Editor’s note: This column by Maria Heck appeared in an earlier edition of the Sunday Dispatch.
My sister called today, panicked. Again.
She lives a very different lifestyle than I do and panics about, not global warming, for example, but her pants not being hemmed correctly. So, I warily inquired about her current psychotic frenzy. Actually, what I said was, ”Whatsa matter, doll? The nanny stuck in traffic? Yoga cancelled? What’s the problem?”
She sputtered her dilemma, punctuated by too many tears, which involved falling down a step and almost dropping her baby, resulting in a sort-of bump on the baby’s head.
I was bored already.
“Oh, please,” I scoffed, “That’s nothing. Can I tell you how many times I was carrying a baby and accidentally banged their little cranium off a door frame? It happens to everyone! No harm done!”
She was beside herself. “But, I could’ve done permanent damage.”
“No, no, no,” I assured her. “Permanent damage comes much later, when you spit on your hand and rub their grubby face to remove dried Fluff in front of all their friends, or yell, “Don’t forget to wipe when they’re using the porta-john at a football game or when they see class photos from second grade and realize you made them wear orange leggings and cut their bangs yourself with toenail clippers the night before the photos. That’s when permanent damage comes in. A little bop to the head is inconsequential.”
She sniffled and asked how she’d know if the baby was really hurt. Maybe she had a concussion. What should she be on alert for?
“Look,” I said, “unless things have changed this week, your husband’s name is prefaced with the word “Doctor.” I’m pretty sure he’d be the one to ask.
“Although”, I acknowledged smugly, “I do log onto WebMD every day to feed my hypochondria, so I am pretty well-versed in the entire Physician’s Desk Reference, actually.”
She was aghast. ”I can’t ask my husband. He’ll know I almost killed the baby.”
I hung up on her.
She’s a fairly new mother. Did I panic when I was a new mother? No, I was too stupid and sleep-deprived to fret over anything other than losing a coupon for Enfamil.
Of course, we don’t want our children to hurt; we’d rather hurt ourselves than them. But its life, babe. And life hurts.
In my favorite movie of all time, “A Christmas Story,” the mother (who is a little off-kilter, reminding me of myself), wants to keep her boys warm in the snow and wraps her youngest one in so many layers of outwear, he literally cannot lower his arms. I often picture myself doing this with my children before they leave the house, except I would use bubble wrap. Real or imagined, we go to great lengths to protect these little creatures.
I’m certain not one child remembers me banging their heads unintentionally off a door frame. Just to be sure, I asked my 18 year-old son: “Honey, do you have any memory at all of getting hurt when you were a baby?”
“Wellllll….I have this lump that never goes away. Did I hit my head on anything when I was little?”
I sputtered: “Uuhhhh…certainly not on my watch, buster. No way! Maybe it happened when your father was supposedly watching you…”
He continued, reminiscing; “I do remember Mad (his nickname for his sister and quite apt) pushing me into a staircase. Remember I had two black eyes and you had to call my first-grade teacher and tell her I wasn’t an abused child? I think what you said was, “I didn’t abuse him, but his sister sure did.”
When I asked my youngest if he remembers ever being hurt as a baby, he said he remembers falling out of the high chair and then the crib.
I yelled, “That never happened, You made that up. I swear that never happened.”
He looked at me with pity and stated emphatically, “Oh, it happened alright. I have dreams about it. Were you an unfit mother, even back then?”
“No. I was, I mean, I am, a great mother. Kids get boo-boos all the time. You’re okay, I’m okay, everyone’s okay.”
When I ask my daughter if she remembers ever experiencing pain as a baby, she declares, “Not that I remember. But I will tell you what still hurts me to the core – my second-grade class picture. That is true pain, Maria. Nice job on the bangs. It looks like a small animal chewed them off.”
Thank God I threw the third-grade picture away. Otherwise, she’d see evidence of the remnants of bubble wrap.
No harm done!