Billy’s Accident

I saw it happening in slow motion. A hand reaching, a mug tipping, the screaming. Oh, the screaming.

Looking back, all I can think about is what Kelly Corrigan wrote once. ‘Raising people is not some lark. It’s serious work with serious repercussions. It’s air traffic control. You can’t step out for a minute; you can barely pause to scratch your ankle.’

We rushed him to hospital, turning my head to the window so Ella wouldn’t see me cry. The burns covered his chest, his right arm, the skin peeled bare away so only raw flesh protruded.

Running water for 20 minutes, the nurse counting down the last five, three, one minute as if it would somehow reassure me, brace me for the end. I barely even knew she was there. My baby howled in my arms, no longer fighting against me but lying there defeated. It could have been five seconds or five hours, it all felt the same to me. Ella was crying outside the bathroom door, startled and shocked and worried for him. I hoped Joel knew how sensitive she is. I hoped he was soothing her like she needed to be soothed. I wanted to split myself in two. One me in the shower clutching my baby and one me wrapping my girl into me and explaining what was happening, promising that everything would be okay.

The guilt, oh the guilt. It rolled itself into a ball and wedged itself into my gut. It served as evidence only, to confirm what was true: that as a mother, I was a fraud. And on it rolled: I should love more selflessly. I should serve more graciously. I should care more diligently. I should give more freely. I should mother more softly. I should be more presently.




The stories quickly gathered: a 20-litre urn spilt over a little boy, a percolator straight from a camping fire all over a little girl, stranded on an island, helicopters choppered in, a cup of tea down a friend’s leg, a child darting onto the road, a split second lapse in concentration. And the worse ones; a pool gate left open and a child dead, a battery swallowed, another gone. A parent grieving the kind of loss you couldn’t even bring yourself to think about, the kind of loss laced with an extra poison – responsibility for that which went wrong. The type of grief that alters life forever.

Last Friday was terrifying, not because it was life-threatening but because it wasn’t. Because the near in a near miss can sometimes be the width of an eyelash. Because all it takes is five seconds. Because there are parents out there for whom the most trivial, tiny accident has seen them bury their own child. My heart is heavy to know there are mothers and fathers around the globe who have to live through – or with – that hell.

The thing about these scary experiences is the clarity you’re given. You know what you live for. You know what is important. Every hard thing Billy has put me through; every month without sleep, every early morning wake up call, every fit and inconvenience — it’s all forgotten. It’s like starting fresh, seeing with new eyes, loving more purely. He’s been kissed and nuzzled more times in this last week than the last fifty put together.




And we’re even happier for today, for the smallest of things to love and enjoy, for the littlest of life’s pleasures.

Our chances are numbered, our days limited, our cards dealt. So let’s play them with all our gusto. We will win some hands and lose others, and afterwards we’ll learn that it’s a game we’re playing, that the point is never in the final result – the game will end for everyone after all – the point solely is in the love we have for playing.


800 children in Australia are burnt every year from scalds and hot drinks. Be diligent about where you put them – far out of reach – and never drink them absentmindedly,

(FYI) First Aid for burns:

  • 20 minutes of cool running water at some point in the first three hours.
  • If the skin has blistered and popped open, cover the burn in cling wrap – the air hitting the burn is what causes a great deal of pain.
  • Avoid putting ice directly onto the burn – this can further damage the skin tissue.
  • Get them to hospital ASAP for treatment and pain relief.

12 Responses to “Billy’s Accident”

  1. Lynette

    Oh how I feel that pain. My son had almost exactly the same accident at 13 months old. We had the silver dressings, the ports for injections of water 3 times a day. The burns to his flesh burned my soul. I remember the ambulance driver reporting to the doctor that they didn’t believe it to be anything but an accident. I was so glad that those questions were part of the process but oh so ashamed that they were being applied to my child. Thoughts and love with you and your family. X

    • The Red Tent

      I can so relate, Lynette. There was an assessment in Billy’s report which read something like ‘parents responded appropriately and were appropriately upset’. I, like you, was glad for the assessment but ashamed all the same. Anyway, what’s important is that he’s no longer in pain and it was a clear message learned. Thanks for writing in 🙂

    • The Red Tent

      Thank you. He’s fine now. A bit clingy to me but otherwise back to his normal self. The doctors expect there will be no scarring which is great.

  2. Kate

    Oh Rachel & Joel… how awful. I had tears in my eyes reading this. I’m so sorry you all had to go through that experience and sending love and white light to little Billy. Be kind to yourself too Mumma bear. Accidents happen and the fact that you were there to comfort him and get the very best help available, means that you did everything you possibly could to help him through that experience.
    As a mum, it’s hard knowing that our little people are living their own journeys isn’t it? All we can do is our best – guide them, and then comfort or help them if they fall.
    Love the Kitchins x

  3. Poppy

    Have you read ‘All Good Things’ by Sarah Turnbull (she of ‘Almost French’ fame)? Not only is her writing beautiful and her story intriguing, but a similar sort of accident plays a large role in the book, and her guilt (and the way she deals with it) is red and raw to read. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful and engaging book… You might find it therapeutic! xx
    (Oh, and PS — Very glad that everyone’s okay!)

  4. bridget

    poor little man! sure hope billy is feeling better by now.
    and i hope you are, as well, rachel. try to not beat yourself up about it (said the pot to the kettle- haha!). truly, moms are just people, and we all try to do our very best. that is all we can do.
    events like this are stark reminders to us that the only guarantee we have is this very moment. each of us has only a finite number of minutes, and we can not afford to waste any of them.
    sending all my yellow- b


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