Children get hurt; this is a fact of life, of preschool, and of buildings with less-than-ideal (though up to code) facilities.  For example, the play “yard” was not big enough for the number of children at the center (hovering around 55 now), so they tore out the shrubberies around the perimeter to give an extra square foot all around, thus making the area legal for whatever number of children could potentially be in there at one time (18, I think).  However, they never replanted anything, put down turf, impervious or otherwise.  So when it’s muddy, we’re up to code, but forced back to the original, space. 

But up to code.  And when many children are forced into a small area, accidents happen.  When electrical boxes are placed at eye level of a 4 year old, and not adequately covered, children run into them.  When this happens, incident reports are filed.  The report reads something like this:

Juan was running in the yard.  He turned his head and hit the electrical box which was at his eye level. 

Then there’s a section for corrective action.  This is supposed to help us learn what we can do better, but not paint us in a bad or negligent light.  So, we’re not allowed to write, “Will cover with high-density padding.” if that’s not actually going to happen.  Nor can we write, “Will be more careful next time,” implying we were not careful this time.  We’re supposed to write, “Will continue to exercise caution when children play in this area” or some band-aid such as, “Will continue to place playground equipment in such a way as to obstruct access to the electrical box”.  Will continue.  Which makes us not negligent.  Yet it happened anyway. 

A few weeks ago, I was in a classroom working with a child.  Another child came over to our area.  She tripped over my extended big-person feet and fell face-first into the carpet, biting her lip.  Would you like to know what my corrective action was?  “Will remove objects from her path” which was corrected by the program director to read, “Will continue to…”  Of course.  Because otherwise it makes us seem like we’re placing stumbling blocks, filets of fish, beds of nails, puddles of Jello, uneven curbs, Crisco, hidden driveways, Jersey barriers, Civil War mortar shells, or dead cats in front of children with physical disabilities.  This particular child has Cerebral Palsy and could and does fall even with a wide open runway of bathtub daisies and gripper pads, wearing YakTrax, Crampons, or golf cleats.  If typical children without paralyzed bits and balance issues regularly run into doorknobs and split their chins on glass coffee tables (does the whole world have that distinctive chin scar, or am I exaggerating?), what chance do developmentally delayed kids have?

Which is why our incident reports do not fit.  They’re designed for us to take corrective action to prevent recurrences, but they don’t fit in situations where the common factor — instead of being electrial boxes or poles in the middle of the play yard — is the child.  They fit “stupidities” as my tenth grade chemistry used to tell us, but do not fit true accidents”. 

Yesterday, I was seated at my desk, writing my unending end-of-day notes on the 16 (!) children I managed to give a small portion of my day.  My desk is one of those 1950s style painted metal desks you see in cop movies and shows like Law & Order.  Well, as I finished my last note, wrist lying limp in agony, I threw down my sweaty pen, and turned to go raid the chocolate tin in the main office, thus slamming my knee into the corner of my desk with the full force of someone who has just finished writing 16 notes and needs chocolate to make it through the rest of the work day. 

“GAAAH!”  I did not stifle my scream.

“Are you okay?” asked the coworker in the main office, who was probably guarding the chocolate tin.  You’re supposed to eek out a meager, “Yeah” and move on with life in the grown-up world, so that no one has to follow up or be concerned.  Which they’re not really anyway.  I broke rank. 

“Noooo!”  I moaned, clutching, writhing, stifling, sucking in my teeth the way you do when you can’t scream with the true force of agony. 

It hurt.  I do have perpetually bruised knees, mostly from shoving myself under child-size tables, scooting into child-size table legs, and generally crawling around a child-size world as an admittedly not so large adult.  However, one question remains:

What does that incident report look like? 

“While rotating out of chair, I fucked up my knee on the motherfucking corner of this Titanic desk that’s older than I am.”

“While taking a break from my overwhelming caseload duties, I slammed my kneecap directly into the corner of the metal desk, screaming in agony.”

“My knee got bitch-slapped by my desk.”

What I’d really have trouble with is the corrective action.

“Will continue to exercise due caution around objects of a certain hardness, i.e., metal office desks.”

“Will continue to search for new jobs which have more forgiving office furniture.”

“Will continue to wrap corners of desk in high-density foam padding and/or bubble wrap.”

“Will continue to wear knee pads and/or snow suit to prevent all future contact between patellar surfaces and any/all desks.”

Feel free to contribute your own corrective action ideas.  Don’t forget to CYA with the magic, forgiving “Will continue” or you may inadvertantly be perceived as negligent, and may receive your very own corrective action.