Archive for October, 2012

As I put my son, Eddie, to bed, I looked at the yellow trail of thick snot heading toward his upper lip, and I knew he wouldn’t be going to school the next day. The director of the school sent out an email this week warning parents that it’s a violation of school policy to send in your child with a “green or yellow nose.” As it happens, I had a pediatrician appointment, so Eddie could get yet another of the dozens of vaccinations children are required to get. I was glad they would be looking at him. Not only did Eddie still have a cold after a week, but he had fallen the day before and banged up his face pretty badly. I had been standing in front of our house talking to our mailwoman when Eddie tumbled from our porch steps onto the sidewalk below, giving himself a black eye, an egg on his forehead and cuts on his cheek.

“I was afraid to bring him here,” I said when the pediatrician walked in to the examining room. “I thought someone was going to see the bruises on Eddie’s face and call child services.”

I’ve often thought the biggest threat to my child is his parents. I’ve dropped him, banged his head on the side of the car as I was putting him into his car seat and accidently slammed his finger in our screen door. When he was about six months old, I remember gasping as I walked in to the living room to find him lying on the floor at the base of his rocking chair. I’d put him in it as a temporary measure while I went upstairs to grab something I’d just printed off my computer. And then I saw the paper had jammed so I had to pull the back piece off the printer and dislodge the paper. Then I grabbed a clipboard and my flash drive. Then I stopped by the mirror to see if the stain on my shirt was dry yet. By the time I got back to the baby in the living room, he was on the floor. I looked horrified but saw he wasn’t crying or in pain or afraid so I quickly smiled. I thought if I look alarmed, he’ll get alarmed. Better to make light of it. What fun that we landed on the floor. Who’s a silly billy. Boy the floor’s fun, huh? As I lifted him up, I saw his white onesie was stained in blood on his left shoulder. “Oh my God, he’s bleeding!” I thought, until I realized it was just the pattern on his onesie, which was a white with little red silhouettes of Nantucket Island on it that look like lobsters.

My pediatrician was unphased when I told her about Eddie’s recent fall.

“He’s at that age. He’s going to get in to everything,” she said.

She then told me how her son knocked his head into the corner of a table when he was about three, and the gash was so deep and close to his skull, he needed 90 stitches.

“And that happened on my watch,” she said.

I took some solace. I also thought no one would really think I hurt my child, just because he had bruises on his face. Surely people understand that kids fall. It doesn’t mean their parents are abusing them.

The pediatrician looked in Eddie’s ears and said he had an ear infection. His cold was basically over, but his nose continued to run because of the ear infection. She put him on antibiotics and sent me off with a note that said Eddie was no longer contagious, and he was able to return to school. I felt like I was getting him back into school because I had connections, and it was only going to lead to resentment.

The following morning, I took Eddie to school with the doctor’s note. I showed it to three of his four teachers, walking around the classroom brandishing the note like a child with a guilty conscience. “I swear. He’s allowed to be here. My doctor said so.”

After I dropped Eddie off, I stopped off at the school’s rummage sale, which was being held in another part of the building. As I came out of the sale, I could see Eddie’s class down the hall, each child walking hand in hand with a teacher as they headed toward the exit of the building. I spotted Eddie and started to walk toward them but stopped, thinking it would be better if he didn’t see me.

There was a woman standing in the hall as the children walked by, and as Eddie passed, I heard her ask one of the teachers, “What happened to him?”

“He fell on the stairs,” said the teacher with the dark hair, and then added, “His mother pushed him.”

I was stunned. She must have been joking, but I didn’t hear anyone laughing.

“It wasn’t on our watch,” said the teacher with the red hair.

“Yeah, thank god. If it was on our watch, we’d never hear the end of it,” said the teacher with the dark hair.

I was tempted to run down the hall, yelling, “I can hear you, you know,” but I didn’t want to embarrass Eddie, especially if for some reason, I didn’t hear them correctly. I once had a boyfriend who had a large Italian family, and they were having a party. I was afraid to go because they were loud and intimidating, and I was shy and afraid they wouldn’t like me. When we arrived at the party, his uncle took one look at me and said, “What a Jew.” I was shocked. When I complained to my boyfriend afterward, he told me his uncle had said, “What a jewel.” Probably best not to go screaming down a hallway accusing people of calling me a child abuser when I may have misheard them.

When I picked Eddie up from school, the teacher with the dark hair wouldn’t even look in my direction. I wondered if she really did think I pushed my child. Or perhaps she just thought I was a cheat for dropping off my runny-nosed kid with a doctor’s note. Half of me wanted to smack her. The other half wanted to plead my case.

