“I’d really like to go for a family walk,” I whispered to Sean behind my hand as we finished dinner.

“Tonight?” he asked.

I nodded and he smiled. After we cleared plates and washed hands we headed out the front door. The girls were beside themselves. Briar clambered into the wagon next to Fin as Ave bee-bopped on the sidewalk saying between bouncing curls and loud giggles, “I’m going to do my super run.”

We went much farther than we’d intended to go. Sean pulled the wagon with me running down the sidewalk with Ave, sometimes behind her, sometimes wickedly ahead of her. Briar hopped out for the last block and did her thing, running ahead as if she would never stop, confidence and peace thick in her wake. Fin literally sang, her face set in an unfettered state of bliss. It was as close to the perfection of summer nights at age 8, as anything I’ve felt in a long time.

“Will you water the flowers in that bed if I take the girls up?” He looked to where I was pointing and nodded, a little excited, I think, for the time alone. “Fin just told me, ‘aw dun,’ so that’s good,” he said as he passed her to me.

I was going to take the girls up to bed, but I saw the playroom strewn with toys, costumes and blankets. It seemed a perfect opportunity to wind down and accomplish something. “Let’s go. Shoes off, in the cabinet. Then let’s clean up the big room, ok girls?” They scampered off ahead of me and I smiled, proud of my little ringleted herd. “Avery, you’re on trains. Put’em on the table. Briar, you pick up the costumes. Fin-diddle, you just get the babies, ok?”

They spread out across the room cleaning and playing in lazy loops like drunken bees. Finally the room was clean and the big girls headed to the door. Fin made one more pass to the far end of the room and disaster struck. I heard a clap and she crumpled, her hands moving lightning-fast to her face and then shrieks. Heartbreaking, ear piercing howls of pain and surprise. I ran to her as the girls stood rooted in place.

“What’s wrong?” they murmured.

I scooped her in my arms and the blood came, huge spurts of blood. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from as I cradled her in my arms, holding her face away from my body as I tried to gauge the severity. I was a hair’s breadth from losing it as the blood came think and dark, spotting across my arm and soaking my chest.

The girls were spinning in circles until I barked, as much for myself as for them, “Stop it. Just move it, upstairs.” I pressed wet paper towels against Fin’s bottom lip as we moved upstairs. Once in the bathroom I began blotting with a cold wet towel, she was cut inside and out. After a minute the bleeding slowed down and I looked at her, “You want some milk, sweet girl?” She didn’t give me her usual, “N’yeah!” instead just leaning into me.

I collapsed on a stool and nursed her while Avery rubbed my shoulder, her fingers tracing the dried blood, and Briar hummed and traced a hand along Fin’s back. We stayed like that for quite some time, before I ushered the girls to their room so I could get Sean.

“Honey, I need your help.” He looked at me, “Ok,” and then I said, “I have Fin and she’s bleeding, I need you to help me see how badly.” He was calm and quick, guiding us under a light and checking her mouth. More blood than damage sent us upstairs to put her to bed. My guilt was thick as I explained that I hadn’t taken the girls to bed. There was a look on his face, nothing he needed to say, or even would. We both know that you can do something 99 times, but there will be that one time that deviates do dramatically that you kick yourself.

We dressed the girls in their pjs, did the bedtime routine with an extra step of Motrin and Neosporin for Fin and kissed them goodnight. Fin turned gratefully to her bed and cuddled in to the corner. “You ok, mama?” he asked me. I nodded weakly.

Sean went downstairs and I went to change. I tiptoed down the hall. I peeled my shirt and bra off and grabbed a fresh tank top. I heard Finley begin to cry and headed into her.

“You ok? Mama’s here,” I shushed.

She wrapped her arms and legs around me and buried her face in my neck. I rocked side to side as she flipped her face from side to side. After a minute her head popped up and she looked at me. Her eyes scanned my face and then she leaned back. I said, “You ok?” and she sat up straight beaming at me and then leaned in and gave me a huge kiss. She leaned back, eyed my face again and made a contented trilling sound before kissing me again.

We swayed in the dark together, her hand pressing into my arms purposefully, “Don’t leave yet.”

Inside her arms I felt less guilt than I did peace. I hope she found more comfort than pain, my sweet little Fin.

“I’m not going anywhere, Fin.”