You could pretty much have gone your whole life without being roused from a dead sleep in the early morning hours by hearing your 3-year-old screaming: "MOMMY! BLOOD! BLOOD! MOMMY, COME HELP!"
But she is screaming exactly this, so you leap out of the bed like it's on fire, race down the hall. There she is, sitting up in bed, blood pouring out of her nose and down the front of her pajamas, soaking her pillow and sheets. You help her to get out of bed and stagger to the bathroom, where you somehow simultaneously hold a wad of tissues to her nose, strip off her clothes, and wash her bloody hands, face and arms. Vaguely in the midst of your toddler's sustained screaming and crying, you wonder why this happened. (Just the dry winter air? Who knows?) But it's impossible to spare much time to think about causes when she is still yelling, terrified, because she has no idea why she's bleeding. It must seem to her as though she is dying, although it's just a simple nosebleed, and it's already slowing down quite a bit.
"I'm cold," she keeps saying, because she has no pajamas on now, but she's shaking too hard at the moment for you to get new ones on her. Finally after many hugs, she calms down enough for you to get her dressed again. It is not helping that Daddy is off on a work trip, because most of the time, the cure for all ills is a healthy dose of Daddy.
Finally it is determined that she should sleep in the big bed with Mommy until it's time to get up, and this helps enormously. Solemnly she collects various stuffed animals and her favorite pink blankie from her room. You follow her back down the hall, carrying her butterfly night light and her sound machine, which plays the sounds of the ocean and the rain and a babbling brook.
She settles in on Daddy's side of the bed with a wad of tissue stuffed up one nostril. Her eyes remain open for a long time.
And it occurs to you that this is what you signed up for, when you decided to trash all the birth control and plow bravely ahead, having not the slightest clue what this entailed. You consider what you used to sometimes do at this hour of the morning back when you were single. You think about the late-night post-party diner gabfests, back in the wilds of New Jersey. There you would sit, slumped in a booth with three or six or 12 other people, mountains of omelets and bagels, gallons of coffee, a non-trivial hangover, and laughter that stretched on for hours.
At that time you could never have imagined this moment happening. It would have seemed as likely a future fate as walking on the moon. Now you cannot imagine a present without such moments. Because this little sniffling person lying next to you will sometimes need to have her tears or even blood mopped up, and you realize that you would shed your blood to stop those tears from flowing.