I grabbed Eddie and put him in the car and started to drive home but decided at the last minute to go to the grocery store. As usual, I went in for one item and filled half the cart. I headed over to the check-out aisle, and as I unloaded the groceries on to the conveyer belt, Eddie, who was sitting in the grocery cart, spotted one of the small sugar pumpkins I’d bought. He grabbed it from the conveyer belt as it went by. Soon, he was leaning over the edge of the cart and pawing various items as they went by. As I was paying my bill, putting my PIN number into the machine, Eddie suddenly screamed. When I looked up, I saw his hand had gotten caught in between where the conveyer belt ends and the metal countertop begins. The cashier immediately stopped the belt and we got Eddie’s hand out, but he was screaming. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

“Get ice!” I yelled at the girl who was packing my groceries into bags. “Please! We need ice!”

The girl took off down the aisle to find ice.

“It wasn’t his finger. It was the side of his hand,” the cashier said. “I saw it. It was the side of his hand. It wasn’t his finger.”

After about 10 seconds, the woman standing behind me began scolding me to get the ice myself.

“Go take him over to the seafood department! Stick his hand in the ice there. Get him ice before his hand swells up!” she said in a thick accent of some unidentifiable origin. “You should sue them!”

I stood there holding Eddie’s little hand in between mine, rubbing the inside of his hand gently like it was a paw.

“Where’s the girl with the ice? Why is she taking so long?” I said to the cashier. It had been about a minute.

The bag packer soon appeared with a little plastic bag of ice.

“I couldn’t find anything to hold the bag closed,” she said. She was slightly winded.

I put the ice on Eddie’s hand and slowly wheeled him out of the store. We stood for a few minutes on the sidewalk just outside the store so I could hold the ice on his hand a little longer. A man in his thirties with long hair and a trimmed beard walked by and stopped.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, thanks. He got his finger caught in the belt by the check-out,” I said. It was so odd, I had to tell someone.

“Are you kidding me?! You should sue!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. He’s all right,” I said.

“I mean if there are permanent injuries,” the man said.

“It was just the edge of his hand,” I said, relaying what the cashier said. “But yeah, I guess if there are permanent injuries, but I don’t –”

“Just his hand? Oooh. I saw those cuts on his face, and I thought he got pulled into the belt and was like flapping around,” the man said. And with that, he walked off.

I wheeled Eddie over to our car and remembered the bag of toys I had bought him at the rummage sale earlier that morning. I opened the trunk and started taking the toys out and showing them to him. The first one I plucked out was Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. Eddie just stared at it. I placed it back in the bag and pulled out a large toy horse with natty hair that reminded me of a doll I had as a kid, whose pony tail you could make grow and shrink by pressing a button. Eddie gave a weak smile but didn’t even reach for the toy. I then pulled out a garbage truck. Eddie’s eyes brightened. I put the garbage truck back in the bag and pulled out a tow truck, replete with a hook that moved up and down and buttons on the side that made various truck noises. Eddie lifted up both hands and took the truck and started playing with the buttons, using his good hand and his injured hand to push the buttons up and down. Breathing a sigh of relief, I lifted him out of the grocery cart, the toy still in his hands, and placed him in his car seat, hoping we could get home safely without incident.

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My son, Eddie, had been coughing all day, so at bedtime when I put him in his crib, I placed him on his stomach rather than his back so the mucous wouldn’t run down the back of his nose into his lungs. Still, at about midnight, I could hear him hacking through the wall of his bedroom, and soon, he began to cry. I went into his room, lifted him out of his crib, and placed him in our bed where he gently fell back to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, he started coughing again and woke up. While I had placed him in my bed on his side, as he slept he’d rolled back onto his back and began coughing again. I propped him up on his side again, this time with pillows, and we both fell back asleep – until he woke up coughing again about 20 minutes later. I propped him up again and again, and again he kept waking up coughing, though he seemed to sleep in between bouts. I didn’t. As I listened to his raspy breathing, I kept wondering, “Is this when I’m supposed to take him to the ER?” What about his doctor? Is this one of those situations where I’m supposed to call my pediatrician, even in the middle of the night? He was certainly breathing, but it sounded so labored.

His lungs were coated with mucous.

