I took Everett for a Starbucks date last week.
Well, it wasn’t so much of a date as it was a strategy to find things for us to do outside of the house. We are having some work done on our house, which has required us to be out during working hours. However, the mess and the dangerous tools lying around have made it necessary to keep the kids out of the house every waking moment. That pretty much means from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Never before have I visited breakfast venues as they opened at the break of dawn. There’s a first for everything, I guess.
While we were at Starbucks, I let Everett sit in a chair by himself. (Starbucks doesn’t have highchairs, because after all, who brings toddlers to Starbucks besides me?) He was thrilled to be allowed to sit like a big boy in a grown-up chair, and he gnawed on a cake pop while I filled the caffeine void in my tired body.
I asked him questions, and he answered with an emphatic, “Uh huh” in his little singsong-y baby voice. He doesn’t say “yes” or “no” yet. He says “uh huh” for the affirmative, and if he is not in agreement, he simply cannot be troubled to answer. Avery thinks it’s hilarious to ask him ridiculous questions like, “Hey, Everett, do you want to sleep in the refrigerator?” and every time he’ll agree with an animated, “Uh huh!”.
We sat for a while enjoying our treats, and an older gentleman who had been sitting near us came over to talk.
“Is he always this well-behaved?” he asked.
“Umm…well,” I stammered.
“He’s just so calm and well-mannered. Is he like that all the time?”
“Actually, no. He isn’t. To tell you the truth, he is a total maniac most of the time.”
“Really, well he sure is acting like a little gentleman,” he said.
“Um, yeah. He is being very calm right now, but most of the time he is absolutely wild. Yesterday I walked out to the garage for a second and came in to find him dancing on my kitchen countertops. He is usually about two seconds away from an injury at all times,” I said as the man smiled and walked away.
Then later that day, Everett proved my point. We went to the park with our friends (in yet another attempt to stay out of the house). The kids were playing on some metal cars on the playground. We had been there about 15 minutes when I see Everett climbing out of a car that is roughly 12 inches off the ground. His leg gets caught, and he tumbles to the ground. It looked like a very minor thing to me; these types of things happen at least a dozen times a day. That is, until I saw the blood. He starts screaming. Blood mixed with drool starts pouring out of his mouth like a fountain as I try to figure out what the heck happened. He had bitten his tongue as he fell, and the sheer amount of blood coming out of him was terrifying. Only later did I realize the irony of a kid with hardly any teeth taking such a big bite out of anything.
Forget for a moment that I am a pharmacist who is well-trained in the care of severely ill and injured children. Forget also for a moment that my friend is a pediatric nurse for children going into and out of surgery. The two of us stood there and looked at each other, dumbfounded. I wanted her to tell me what I was supposed to do, but she looked as lost as I felt. Avery and my friend’s daughter were both crying, too, by this time. So I decided to put the kids in the car and head home. Home helps you think better.
When I got home, I called Michael. He didn’t know what to do either, and he’s always perplexed when I call him in these moments. I think he’s thinking to himself, “I have no idea what to do; you’re supposed to know what to do.” And in reality, I think that recounting the story to him is how I work through the process in my brain of figuring out what I’m supposed to do. Emergency room? Doctor’s office? Stay at home? I don’t want to overreact but I want to make sure he’s okay. Ugghh. How do you know which is the right choice?
I looked at the clock, which said 4:52 p.m. Eight more minutes before the doctor’s office closes. I called my pediatrician’s office and asked to speak to Ginger, my favorite nurse in all of the world. I hoped that they weren’t already hurrying out the door. Ginger answers the phone with her never-hurried North Carolina accent that made me feel better instantly.
“Hey Courtney, what’s the matter, honey?” she asked. I recounted the events of the last hour in all of my panic.
“I mean, Ginger, how do you know if a tongue needs stitches? Should I go to the Emergency Room? I just don’t know what to do.”
She paused for a long second.
“Well, honey,” she said calmly and slowly like a Southerner about to sit down on the front porch with a big ole glass of sweet tea, “is it hanging by a string?”
“Wait, what? Is what hanging by a string? Is his tongue hanging by a string? No, it’s not. It’s like a semicircle-shaped gash on the side.”
“Well, then I don’t think he needs any sutures. Tongues only get sutures if they’re hanging by a string,” she said with calm assurance.
She advised me to give him some Tylenol, let him suck on something cool and bring him in to the office to get checked out in the morning. After I got off the phone, I realized what sensible advice that was. I should have been able to come up with that, but nonetheless I was grateful for it.
The next day, Everett was fine. His tongue looked like a marbled steak and Michael couldn’t even look at it without feeling a little woozy, but as far as Everett was concerned it was life as usual. I, however, was still very concerned. I knew he was fine, but I was afraid of him being in pain. I only let him eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gave Michael strict instructions not to give him anything to eat that was crunchy, salty, spicy or citrus-y. I worried that he would bite it again since it was so swollen, and he’d have to relive the whole thing all over.
And then at some point that day as we’re riding in the car, I see Everett playing with his tongue. He’s trying to touch the injured part, out of curiosity I guess.
“Boo boo, no, don’t touch that,” I tell him. “You’re going to hurt your tongue again. Don’t touch it. Ouchie!”
He looks at me with a sparkle in his eye and a sly smirk forming in the corners of his mouth, and he sticks his hand in his mouth and touches his tongue again.
All day long I thought about that look on his face as he touched his injured little tongue. And then it hit me.
“Oh no!” I thought. “This is it. This is what it’s like to have a boy.”
Anytime Avery got hurt as a toddler, she looked at me with the saddest little eyes that seemed to be asking how on earth I could ever have let such an awful thing happen to her. Once she became more controlled with her balance and movements, she learned to do whatever she could to avoid injury. She remembered what it was like to get hurt and she knew she did not want that.
But this boy. This boy is different. That look in his eye told me that he got a thrill out of having endured that pain. He isn’t afraid of pain like I am and like Avery is. He enjoyed seeing me concerned that he might get hurt and then proving to me that he was tougher than I thought. It was the look of an adrenaline junkie right before they repel backwards off of a cliff- the look that says, “Watch this!”
And I realized that this is only the beginning with this boy. This is the beginning of a mother’s heart exploding with love for a little human being and wanting desperately to protect him from every kind of pain yet living in the reality of knowing that she can’t. My mind wants me to be the kind of mother who lets her boy fly free, testing his limits and seeking out his wildest adventures. But my heart says no. Please don’t let my baby get hurt. Let me wrap him up and keep him safe and warm.
The events of the past week have given me a glimpse of the wild, untamable spirit that lives in my boy. I’m afraid because I know that along this journey with him I will have many more moments like this, but bigger ones with more at stake. Moments where I want to save him but he doesn’t want to be saved. Moments where I want him to step back from the cliff, but he wants to jump off. Moments where I want him to be safe, but he wants to be free.
As he grows, he probably will go on to experience emergency room visits and stitches and broken bones and pain. And no matter what, I’ll be there holding his hand.
His wounds will heal, but he’ll probably never know the scars that they leave on his mother’s heart.