I awake too early. Monday. School. Getting kids ready. A child who is rail-thin and won’t eat. The sick dread of anxiety begins churning right in that spot where the fist goes for the Heimlich. I swear I had a solution to this problem just yesterday. Oh wait, it was hubby’s turn to deal with the kids. No wonder I had such a nice morning. Yeah, I remember a lot of yelling and stomping and tears on Sunday. I guess he struck out, too.
We do have one strategy that works if I can just calm down enough to get to my creative brain. I mentioned to my husband last night that we could tell our food-resistant child an interesting story to distract his brain long enough for his stomach to take over. Suddenly he’s asking for seconds and we’re only to Act II of mom’s story. Sometimes he does what doesn’t make sense because he’s under pressure. Take the pressure off and he starts making sense again. Maybe I’ll try a story this morning.
From my Facebook profile under “Details About You:”
“I really wish I knew what to say to the lady at the store with screaming kids who looks like she has lost it or is threatening to lose it. I’m afraid I’ll be that lady some day. [Update: On 10/21/2017 I encountered such a mom at King Soopers in Ft. Collins. The answer is empathy and offering to help. It took me ten years and four kids, but I will always be ready now.]”
Next time I go egosurfing (OK, so I haven’t done that in 16 years), I should try re-reading my own Facebook profile. It would have prepared me for Saturday’s adventure at the flu shot clinic.
We had planned to make this a whole family venture. We’ve done it that way the last two or three years, so it’s a bit of an autumn tradition for us. Well after we got home from cleaning our church building on Saturday, our little guy had a couple rounds of losing his stomach contents, so we knew it was tummy bug time.
Since my husband got barfed on during round one, he became the designated catcher and I was the gopher. But that wouldn’t be so bad, he thought, because the big (yuge) flatscreen that couldn’t go into storage like the rest of our furniture, was still on the back of the piano in the family room from when we had watched General Conference (this is how that TV redeems itself twice each year), and he was going to cozy up to a college football game like any responsible father would.
Refer to the limerick on October 19’s blog post if you don’t already know why that plan failed.
So when I left the house, the tallest and shortest of the male family members sat staring at a laptop, bucket in hand.
I was amazed that my older son, whom I had to restrain in an all-holds-barred wrestling match for his school vaccines last year, decided to come with me. Usually he sits with dad for his flu shot.
I was thrilled to simply get out of the house and be done with my bucket-rinsing duties (not that once was too many, but it was a beautiful day and I wanted out). We arrived to a quiet clinic. The family ahead of us had a 1:1 kid to parent ratio. I had my eldest help fill out paperwork because it’s about time she knew the truth about adulthood and true tedium.
My older son was by then racing to the finish line (a conference room down the hall) because he has an on/off switch that lands him either prematurely at the end goal while I’m panicked and wondering where the dickens he went, or, like a donkey in a horse race, he refuses to budge from his gate.
I get to go first because the only available vaccinator (I made up this word) only works with adults (squirrel moment–Terminator, can you believe she’s back?). “Well,” I think, “I should go first. No problem. But what does she have against kids? Do you need special training for smaller arms?”
All goes well. A spot opens up with a kid-friendly vaccinator. My less squeamish daughters go first. By the time my second daughter has conquered the flu shot, my son has locked eyes on the little girl next to us, who is herself locked in an epic battle with her parents and the lady who has just decided she will never inject kids again.
“Now, Lilly (pretty sure her name was Lilly), I already got a shot. Daddy already got a shot. Do you see us crying?” (her little brother also got his shot, but she fails to mention this as his screams still echo from the corridor where his father is trying to calm him so he can go back and assist his wife).
Lilly stands in the doorway. She wants to bolt, but she knows her job is to get that shot so she can get the promised ice cream cone. Her arms lock against her sides in rigid defense with her hands clenched in chubby fists. “Don’t make me do this! I can’t do it! I don’t want a shot!! You’re so mean, Mommy!!” She jumps with each pronouncement, squeezing her eyes shut to make us all go away. Her face is a canvas of tears.
The lady holding the needle attempts a truce: “I know this is scary, so you can cry all you want to. I just need you to hold still.” She is holding still. Five feet away, and this isn’t a game of darts.
Her mom tries a new tack, for authority trumps all: “Lilly, this is how it’s going to work: You’re going to sit on my lap facing me, you’re going to hold still so we can get this done, and then we’re going to leave.”
I’m holding my son on my lap by now, who just remembered that he trained in aviator dogfights. He sees his warning light flash: someone has missile lock on him. He is now thrashing side to side, and I can just hear him like Cougar–before he loses his edge–yelling, “I’ve got bogies all over me!” (No squirrel needed–can you believe HE’s back? I might actually watch that movie, unlike the Terminator one. Some things, like the breakfast you ate, shouldn’t come back.)
Vaccine complete. My son is now laughing with his sisters about how he just couldn’t help but go crazy there at the last moment. “Did you see me trying to get away from it?” “Yeah, you screamed,” his sisters supplied. “I didn’t scream–I yelped! I thought she was going to miss but then she still got me even though I was twisting away. I was like, ‘Darn! She got me!'” It’s just one big laugh now.
The shot-giver next to us is now as useful as Maverick and Goose’s commanding officer in the radar room. And there’s no way Cougar (the mom–it takes one to know one) is going to “land this thing.” She has lost her edge. The girl she planned to pilot to safety is now on a collision course. Her mom keeps her voice slow and steady, but the intensity has moved up a few notches. “Lilly, you have to do this right now. You are making mommy terribly upset.”
