Six years ago, my twin girls were 2 years old. I was hugely pregnant with number three and I was hosting a Shabbat meal. It was a Friday night and we had recently moved to Israel. We had been welcomed with so many warm Shabbat invites that I already had a list of people I owed meals to. I was determined to get in as many guests as I could before I gave birth.
There are certain halachot (Jewish laws) about how you are allowed to heat up food on Shabbat. The goal is to warm food up but not actually cook it. One restriction is not to heat up a dish that contains liquid. This results in potentially dry chicken for Shabbat lunch. For Friday night, though, you have options, as food can be cooked and then kept warm until you eat. (Please don’t use me as a halachic guide!). I was excited. We could have fresh, saucy chicken that would not be rubbery or overcooked.
I remember only flashes of that night. Two families were over with their small children. My girls were awake past their bedtimes. Kids were running around, having a great time. I opened the oven, which was keeping the food warm. I leaned in to take out the pan of chicken and one of my twins rushed into the kitchen without me noticing. I can still see my little girl around my legs and the double tinned pan of chicken buckling in the middle. Sauce started to spill and I frantically tried to stop it as it escaped and splashed everywhere. I watched my daughter flinch in pain as it burned her shoulder and back. I could hear myself screaming as I wrenched off her pink pajama shirt which was already heavily stained with sauce.
We placed her under running water, and her expression still haunts my memories. Her little eyes and mouth were stretched wide open in shock over the excruciating pain. Her constant screams got stuck in her throat as she tried to breathe. Her burns were throbbing and I couldn’t make them stop.
The ambulance ride that night, and the subsequent week and a half in the hospital, has been permanently branded into my memories. As I slept next to my daughter on a chair that pulled out into a tiny bed, I prayed I wouldn’t go into premature labor. As I watched the doctors painfully clean her burns, I prayed she would be clear of infections. As I watched chronically sick children in our ward leave for the weekend only to return, I prayed that her problems would only be skin deep. The year we spent in and out of medical offices and the super-tight compression garments to try and suppress her scars turned us into experts in a field we didn’t want to know about.
I took it to heart. My priorities had been in the wrong place. I was too focused on the courses of my meal. I needed to cook and serve the best food and the most delicious desserts. I wanted to be that person who could do it all fabulously. In that one instant, all that had seemed so important collapsed with the pan of chicken. I felt foolish and ashamed. While my daughter’s physical scars have lightly faded to almost match her skin, my emotional scars are still raised and red.
It has taken six years and two more children to write about it. It has taken a long time to stop blaming myself and to forgive myself for an unfortunate accident. They happen to the best of us.
This past summer we were visiting family in the US. It was a fun, loud, and noisy Friday in my parents’ house when my 5-year-old bumped into a family member holding a cup of hot coffee. It all came rushing back. The gaping, open mouth terror, the flinching from the liquid that was burning her skin. It was our second chance. I reacted forcibly; I had been waiting to do this for years.
In a tornado burst of energy, I grabbed my daughter and sprinted to the bathtub, vaguely aware that I slammed her leg against a door as I ran. I shook her arms out of her shirt and sat her under the faucet. My husband had the car keys, ready to whisk her off to the hospital.
It was tense as we stared at the burn on her back, willing it to be washed away with the flowing water. I was so focused I didn’t even realize as my mother rushed in with grated potato. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I remembered reading about placing grated potato on burns and so I gently placed them on her throbbing, red burn.
More and more potato appeared as I wiped away the old and replaced it with freshly grated. I watched in disbelief as the heat was absorbed into the vegetable and out of her skin. The red patch on her back got smaller and smaller until it completely disappeared, taking the pain with it. My daughter dried her eyes, asked me to wash off the yucky potato mush, and climbed out of the bathtub asking if she could put on dry clothes. I stared at her, unable to get my bearings and return to normal as quickly as she had.
This time there was a happier ending. No rushing to the hospital. No throwing away the shirt I couldn’t bear to look at it. I washed the coffee stains out of this one. I looked into my husband’s eyes and breathed. We knew what kind of bullet we just dodged.
We brought in Shabbat all together with a few less potatoes. Somehow no one missed them.