Strong Heart, Weak Stomach (or Vice Versa)
Motherhood is not for the fainthearted. It is also not for the weak-stomached, which is frequently much more relevant to daily life.
Fortunately, I've never had real issues with that. I am not, like my poor friend Erin, a sympathetic vomiter. I offered once to drive up to Portland to help her with the unstoppable chain reaction of her children's flu and her inevitable response, which would have earned me a star in my crown, if not three or four of them. I think that if it had gone on for one more hour, she might have taken me up on it.
That's not to say that I like barf, I just can't get all that worked up about it. I've been living for seven years with a mildly autistic child who has what are politely termed "eating issues". Some textures just don't work, when combined with the wrong mood, busy day, or (for all I know) misalignment of the planets. As a result, I am fully capable of cleaning a recycled dinner off of the placemat, the plate, the chair, the floor, the child's clothing and his hair (how do they do that?!), fixing him a sandwich, and serenely sitting back at my own place to eat my serving of the same dinner I just flushed. I was going to say something at this point about what halved grapes look like the second time around, but I'll spare you that. (You're welcome.)
Pee? No problem. I've cleaned whizz off their chubby little baby bodies, their clothes, my clothes, the bathtub, the bathmat, the kitchen floor (THAT was a low day in the potty-training saga of 2002), the sheets, the blankets, the mattress pad, the carpet, and the bathroom floor at significant distances from the toilet for reasons that I cannot, as a woman, begin to envision.
Yes, I'll say it, the other p-word: Poop doesn't bother me. I'm not saying I'd like to decorate my kitchen in a cowplop motif, but spending most of my childhood crossing a field full of horses and cows to play with the neighbor kids gave me a high tolerance for the stuff (not to mention a fair ability at obstacle courses later in life). If you've cleaned up one of those baby blowouts that end up with it inexplicably settling under their hats, there's not a lot that can bother you down the road when it comes to the brown stuff.
Blood? Still OK. I had a dear friend who spent most of his adult life in various jobs in the medical field, and was one of the most supremely capable men I have ever known ... right up until he cut his finger working on his VW Beetle and had to close his eyes and holler until his wife brought him a Band-Aid, or run the very real risk of passing out cold right then and there. I never had that issue, and in fact chickened out only at the last minute when I had the opportunity to watch a surgery being done on my own foot. I don't like seeing my children bleed, but I've survived front-row seats for their many vaccinations, the broken arm incident, two suspected concussions, tear duct surgery, gymnastics-related bangs and bumps, and the countless scrapes and scratches that naturally result from combining small children with bicycles, stairs, and excitable cats.
So, with this stellar track record of stainless-steel-stomached motherhood behind me, you can imagine how surprised I was to find myself with my head between my knees at Dr. Robertson's office last week. My daughter has had a tiny mole under her right arm since infancy, and while it gave no cause for concern, it chafed when she wore sleeveless tops, so we opted to have it removed. The doctor said it was a simple skin tag that could be treated with a local anesthetic and snipped off with minimal fuss. I was fine through the whole description of the procedure, and my calmness helped my daughter, as I hoped it would. The needle didn't bother me, but as soon as I saw those scissors, I felt ... nervous. You know, just a little ... concerned. Maybe a little fluttery. Is it hot in here? My goodness, I must have had less sleep last night than I thought. I think I'm ... um ...
At this point the doctor realized that Mom wasn't going to be much help, and might actually permanently warp her daughter by passing out cold on the floor, so he excused me from the room. I waited out the rest of the procedure in an adjacent exam room with a line of sight to my daughter, but too far away to see exactly what he was doing with those scissors. I dutifully put my head between my knees when I felt dizzy, but there wasn't anywhere I could put my head to remove the embarrassment.
And even more than feeling silly for being caught off-guard and having to leave, I felt that I had let my daughter down by leaving her right when she needed me. She was fine -- a little zing of pain from the anesthetic, a quick snip, and a brightly colored Band-Aid, and she was good to go. (A trip to Baskin Robbins also seemed to accelerate the healing process.) But I was far from fine, and the bowl of dark chocolate goodness didn't take care of my sore heart.
I know, intellectually, have always known, that I can't go with my daughter and spare her all the hurts of life, and it would be very wrong to do so even if I had such supernatural power. She will need to experience pain, and loneliness, and the heart-strengthening effects of dealing with life's inevitable bruises (physical and metaphysical both) on her own. I know this. I know that I can't even walk along beside her every step of the way to hold her when she cries, because honestly, who really wants to bring their mom to college for the first time they're stood up by a date? I know this, I do. But this day, all I could think of was that she was in there, and I was out here, and I didn't know what to do.
I like to think that she will forget the fast-fading scar and her mother's lightheaded abandonment, and remember only that she was allowed to order the long-coveted clown ice cream treat. I am probably right in this. I suspect, though, that this is only one in a long line of occasions where I am not enough for her, when my weakness makes me fall short of what she needs at that moment. I hope she some day grows up to the point that she knows my love leapt across the hallway even as my body sat hunched on the red plastic chair in the other room.
I won't always be able to catch her, to hold her, to wipe the tears, but I'll keep throwing love across the hall (across the world if necessary), and hopefully enough of it will stick that she'll feel the warmth of it. For tonight, I think I'll carefully ease into her room and hold her warm, sleepy self close, banking against the next time I drop the ball.
It was so much easier when all I had to do was wipe faces and hands and tiny bottoms, but (not too surprisingly) I'd never turn back the clock to those endless, exhausting, smelly, ketchup-stained years. I'll adjust, somehow, to the inevitable independence that will grow and mature out of her childish "My do it!" and propel her into adulthood. For the moment, though, I'm glad the days only go by one at a time ... I don't think my heart could manage more than one of them at once.