Monday, June 13, 2011

In Case Anyone Is Watching . . .

I would make a terrible nurse. It's not the blood and various other bodily fluids and broken bones that would get to me; it's my impatience with complaints about stubbed toes, hangnails, splinters, slivers, and minor cuts, scratches, and bruises. Sure, nurses don't have to exactly deal with these sorts of complaints on a daily basis, but it's the thought of having to deal with any molehill of a problem blown into a mountain that would show my lack of bedside manner and get me fired if not sued.

My six-year-old just came in a few minutes ago to whine about his finger, which had apparently been attacked by a small stick earlier today. I sent him back outside with a brusque wave. My daughter, 30 seconds later, started into hysterics over . . . what? I don't know. I stopped her from finishing her sentence. She's outside playing now too. That, or she's up in her room composing a letter to Santa to ask for a mother who knows how to ooh and aah in sympathy more regularly.

Let me tell you about how sickness was handled in my house growing up: Quarantine. Any of us got sick? We spent the fevered period in our bedrooms. With the door shut. When I was a junior in high school, I got a terrible sore throat. My mother's solution was (and I quote), "Stand in the hot shower with your mouth open. The steam will make it feel better. You're going to school." This routine went on for three days until Mom relented and took me to the doctor. I had strep throat, of course.

At 19, I had a lump removed: pre-cancerous. If my parents were concerned, I don't recall them letting on. I'm not saying they weren't concerned--only that they didn't fawn over me or coddle me or make me feel like the world was going to end, and I didn't mind the lack of attention. I didn't want it, honestly. Had they been more alarmist in their reaction, I would have, well, felt more alarmed.

About a year into my marriage, my husband caught on to my feelings about "in sickness and in health." Just because I'm all for sticking by him in times of sickness, I don't mean right by him. I mean in the next room or farther down the hall or downstairs while he stays upstairs and only calls for me when he really, really, really needs something. He was a little shocked at this revelation. In fact, he kind of panicked.

"Please," he said. "Please tell me that when we have children and they get sick, you'll take care of them."

I laughed. "Of course, I will."

He didn't laugh. He went a little paler. "I mean it. You need to promise me."

I laughed again. "Promise you? Do you really think I wouldn't take care of them?"

He still didn't laugh. "Promise me. Promise me you'll take them a cold wet washcloth and make sure they're okay."

So I promised.

My twelve-year-old had some serious kidney problems for seven years before doctors finally diagnosed him correctly. And I was the vision of empathy night after night while he lay in bed next to me, vomiting for hours on end. I was furious and frustrated and just wanted to find a way to make him feel better, which meant I also felt helpless, which, really, is no way for any parent to feel. He had surgery just over two years ago to finally fix the problem. I still look at him in amazement sometimes, immensely grateful those days are over and that he can just be a normal kid now.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, I felt that same fury, frustration, and helplessness, which is no way for a child to feel either. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments didn't fix his "problem." He died after ten months of fighting the good fight--but, really, what's good about any fight that ends like that?

I chased my daughter out of the house before I let her finish that sentence a few minutes ago because, as I told her, "You kids are healthy in every way. There's no reason at all for you to complain about the little things in life."

I'm not trying to raise stoic children. I'm not trying to raise children that lack compassion or that are afraid to cry when they fall off their bike or trip up the stairs. I'm trying to raise kids that are grateful for the bruises, scrapes, splinters, and slivers that show they got to spend summer evenings playing in the backyard with each other and with their friends. I'll give them that wet washcloth for their heads or their bloody elbows. But then I'm sending them back outside to play, because they get to go back outside and play.

So in case anyone is watching or listening: I do care about my children's well-being. I care a lot.


Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

being raised as a Christian Scientist, my inclination is to tell them to simply "know the truth" about whatever ails them, and all will be well... so the poor kids don't really have anywhere to turn

Wendy said...

"Suck it up and suffer a little pain," is what I say when Jeremiah wants to stop walking because his knee hurts.I don't feel as bad now, knowing I'm not the only one saying these things :) I think you are always very empathetic about emotional issues, which require more loving care.