05/12/2014 04:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Almost Happened

If it hadn't been for the response of my 7-year-old son, my 4-year-old daughter might have perished on our swing set just before dinnertime yesterday. Seriously. Luke saved Sally's life. Luke is my hero, and I owe him more than I will ever be able to express.

My kids aren't the calm, gentle type. On our swing set, they play games that might make a parent of calm, gentle children nervous, but not me. I'm used to their horseplay. They climb on one another and tumble down the slide together. They jump from high up and swing with abandon. Usually their play ends with one of them getting hurt -- just a little hurt, a skinned knee, bumped head -- or an altercation that leads to normal, if annoying, hitting, kicking or hair pulling. This is what siblings are all about.

As I stood yesterday at the kitchen sink, I felt only bemused resignation as I watched Luke climb on top of Sally up the slide. I watched this, not knowing that what was actually happening was a near tragedy, stopped only by an act of sheer strength, quick thinking and determination.


This was my view. I could see them absolutely clearly. I stood at the sink washing vegetables and watching the kids play on a lovely spring afternoon. Sally lay halfway down the slide and Luke climbed up from the bottom, up over her. If I thought anything, it was just, "This won't end well," which I find myself thinking a thousand times daily.


See that thing hanging down above the slide? That's Luke's old karate belt. It's been a plaything for a while now. It spent a couple of weeks tied across that beam and hanging down the slide so the kids could climb it. Did I notice that it was now tied in a loop? I'm not sure. If I did, I didn't register anything dangerous or amiss.


Sally did not put her head through the loop on purpose. She simply slid down the slide. But her head did go through the loop, and the belt tightened and held fast as she slid down. In an instant, she was hanging by her neck and unable to breathe.

She was helpless against what was happening to her. Luke immediately climbed up on top of her to try to release her neck from the belt. But the belt was so tight he couldn't move it. He knew he had to push her back up the slide to release the tension. He knew that he had to push her back up the slide and get the belt off of her neck, because otherwise she would die.

And he did it. With incredible strength of mind and body, my 7-year-old balanced himself halfway up the slide and lifted his sister enough to get the belt off from around her neck. He couldn't lift her much. He had to use a lot of force and push her head back. Hard. He somehow lifted, pushed and pulled as needed, while his sister stared at him wide-eyed, as her face darkened and she made a breathless gurgling sound that Luke says he will never be able to forget.

Meanwhile, I watched this happen. From my vantage point I couldn't see the belt around Sally's neck, just Luke laying on top of her in what appeared to be typical roughhousing play. It wasn't until I saw Sally flop limply sideways and roll down as Luke bounded from the slide and came running towards the house screaming and crying that I noticed anything was off. I stepped outside.

I expected to hear something normal like, "She pulled my hair." I expected to say something normal like, "Well, you guys were playing rough and when you play rough someone always gets hurt." But nothing was normal. Luke wasn't just crying. He was sobbing like I had never seen before and becoming more and more hysterical. Sally took a moment, and then came running and crying too. Her neck was red and raw.

The three of us hugged for a long time while I pieced together what had happened. What had happened was that Luke stayed calm and cool in a very serious emergency, and he saved his sister's life. Luke stayed level-headed when he had to, but as soon as it was over he had a full-blown physical panic attack. He kept saying, "I'll never forget the sound she was making. It was the worst sound. I'll never forget it. I'll never forget it." He shook all over. He hyperventilated. His legs collapsed from under him.

I abandoned the vegetables and we ate ice cream for dinner. I didn't cry and smother my children in grateful affection. I had to remain calm and strong for my precious small girl whom I very nearly lost, and my amazing brave boy who did a perfectly amazing brave thing.

Luke. Thank God for Luke.

The possible tragic endings of this story will always haunt me. Needless to say, we've gotten rid of the belt. Today I had the privilege of waking up to an ordinary day when I so easily could have been waking up to a nightmare, a life forever changed.

I might not have been standing at the kitchen window in that moment. What if Sally was out there alone, like she had been just a few hours earlier, before Luke came home from school? What if Luke didn't know to or wasn't strong enough to lift her up and precious moments were wasted while I looked on completely unaware? What if the situation were reversed, and it was Luke with the belt around his neck? Sally could not have saved him. Would she have come to find me fast enough?

Our hold on life is tenuous at best. I came too close to the unthinkable.

This post originally appeared on Motherhood, WTF?

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