It’s moments like this that I wonder whether someone should be entrusted in my care. I’ve never trusted my own judgment, not because I have notoriously bad judgment but because I lack confidence and don’t trust my ability to properly assess a situation. When my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2001, I cried for an entire weekend – so much so that my eyes swelled, making me look like a boxer after a fight. But throughout my crying jag, I kept chastising myself for being melodramatic. After all, the doctor didn’t say he was going to die. He merely said my father had cancer. It wasn’t until my friend – and now husband – Bruce reassured me that the situation was indeed very bad that I allowed myself to grieve with impunity. In retrospect, it was the right response. My father did die, but it seems like dumb luck, like how even a broken clock is still correct twice a day. I don’t have faith in my ability to read a situation, and it scares me that one day the only thing between my child living and dying might be my judgment.

Take tonight. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I wondered, what if Eddie dies in the night, and I could have stopped it? What if he chokes on his own mucous? Do I perforate his neck and use the shaft of the pen as a breathing tube? Should I wake the pediatrician up? I hate to be an alarmist. I come from a long line of them — people who scream when a child falls or shriek when you turn a corner in a hallway and almost run into them. But while I don’t want to be an alarmist, I’d hate to not be one when I should have been. I looked over at Eddie. He was sleeping soundly, but for that pesky death rattle. His body felt warm, but I had taken his temperature just before I put him to bed, and his fever was about 100. The parenting books said one doesn’t call a doctor about fever unless it exceeds 102.

Just before sunrise, my alarm went off. I was surprised I was sleeping because I’d been up most of the night. Eddie woke up alert and energetic but for a hacking cough that made him sound like a long-time smoker. I was relieved to see daylight. We’d made it through the night.

I was relieved to see daybreak.

I put Eddie in the bath but still wasn’t sure whether I should send him to school or take him to the doctor. I called the pediatrician. I felt more comfortable calling her now, even though the office wasn’t open yet. I didn’t want to be alarmist, but I didn’t mind being concerned.

“What about school?” I asked the doctor on call. “Should I send him? Do you think he’s contagious?”

“If every parent kept their kid home with a cold because they thought he might be contagious, there’d be no one in school,” the doctor said. “He’s your first child, right?”

“Yeah. And probably my only one,” I said.

“I figured,” the doctor said. “They say when it’s your first child, and he gets a bloody nose, you’re ready to take him to the emergency room. With the second child, you say, ‘ Can you move over there? You’re bleeding on the rug!’”

The doctor convinced me I was being overly cautious,so I got Eddie dressed for school and dropped him off. When I picked him up, he was carrying a note. It was the standard piece of paper they place in his lunch box every day, telling me whether he was in good spirits and how many dirty diapers he had, but today, there was a note on the bottom: “Eddie’s nose was running green today.” I folded it up, put it in my pocket. I felt like I’d done something wrong.

The following day, the parents received an email from the school’s director, entitled “Green Noses,” that spelled out the school’s policy on colds. Quoting the school’s handbook, the director said parents were forbidden from sending their child to school if their nose is running yellow or green.

I was certain the email was meant for me. I felt so misunderstood. I only sent him because the doctor told me I should. She almost mocked me for not doing so. And as soon as I did, I was singled out for being a rule breaker and for putting a pox on the school. But it didn’t stop me from responding to the director’s email.

“So if Eddie has a green nose tomorrow, he can’t come to picture day?”

I’d received a memo weeks earlier that tomorrow was photo day, and I’d already paid for a whole set of pictures.

“I’m sorry. No. He can’t,” the director wrote back curtly.

I don’t know why I cared whether Eddie was in his class photo, but I was deeply disappointed at the prospect that he wouldn’t be. I wanted the little wallet size photos of him and the class picture, where I could pick out his smile visage among all the little moon faces in his Toddler class.

When Eddie woke up the following morning, I checked his nose to see if his snot was green. It was not. It was clear, and thinner than the previous day. I put him in a brown, white and grey plaid shirt and grey pants and combed his hair for his class photo. But fearing the school’s director would yell at me and possibly kick Eddie out of the program, I carried him into his classroom with some residual snot running down his nose to ask the teachers for a second opinion.

Does this look green to you?

“I need help with a judgment call,” I said and lifted Eddie up so his teacher could see his nose. “Does this look green to you? I thought it looked slightly yellow, but my husband said it was clear. I just can’t tell.”

The teachers said he was fine, and if anything changed during the day, they’d call me. When I picked him up that afternoon, they said his mucous had gotten thicker as the day went on and that the problem wasn’t so much the color but the thickness. This snot thing was becoming a moving target. They told me if his snot was still thick at bedtime, I could not bring him in the next day.

