Written by JM Randolph

My stepson didn’t complain about our daytime screen ban at all this summer. He went to the park; he rode his bike; he and his friends dug holes and built forts.

One gorgeous summer afternoon, I was outside on the phone with my mom when two little boys suddenly beelined out of my shed. I was fairly confident one belonged to me. I was also fairly confident they were carrying tools. They disappeared around back.

I said, “I think I’m going to check that out,” and headed toward the shed.

My mother can verify that I said this. Note my desire to let the kids expand their limits and how I refrained from hovering while being near enough to be safety-conscious.

They ran back before I could reach them. My stepson was saying, “You’re fine,” and his friend was saying, “No, it really hurts!” I took one look and went into damage control mode.

The friend was wearing sandals. One of the tools they had swiped was a shovel; the other was a pickax. In the realm of injuring oneself with a pickax, this kid had won the lottery. He’d neatly wedged it in between his pinkie toe and the one next to it. Deep, but not nearly what it could have been. He left thick, quarter-size globs of blood with every footstep.

It is a beautiful, heartbreaking thing to see an 11-year-old boy trying to be brave in front of an adult when he’s scared out of his mind. In the bathroom I worked on getting the bleeding to stop. My stepson brought towels and ice; the friend gave me his phone number and his mother’s name. I applied pressure and dialed. I’d never met his parents before.

His dad came in five minutes. He walked into the bathroom giving his son a hard time for getting blood on the carpet and told me with a wry smile this was about a week early—they usually waited until a major holiday for a trip to the emergency room.

I introduced myself, bypassed a bloody handshake and said it looked worse than it was but he probably wanted to get it checked out, making significant eye contact on that last bit. I dug through my first-aid kid and found...a Band-Aid.

That’s it. This kid was going for stitches after being injured on my watch and all I could come up with was a Band-Aid that was too small even to tape his toes together.

The dad was unfazed. “I have two sons in the military,” he said. He piggybacked his son down the stairs.

“Sorry about the carpet,” he said.

“I hate this carpet,” I said. It’s teal. It used to cover my entire first floor; blissfully, now it only covers the stairs. “I should thank you; maybe now we can finally get rid of it.”

He brightened and turned with the bleeding kid on his back and said, “Let me know. I sell carpet. I’ll give you a discount.” I watched as they made their way to the SUV in the driveway.

“Hey,” my stepson said. “It’s after five. Can we turn the TV on?”

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmother of five. She blogs at accidentalstepmom.com