran down his cheeks and he cried out, “I just feel so bad about Dylan.” And he wept that he was sorry and I held him and said that I understood and I told him that we all make mistakes that we feel bad about later and sometimes that’s just how we learn to make better choices. “Even you?” he said in a watery little voice and I kissed him a million times. A billion. Oh, buddy. Yes.