Fragile child: will they ever get to be the running back

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Fragile child- a close portrait of a young Black fragile child under sunset. They are standing next to a sports field watching others play sport in the distance.

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Fragile child: will they ever get to be the running back

 “Can I play with you?” I asked my father and brother one day as they walked away from me in the backyard, barefoot and wearing Cleveland Indians baseball caps.

“Maybe later, Noah wants to practice throwing the football,” was Dad’s reply. So I sat on the porch and watched as they threw the football back and forth. It was a warm summer day, the neighbors were outside, and Noah and Dad barely said a word to each other. However, every now and then, Dad had to remind Noah how to throw the ball.

“Make sure your fingers are spread evenly on the laces,” Dad said to him.

Noah looked at his fingers before throwing the ball. When the spiral reached Dad, he smiled. Perfect. Dad threw it back, but not directly to Noah. He made him chase it, and I watched him run and slide in the grass, staining his knees green.

“Can I play now?”

Just as I said it, Mom came outside with a towel thrown over her shoulder. She must have heard me ask, because she looked at Dad for a moment, and he looked back at her. There was silence —unspoken words exchanged between them about their fragile child—before he shrugged and waved me over.

“Let’s all play.”

Perhaps something in her eyes convinced Dad that I should be included in these moments despite being considered a fragile child. I was just glad to finally be playing with them.

I followed Noah and Dad to the side of the house, and Mom met us there soon after. Dad decided that we’d play tag football, boys against girls. Our gridiron was our neighbor’s big field.

Dad said, “You two have to run past the big tree for a touchdown, and we will touch the house for ours. The fire hydrant is the 50-yard line.”

Mom nodded, then looked at me and said, “Let’s do this, Riah. Girls rule.”

Because of all the practice he had, Noah had great hands. He was also super fast. Even in my bare feet, I couldn’t keep up with him, and I watched as he sped away from me, getting touchdown after touchdown.

“I want to get a touchdown!” I whined to Mom. My parents looked at each other again.

Eventually, they seemed to come to an unvoiced agreement. Dad spoke to Noah before we resumed playing, saying words I’m not sure I was supposed to hear.

“Do not hit your sister’s stomach.”

The ball was handed to me, not thrown. I ran towards the tree, and I could hear Noah gaining on me. I urged my legs to move faster. As the tree became closer, as well as Noah, I could hear Mom yelling.

“Be careful! Don’t hit her stomach!”

He was right behind me, but instead of tapping me, Noah slowed down. His footsteps fell away. Touchdown.


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Will my fragile child ever get to play football?

It is days or weeks later when Mom, Dad, and I visit Akron Children’s Hospital. We had been here many times before, but they looked anxious as we sat and waited in the room. This leads me to believe that this was one of the first ultrasounds of my bladder and kidneys since my surgery, and perhaps my parents didn’t know what to expect. When it came to me, they were used to getting bad news.

Dad stared at the floor and Mom stared at the door. When Dr. Nasrallah finally came into the room, Dad stood to shake his hand. Mom stayed seated, but she smiled at him, her legs crossed and her hands folded in her lap. The three of them began to talk about me. I was used to this, but that day there were words and phrases that stuck with me: larger bladder. Scarred kidney. UTI’s. Catheter. Rest of her life. Fragile child. But what stuck with me the most were the questions Mom asked: Could her bladder rupture? Should she be careful?

I was aware of the fact that I had recently had surgery, but I was not consciously aware that I could be a fragile child. As they continued to talk, I thought back to Mom yelling at Noah to be careful, and him avoiding me as I ran for the touchdown. How Mom handed me the ball instead of throwing it to me, which I now understand was in fear of hitting me in the stomach and damaging my new bladder.

I wondered if I would always have to be treated this way, like a fragile child, until Mom asked her next question.

“Will she be able to play sports?”

Dr. Nasrallah didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“If she wanted to, she could play football.”

Article by
Mariah Lanzer

Mariah Lanzer is a senior English major at Kent State University in Ohio. She loves to write creative nonfiction, drink too much coffee, and go on book shopping sprees.


If I am a fragile child, will I ever be treated like everyone else?