We were vacationing in Maui last summer, celebrating my oldest son’s high school graduation and savoring the final weeks before he would be traipsing halfway across the country to college, when I made the quintessential parenting mistake: I tried to be the Cool Mom.
Throughout the week-long getaway, my husband had enjoyed several half-day excursions with our two teenage sons, while I stayed back at the beachfront condo with our 3-year-old, whose little legs weren’t equipped to handle the big boy escapades. I had zero complaints about constructing sand castles and splashing with her in the shallow surf while the men satisfied their quest for adventure, schlepping through rain forests and scaling mountainous terrain. But on the last day of the trip, I was finally afforded the opportunity for some quality mother-son bonding.
And unfortunately, I seized it.
We had ventured to the other side of the island, where the white sand beaches overlook a landmark known as Black Rock. The destination had been recommended in several local guidebooks as a great spot for cliff jumping, and my boys couldn’t wait to take the plunge. They encouraged me to accompany them out to the rock, which was a good distance off shore. A strong swimmer, I had no qualms about tagging along, other than having to constantly scan the deep waters for sharks while the ominous bass beat of the Jaws theme song reverberated in my head. (Though looking back on it now, encountering an entire school of Great Whites probably would have been less traumatic than what I was about to endure.)
I tread water as both of my sons cautiously scaled the jagged reef then waited in line for their turn to jump off Black Rock. Having received a quick tutorial on GoPro operation from my eldest, I was perfectly positioned to record their hurdles.
“You have to do it, Mom!” they both excitedly exclaimed following their initial leaps. “It’s so much fun!”
But “fun” and “cliff jumping” were paradoxical terms in my vocabulary. I certainly was no daredevil. Grocery shopping on a Saturday is adventurous enough for me. Plus, I’m afraid of heights.
Yet as the boys kept encouraging me, I found myself contemplating the challenge, watching in amazement as local teens back-flipped and somersaulted off the massive rock. But mainly, I was surveying the inexperienced tourists who were plummeting with reckless abandon, ensuring they didn’t land anywhere near the ocean’s bottom.
And when none did, I remember thinking to myself, it’s not so high. Your kids want to document this on video. C’mon, don’t be such a wimp. For once, be the Cool Mom.
But with my eldest readying the GoPro to capture my big jump on film, I somehow found myself trudging up the rugged mass. Navigating the rock was no easy task — in fact, my younger son scraped a fair amount of skin off his legs — and I felt a rush of accomplishment upon reaching the peak.
Which was immediately neutralized by a blast of panic.
As I towered 33 feet atop Black Rock (I later Googled the elevation), the sea cliff appeared significantly higher than it had when I was gazing up from the water below. With my toes dangling just over the ledge, a wave of terror washed over me. I couldn’t do it.
I backed away to let the next person in line take the plunge. And then I stood there. Frozen. For what felt like eternity.
I remained statuesque a good 15 minutes, truly paralyzed, trying to ascertain which was less risky —stepping off the damn rock or attempting to hike back down — while dozens of people continued jumping without incident. I could sense my kids’ patience begin to wane as they waited for me to overcome my fear. And waited. And waited.
This is my moment, I finally told myself, as an entire dialogue deliberated in my head. My boys will consider it epic if their Mom launches off Black Rock. How amazing this will look in the scrapbook. We will be telling this story for years. (Dammit, I don’t think I can make the climb back down!)
Just one brave step was all that separated me from grasping the Cool Mom crown. I had to take it.
But the second I hit the water, I knew something was terribly wrong. Thinking back on it now, I’m lucky I didn’t pass out, because the pain was immediate, and excruciating. Later, a review of my jump on the GoPro revealed that I had tipped slightly back on my descent. While my feet entered the water first, my tailbone took a massive hit.
After painfully paddling to shore to rejoin my husband and daughter on the beach, I limped slowly to the car for the agonizing ride back to the condo. I was trying to be grateful that I’d hurt myself on the last day of our trip rather than the first — until I had to park myself in a cramped airplane seat for the five-hour flight home the next day.
I may be a writer, but there just are no words.
When the pain hadn’t subsided more than a week later, my doctor ordered an X-ray, which showed I had broken and dislocated my tailbone. With no real treatment options for such an injury, I was left to very carefully execute my normal activities. After a few months, the pain eventually lessened, though I still couldn’t get down on the floor and play dollhouse with my daughter, or even sit in a chair for extended periods.
Then, almost a year to the day of the initial injury, I was bending over to set down a bowl of dog food — a bowl, just to clarify, not a 50-pound bag — when I felt a searing twinge shoot across my lower back. For more than a week, I couldn’t stand upright, and virtually every movement was met with piercing pain. Over the next two months, I visited the chiropractor three times a week, completed a course of oral steroid medication, stretched, iced, cried and essentially, sat out on life. I couldn’t cheer on my sons at their baseball games. I couldn’t watch my daughter plié or arabesque through a 45-minute dance class. I couldn’t even make it through the grocery store without doubling over in the produce aisle.
My 15 seconds of Cool Mom fame had subsequently reduced me to an unprecedented level of Boring Mom status.
Finally, my doctor ordered an MRI of my lower back, suspecting that my cliff-jumping escapade might have caused significantly more trauma than we originally suspected. As I lay motionless inside that dreadful tube—my eyes squeezed shut to reduce the heart-racing effects of claustrophobia — all I kept hearing in my head was the old TV announcer’s voice, warning Kids, don’t try this at home (all the while wondering how that advice possibly could have eluded me a year earlier, 33 feet atop Black Rock).
The MRI revealed a bulging disc between my L4 and L5, protruding into the spinal canal lining; a tear in the ring that confines the disc; and a second disc bulge between my L5 and S1, extending into the nerve opening. I don’t pretend to understand exactly what all of that terminology means. All I know is that it translates to a whole hell of a lot of pain.
So now I have a referral to a pain management specialist for three (three!) epidural steroid injections needed to treat the multiple areas of injury and hopefully relieve some of the agony. In the meantime, according to my doc, I am to avoid “bending, lifting, and any prolonged sitting or standing.”
While I lay here now encased by a heap of strategically placed pillows, one thing is clear: I’ve decided to officially pass my (briefly held) torch to all of the other aspiring Cool Moms out there.
For me, being the Cool Mom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask my tailbone.
Or my L5.
Or my S1.