Friday, April 27, 2007

The Dangerous World of Boys

If you’ve recently given birth to your first son, or if you’re already a mom of, say, an infant or toddler boy, this is a cautionary tale, a primer, a “buckle-your-seat-belts-you’re-in-for-a-bumpy-ride” introduction to being a mother (or father) of the young male of the species.

Boys and bumps, bruises, breaks and bloody cuts seem – in my experience – to go hand-in-hand.

Out of my three sons, so far my son Kenny takes the prize in the becoming wounded department. When Kenny was age one, Blake chucked a Matchbox car at him resulting in a butterfly stitch to the forehead. At age four, Kenny broke his tibia, and repeated that break a scant two years later. At seven, Blake accidentally (yeah, right) slammed Kenny’s fingers in a door, resulting in yet another break and half a dozen stitches. At 11, he broke his arm falling off a swing. When he was 15, he sprained that same arm, and at age 19, badly cut one hand after a freak fall on his way back to his apartment after class.

Some boys are more accident prone than others. Blake survived childhood with only a few stitches and bumps, and – considering he has been in combat three times since 2003 – has emerged with only the most minor of injuries. But the first time your child, your son, gets a bad boo-boo it’s almost as painful for you.

The first sign of a break or of blood gives new meaning to the term “adrenaline rush.”

If your son is an athlete, well, try and prepare yourself for the inevitable injury, although admittedly, I’m not entirely sure how one prepares oneself. The least of it may be a bad bruise. But there, lurking in the air on the field of play, may be the breakage of a limb, an errant ball flying into your son’s nether regions, a bloody nose or blackened eye; momentary unconsciousness. Now these are the worst cases and should not in any way, shape or form mean you prohibit sports from your child’s agenda. Because – trust me – even the most seemingly ordinary of moments at home may cause temporarily traumatic injury.

Case in point: On this past Easter Sunday evening, as I was folding laundry and my husband, Jon, was paying bills, a blood-curdling scream emanated from our garage. Janet began yelling for us: “Mom! Dad! Jack’s hurt! Jack’s hurt!” As I ran into the garage, there was Jack holding his left hand, blood spewing from one of his fingers. “I closed it in the door! Omigod! Help!” As he was going out the side door of our garage, he had accidentally slammed the door shut on his fingers, specifically, the middle finger (pretty appropriate for how he felt at that moment). We bundled his hand in a towel and ice and Jon dashed him to Norwalk Hospital. By the grace of God, I decided to immediately begin cleaning up all the blood in the garage and as I did, I looked down and there staring up at me was the top of Jack’s finger! We had no idea that it had been severed. Bottom line is that most of it was stitched back on and I’m sure he’ll be playing baseball in no time. But, mercy me – dashing part of my kid’s finger to the hospital resulted in a billion new grey hairs and a heart that nearly popped right out of me and out of my car and onto Route 123.

Ah, boys. Here’s what you need to do as soon as you birth one: Stock your medicine cabinet with bandages, gauze, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, a finger splint, an ace bandage, several ice packs and arnica. Stock your liquor cabinet with whiskey or wine, or load up your freezer with pints of your favorite ice cream (pick your poison) for you to ingest after the accident, Keep in mind that you should probably breathe while the initial ouchiness ensues. Don’t let your boy catch you crying, and keep reminding yourself that things will be okay; this too shall pass.

Until the next time.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Waiting to Exhale

The nature of the business of being parents means that we must often endure, wait out and try to help when our child is caught up in the grip of emotional, social and/or physical pain. We gasp, we hold our breath, we pray, and we wait to exhale.

Our child may be diagnosed with a disease, an illness or an injury, and after doing all that we can possibly do to support them and aid in their recovery, often the results are left in the hands of those more knowledgeable, or in something/someone greater than ourselves. Many times it is up to our child to help themselves, and it is the waiting for that to happen which takes our breath away. The expression, “Time takes time,” is both a balm and bewilderment.

A child may impulsively quit their job with no prospects on the horizon. They may decide high school isn’t for them and we watch as their grades plummet. An undiagnosed learning disability derails our eight-year-old. As mothers and fathers of teens we pretty much have to inhale and suck it up for two, three, four years, especially if teenaged angst makes them implode. In preschool or in elementary school our child may be one of the bullies or the bullied, and we wait both patiently and impatiently for this too to pass.

A son goes to war and the anxiety is unbearable at times, yet bear it we must.

Blake has been deployed since last September, and was in Iraq for the last five months. We learned late last week that he had arrived in Kuwait. He will be there for a couple of weeks until the naval ship arrives to begin the journey of bringing the Marines and Sailors stateside. And so on that score I have begun the exhaling process, which isn’t fully complete until I can wrap my arms around the big lug sometime in June.

During a shopping trip to Bob’s Sports this week, I received a hug from owner Rob Mallozzi upon hearing the news. He commented on my big smile and the look of relief in my face.

“Yes,” I beamed, for the first time in a long time. “The breathing out is welcome.”

We all want our children safe, sane and secure. When bad or uncomfortable news visits our child, we must hang onto hope – that the cancer will go into remission; that the ADD will become under control; that he can play ball again or that her leg will heal enough so may she dance once more; that their heart will mend or their lost soul will be found; that their disability won’t impede success, or that self-destructive behaviors can morph back into self-love; that combat will not offer the ultimate sacrifice. As tempting as it is for us to run for the bedcovers or self-medicate, we must remember that what is happening is happening more to them than to us. We need to get out of our own way and try to be present for our child.

That feeling a mother gets as she watches her five-year-old first board that big yellow bus for kindergarten is repeated over and over as the child ages. It’s the “Omigosh-omigosh-are-they-going-to-be-okay” mini panic attack; the big intake of air, the flutters in the belly, and the pounding of the heart so full of love it hurts.

Holding on to hope is the tool we can use when these moments present themselves (and they will). Hope and choice: Will we let this situation crush us or our child, or will we choose to gain new strength and perspective? Will we inhale so tightly that we can never again breathe easily?

C.S. Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” That is a lesson, a mantra, that we can teach our children and also, of course, ourselves.