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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nip it in the bud

Some parents are vigilant when it comes to the care of their children. Other parents are a little bit more haphazard.

I mean well and resolve to do better next time, but I’m also aware of the road to hell.

As often as not, I’m paddling along in steady state when someone snaps an oar to send us eddying off into the foam. Whilst I’ve never been brave enough to try white water rafting, I’m confident that I’d drown before the boat left the shore.

Some children shun band aides. They tough it out. Other children require immediate medical attention for microscopic injuries and a full panoply of emergency services. The range of reactions to injuries, minor and major, run the gamut.

My youngest son falls into the microdot school of injuries. Every minor infraction induces howls of wailing. It’s the ‘on-off’ button that’s at fault here, as there is no degree of gradation. A stake through the heart or poke with a dull darning needle, the net effect is the same, deafening.

As he has grown older, he has developed his own coping mechanism, independently. The solution for any injury is to put the offending member under running water. The magical properties of water suit me just fine, and I have no care for the rise in the utility bills as a consequence.

Sometimes, such as in school or in class, running water is not freely available. As a result, he has developed an alternative strategy for such situations. In school he will lick or suck the injury.

On an ordinary Tuesday he suffers some minor wound to his thumb whilst at school, in the morning. By the time I collect him from school in the afternoon, a note from his teacher explains that he has experienced a tough day, due to the thumb. Once home, within the confines of the house, I am able to track him down. This is an important step, one to be carefully orchestrated. If I had attempted to check the thumb whilst he was still at school, he would have run away and hidden. The hiding spots at home are so much more manageable.

I find him under his bed, muttering, “I am a lizard. I am dah ugly. I am dah most hideous boy on dah planet.” Somehow, the negative talk is an element that pains me more than the injury itself. Derogatory terms of self loathing are pernicious and damaging. Their persistence is daunting. I don’t try and persuade him with words, but hold his ankles and ease him out for a cuddle. He tucks his hands in his armpits, out of view.

We talk about his day, or rather I talk about his day, whilst he mutters self abusive words. I hope that my words will distract him. They don’t. It’s like a game of poker, bluff and disguise. I could ask him to show me his hands, but we both know that he won’t. I could do with a dollop of logic to help me through the negotiation but the other two are down stairs unsupervised, I need to speed up.

I slide my hands along his forearms, grip and whip out his hands to lay them flat on his thighs. His right hand looks like a boxer’s mitt, swollen and red. The skin is crazed, raised and angry. “Don look at it!” he wails. “I am a lizard. I am dah ugly. I am dah most hideous boy on dah planet.” The left side of his face and cheek are going the same route from the constant exposure to the wet trail from his thumb. The repetition many hundreds of times a minute throughout the day, a reaction to a tiny hurt in the morning, has brought about this result. I don’t believe that he has much in the way of vanity. His opinions on beauty are more in the nature of balance, uniformity and an absence of imperfection.

I think back to my mis-spent youth as a thumb sucker and the many means of torture used to make me normal. I remember the black leather thumb covering, with the wrist strap and the buckle. I suspect that they are no longer available, I hope. The guilt associated with this pleasure habit was long lasting, but ineffective, besides, his motivations are different.

He is right handed. The whole arm hangs uselessly throughout the afternoon and evening as if paralyzed. His left hand can’t compensate. It is an extreme solution but a logical one. I’ve seen this performance from both the boys over the years. The hurt foot means they resort to a crawl on hands and knees, effective and no longer surprising. I wait until bed time to offer assistance, when he is calmer and possibly more compliant.

He whimpers in bed, left hand cradling the injured one. Real tears course over his face, a damp patch either side of his head on the pillow. I explain the strategy with care, ensuring that the last word I use is ‘cream.’ ‘Cream,’ is unfortunately one of his trigger words and my face is far too close to his when he shrieks and dives for cover.

I use his brother, a neutral party in the next bed. “What are dey?” he asks as I dangle one from each of my hands. “I don’t know, you tell me? Do they look familiar?”
“Er yes……dey are be gloves?”
“You’re right! But whose gloves do you think they are?”
“Er……..dey are Mario’s gloves? DAY ARE MARIO’S GLOVES! WOO HOO!” He can’t fake his reaction and the message filters through the six foot of muffled bed coverings to his little brother. His head pops out to see the white cotton gloves, eyes on stalks, the power of auto suggestion. “Are dey Mario’s gloves?”
“No really, they’re mine. I wear them at night when my hands hurt sometimes.” He pauses. I dangle. “May be…..maybe you are be a good sharer wiv me?”
“Oh I don’t know about that. They’re very special gloves. You might lose them?”
“O.k. here the deal.”
“Cream first then gloves.” His hands fly to cover his mouth with the puffed out cheeks of those on the cusp of explosion. We spend several more minutes in silent negotiation and hot air exchange, huffs, puffs and sighs. He extends his arms, squeezes his eyes tight shut and submits to a slathering. His convulsions of revulsion are genuine, cold, sticky and abhorrent. “Now for the gloves!” We dither with digits, finger isolation and fabric until each hand is encased, protected and ready to submit to healing during the night. His hands lie on top of the duvet cover quivering and twitching, alien and isolated, traitors. A rigid little packet of nerve endings.

I check on him later, before I go to bed myself. He maintains the same position, a soldier on duty, his body vigilant, the gloves still in place, a statue of resignation. Supreme being that I most surely am, I have any number of talents, but even if I were 7 rather than 47, I would be incapable of lying immobile for 10 hours, asleep or awake.

For other people, it’s the only option.

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