Jake LaMotta

When we got home, I placed Eddie up on the porch and started to unload some items from the car. Just then, our mail lady, Sheila, walked by and asked me how Eddie was doing with school. I started to tell her what happened with Eddie’s nose, and the last thing I remember her saying was, “You’re not one of those parents who–” when suddenly, Eddie tumbled down our three porch steps right in front of us and landed face first on the concrete sidewalk below. He began to scream. When I picked him up, he was bleeding from his forehead, his eyelid and his cheek. I carried him into the house and put a package of frozen green peas on his forehead, which was already beginning to swell into an egg the size of a ping pong ball. He continued to cry, and I tried to console him by telling him he could have sorbet. I don’t know why. He didn’t know what sorbet was. I washed his cuts with Bactine and put a band-aid on his head and one on his hand, to distract him, and once he had calmed down and began unwrapping the rest of the band-aids in the box and it was clear he didn’t have a concussion, I put him down for his nap. When I woke him up, his right eye was swollen almost shut, making him look like a boxer. I was glad he had already taken his class photo.

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Now that my son, Eddie, goes to daycare every morning, and we have to be somewhere at a certain time, we’ve developed a routine. I hand him his bottle while he’s still in his crib, I go into the bathroom and run his bath, I run down to the kitchen and fill a pot with salted water for his oatmeal, and I run back upstairs to pick out an outfit for the day and make sure I have it waiting on the little bench in the bathroom so that when I take him out of the tub, I can put him right into it. At this point, he’s finished his bottle and wants to get out of his crib, so I change him and drop him into the bath.

It usually runs smoothly, but this morning, he’s started to do something new: he sits right down in the tub when I put him in there, and he won’t stand up briefly so that I can wash him. I find it easier to wash his genitals and bottom when he’s in a standing position than when he’s sitting. Of all his body parts, I want to make sure these are clean, given that he routinely goes to the bathroom all over them and then sits in it. To that end, I picked Eddie up under the arms to stand him up, but he let his legs buckle underneath him, and he slid back into the bath. I tried to lift him to a standing position again, but again he let his legs buckle beneath him. When I lifted one more time, he made his arms go limp, like jelly, so I couldn’t hold him up – a kid’s move not so affectionately known as going “boneless.”

“Eddie, please stand up,” I said. “If you keep doing that, I’m going to wind up hurting my back.” When I bent over the tub trying to lift him, unsuccessfully, he felt like dead weight.

I tried lifting him once more. Again, he buckled.

“Eddie, stand up!” I snapped. He just sat there. I could remember having almost the exact tug-o-war with him two months ago except then I was saying, “Eddie, sit!” because I would place him in the bathtub, and instead of sitting down in it he would remain standing.

“Eddie, mommy needs you to stand up,” I said.

He ignored me.

“Look at me.” He looked over.

“Now stand up, please.” He sat there.

I picked him up out of the tub and stood him on the bathroom floor. He looked at me, his mouth formed that little “O” that precedes a cry, and he began to wail. I felt so bad, I pulled his wet body toward me and hugged him and kept saying, “Buddy, you’re a good boy. You’re a good boy. Mommy’s just trying to do something.”

I put him back in the bathtub and washed him. I never did get him to stand up. At the end of the bath, when I removed him from the tub and wrapped him in towels, I explained to him what I was trying to do.

“I’m sorry I yelled, but I need you to stand up sometimes so I can wash you. It’s just easier that way. I was just trying to get you to stand up,” I said.

I have no idea whether he understood what I was saying. I think he got the gist of it by my tone: that is, mommy’s a pushover, and if I cry, she’ll feel bad and leave me alone. The bottom line is, I go to great lengths not to damage my child, and if I go anywhere near that line, I back off, because I want him to be a happy, well-rounded individual who will feel good about himself, make friends easily and enjoy all of life’s riches. And that’s what I was thinking when I dropped him off at daycare.

When I picked him up three hours later, he seemed happy but a little tentative. I thought he might be tired. We came home, and I put him down for his afternoon nap. When he woke up, I pulled him out of his crib and my friend, Doris, and I played with him in his room. Suddenly, he turned to Doris and scrunched his face up like he’d eaten a lemon. His eyes got all squinty and his mouth made like an “O.” He then reached his arms out toward her for a hug. I knew immediately what he was doing. There’s a little boy in his class who’s always crying. He’s crying when I drop Eddie off in the morning, and he’s crying when I pick Eddie up. The other day, I saw the teacher turn to him and say, “Jack, do you need a hug?” And Jack walked over to her to receive his hug. I think Eddie was making believe he was crying so he could get a hug. The day before, he came home from daycare with a new word, which he was using all night: Mine. It was then that I realized that no matter how perfect a parent I am, no matter how hard I try, my kid is still hanging around with the children of other parents – good parents, bad parents, very bad parents – and like a virus, those children will infect my perfect child with their bad habits.

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