The sun was still high over the trees when I arrived to pick up my children from daycare. My youngest, Sierra, was playing outside in the toddlers’ playground. She came running toward the fence gate as I approached. As she drew close, her smile widened and her tongue pushed out just a hint, sandwiched between her upper and lower teeth. Dimples deep, her eyes crinkled and sparkled. I loved that grin.

Sierra’s teacher, Miss Jane, greeted me with a knowing glance. It was a treat for my kids to get picked up this early. As we talked, and without looking down, Miss Jane tugged at the fence latch to open the gate. The hinge tended to stick, so when Miss Jane hit some resistance, she tried again with more force. Then she tried a third time yanking it even harder. Success!

Miss Jane grinned in her mastery over the sticky gate, but as the gate swung open, Sierra’s smile faded into fear. She stood motionless with a cry stuck silent in her throat as she grabbed her hand. Blood drained onto her pastel striped sundress, dripping onto her sneakers and into the grass. I was confused and hurriedly examined her hand, her finger, then glanced over and noticed blood on the gate latch.

Just shy of 26 months old, the tip of my toddler’s index finger was whacked off.  The slivering occurred with her daycare teacher and me standing inches from the appendage, on opposite sides of a play yard fence. Apparently, it was a quick hatchet job. There was no time for my Sierra to react until the top of her tiny digit hung loose on the metal latch.

A tiny finger. An even tinier slice. Just tissue. No bone. A traumatic injury in the eyes of both ‘copter mom and teacher. But any ordeal is a matter of perspective. Her 4 year old brother said  “Ummm, she needs a band-aid,” then turned away to play with a friend.

Gate latch for post
The gate latch looked something like this one.  A simple push up on the handle to release. But this latch won’t open when the hole is filled with a combination padlock, or a curious toddler’s finger.

Plucking the severed chunk of fingertip from the fence, my medivac instincts flew us to the hospital where we waited patiently until the plastic surgeon declared reattachment unsuccessful. The surgeon followed her finger’s recovery over the following weeks and months, attempting to reduce scarring and nudge healing. Eventually the wound closed – her fingertip and nail reshaped in slightly different form, but was unnoticeable to most people. 

To ensure my children received the highest quality care, I drove 40 minutes round trip to the daycare, before making another 50 minute commute to work. We try our best to protect our children, but accidents happen. No amount of additional hovering could protect my baby … she was a curious one, her finger found that hole intriguing.

Curious children find accidents (sometimes it seemed as though Sierra would test all nine of her lives before entering kindergarten). In all, the finger hacking ranked just slightly more traumatic than an incident a year later when she fell off a step biting her tongue almost in half, and slightly less traumatic than several years later when she fell while jumping on a bed slicing her head on the dresser corner.

Finger Hack, grown up
Sierra’s index finger on her wedding day –  fully functional though slightly deformed. Her curiosity  remains fully intact.

A medivac helicopter parent can be useful yet over bearing during accidents.  I tried to remain composed, but still wonder if the hospital personnel thought I overstepped by insisting the plastic surgeon be called for a toddler’s finger. If I over-hovered with the hospital requests, I tried my best to remain calm and nonchalant in Sierra’s presence.

A severed finger is more extreme than most of us face on a day-to-day basis. A child feeds on our energy and emotion. If you rush in making a big deal out of a situation, hurt or not, the child will be upset. You might enjoy rescuing him after a fall and calming him down – after all you feel useful and needed when that happens – but those actions teach your child that falls require your love and intervention to overcome. Children are not well served by adult overreactions to minor accidents.  Even a toddler needs to learn how to pick himself up and move on after a tumble.

When the finger chop occurred, my heart raced wildly but I tried to remain calm. On. The. Outside. When we left the hospital, my tipless toddler was smiling, pointing at the world with her bandaged finger, curiosity intact.

* Curious about how the daycare handled the aftermath? The daycare fence gate was permanently locked after the slicing, with pickup and visitation procedures modified to accommodate. Everyone was then required to enter the play yard from inside the building, an extra step requiring more time and energy on pickup. Some parents were disenchanted with the new policy, assuming I overstepped and complained. I’m sure they thought I was a helicopter parent. I readily acknowledge that my child’s fingertip removal forced the change, but not by my intervention.