My baby must be trying to kill himself.
This thought, however irrational, popped into my head as I entertained my happy 19-month-old Monday night in the waiting area of a crowded emergency room.
Inside Bennett's abdomen swirled a minty, red, white and blue concoction laced with fluoride that threatened to poison him. About three-quarters of a tube of toothpaste. This was only the latest in a series of dangerous behaviors that seem to be his preferred entertainment option, despite a large arsenal of toys.
There were the two other near-poisonings: Bennett's encounter with industrial fertilizer* two weeks earlier, and the mushroom-eating incident** in a cousin's backyard. There's his obsession with power outlets, with their easy-to-outwit, "baby proof" plugs. There's his infatuation with cords of any kind, especially draped around his neck. There's the time he moved a chair to the kitchen counter and flipped on the garbage disposal. And the time he stepped off a four-foot platform at the playground, just beyond my attempt to save him. The time he helped himself to a sharp knife out of the back of the dishwasher, which he opened himself.
By divine grace, we've always averted catastrophe. I consider myself an attentive mother. I do my best to baby proof. But this kid is fast, dexterous, determined and unfazed by my laughable attempts to outwit him. He will be the one to give me a heart attack.
About 45 minutes earlier, Bennett had emerged from the bathroom, sucking on a 4.6-ounce tube of children's toothpaste, acting quite proud of himself. What had once been nearly full was nearly empty, drained in the minute or less he was out of my sight as I cleaned the kitchen after dinner. The only evidence of his misbehavior was the tube in his mouth and a pea-sized dollop on the hall floor.
I fumbled for the Poison Control number on my laptop. I should program this into my phone, I thought. My fingers were starting to shake, but Bennett seemed overjoyed. Left unchecked for a moment, he scaled the arm of his child-sized recliner and leaped off, just as I lunged toward him. I missed. He nearly grazed the brick fireplace with his head. "Yay!" he said, clapping and pointing at me, pleading for my applause.
I dialed. "Poison Control," a woman answered dispassionately. I shared that my intrepid son had sucked down his weight in toothpaste. She methodically proceeded through a list of questions. How big is the tube? Uh, 4.6 ounces, I said. The strength of the fluoride? 0.15 percent. How much does he weigh? 26 or 27 pounds. She clicked over to hold for several minutes, too much time for me to digest that my giggly son could be corroding from the inside.
The silence on the other line ended, and the woman sounded baffled. She had done the math three times, and a coworker had verified her work. Usually, she said, she reassures people that it's hard to ingest enough toothpaste for it to be toxic. My son, the little champ, appeared to have crossed into the danger zone. I would have to "take him in."
Hospitals apparently don't take poisonings lightly. The ER at Centerpoint was full of patients waiting to be helped, but we were called up for a room right away. They had the report from Poison Control. Bennett was entertained by the red light on the cord attached to his toe and all the mysterious cords hanging from the wall.
An hour after the incident, he showed no telltale stomach cramps, diarrhea or vomiting. He was apparently safe. The hospital staff discharged him almost as quickly as they admitted him.
I am one grateful mom. I went home, put him to bed, sank into the couch and slid into an incidental meditation session. I was stunned by Bennett's antics and my failure to protect him.
This is a phase, surely. He will gain judgment, and I will worry less, I hope. In the meantime, it's time to reassess and re-baby-proof for the kajillionth time.
*Pellet fertilizer, it turns out, is less toxic than liquid fertilizer. Over Christmas Bennett found a forgotten sample of industrial fertilizer in my parents' living room dresser, unscrewed the lid and flung it in a 360 degree arc. He probably didn't eat any, but my brother's assurances that he'd be "foaming at the mouth" weren't enough for me to let the incident go without consulting my friends at Poison Control.
**My husband, Will, cleared the mushroom from Bennett's mouth before he bit anything off. Our cousin, an EMT, had us give him milk. Fortunately, B was fine.