I think there must be some way to help. I suggest to my younger daughter, who is probably the same age, that she go offer Lilly a hug. She looks at me like, “I’d rather get another shot.”
So we slowly back our way through the in door since Lilly still blocks our exit. I keep thinking there must be something I can do, but the right approach is just out of reach. I feel so bad for that girl.
We get to the car, and I decide the best thing to do is to offer a prayer for that girl, and probably for her family too. I finish and out walks Lilly, a dejected and confused Lilly, followed by her glowering mother. Dad is smiling in an “I’ll just lighten the mood” posture. I’m guessing the vaccinator had turned in her wings by then and refused to be party to this horror show any longer.
I have a conversation with the kids about how I have been that mom in so many ways and how that girl just needed some compassion. But it was only in my subconscious that this brilliant Top Gun parallel was simmering. [Which might explain why I used a bad word for the lady who wouldn’t get off my tail when I was merging onto the freeway a few minute later since I learned that word from Top Gun when I was six. But I still washed my mouth out with soap, grown up though I may be. I have really come to prefer hand soap over dish soap or bar soap. I may have a potty mouth, but dang it all if I don’t have great breath.]
It took me 36 hours and waking in the wee hours today to figure out what went wrong for poor Lilly: nothing. She and her parents were behaving exactly as they should. They were behaving the best they knew how. It was worried, scared Elissa who knew better and decided that judging the ambitious mom was the way to show her concern. If only I’d had a bit more Maverick in me. I could have been her wing(wo)man.
So I asked myself what I wish I could have done. Here is my compassion fantasy (and whatever I think of Tom Cruise as a person, I think he is an amazing actor, so I will make myself the Elissa version of TC for this little vignette):
My three kids would busy themselves at the stickers-have-replaced-suckers table. From my chair that had just ejected its wounded pilot, I would make eye contact with someone in the death match triad and say, “May I?”
Someone would nod. Harmlessly, I would maintain my seated height (it’s easy when you’re as short as TC) while stepping lunge-fashion into the three-cornered arena. Standing on my knees, I would look at our medical assistant and offer something obvious like, “She’s just scared, isn’t she?” She would nod and roll her eyes, like, “Yeah, lady, I can see that. She’s been screaming hysterically for five eternal minutes.”
I would then turn to our little Lilly and say, “Go find your dad. Tell him you’re OK.”
Mom, halfway unseated as she throws herself toward Lilly, believing she can still save her, then turns on me.
“What are you doing?! She hasn’t had her shot!”
I look down at my clasped hands and nod. “I know.” And then with an apologetic face, I offer, “I can see you’re scared, so I thought I’d let you have a breather.”
“Me?! I’m not scared! I’m frustrated as hell! I need my daughter to hold still for five seconds so she can get her damn shot!” [Sorry, my angry people always swear]. Mom is running her hands through her hair and looking longingly at the now-empty door. “I want her to listen so we can just get out of here!” She sounds tough, but her head has drooped over her knees and her hands now support her head. “You must think I’m a terrible mother.”
The last sentence is almost inaudible. I make a small half circle toward her so we are facing the same direction and risk an arm around her shoulders. I lean in close enough to hear what is now coming through muffled little sobs: “I don’t want her to get sick.”
“Of course you don’t,” I smooth her hunched shoulders with my hand, trying to soothe away fear. “You’re trying to do what’s best and it’s going all wrong. And all these people are watching. They have no idea what it took to get your whole family here today or how much you love her. I can see how much you care. She’s got a good mama, and she knows it. She’s just acting exactly the way her brain is telling her to act. She’s scared, too.”
[We have time to talk because even though her brain has messages flashing like “Low Fuel!” there really isn’t any danger here. Unless she decides to punch me. Which is why I probably decided decided to mind my own business on Saturday.]
Back to the fantasy. Now Lilly, dad, and pacified preschooler are in the doorway wondering why mommy’s crying. She doesn’t see them yet. I ask her, “Do you want to try this a different way?”
“I guess,” she says without looking up and she wipes her nose on her sleeve. No one thinks to grab Kleenex unless they think you should be crying. Permission to cry isn’t credible unless accompanied by a tissue. Lilly knew that.
Lilly hands her mom the box of tissues that my kids have brought over. It, like their bodies, is now covered in stickers. Mom takes the crying permit haltingly and almost smiles upon seeing her daughter, who in an unexpected role reversal, is now comforting her. But the pain of knowing she didn’t adequately protect her daughter is too much, and she takes another moment to bury her face in the tissue. Her daughter pushes the whole box into the space between her arms and onto her lap.
“I’m ready to go now,” Lilly states.
“Of course, honey. I’m ready, too. Let’s go.” And she stands up while handing the box of tissues to the medical lady.
With that, Lilly sits down in the now vacant chair.
“Thanks for helping my mommy calm down,” she smiles at me. The needle is still ready. Everyone glances at everyone else. Lilly nods her head. Nuclear crisis averted.
I didn’t finish this story in time for breakfast today, but I hope to get a lot of mileage out of it at dinner tonight. That kid is low on fuel even if he did gain a half pound this month.
[Realistic version of my fantasy: I say to mom, “This is really important to you, right? And you believe she’ll forgive you some day, right? Well, here’s the hold I learned last year with this guy (and I give my son a wrestling mania squeeze). It’s totally worth it. Who wants to buy ice cream for one kid and not the other? Not me, that’s crazy talk. Hang in there. You’re a good mama. It gets better,” I say with a smile, and walk out.]