“Ouchy, Mommy! I bumped my arm I need ice,” my little one wails.
“Where did you bump it? I don’t see anything,” I say unsympathetically without glancing away from the computer screen. My husband is downstairs watching television and she came all the way upstairs so I could go all the way downstairs to get her ice for an invisible boo-boo.
“Here! Here!,” she says, pointing to her arm emphatically. “I need ice! I need ice!”
I take my eyes off the screen to do a quick scan of the arm. “Oh, for goodness sakes! There’s no mark. Nothing! Shake it off and go play!”
She grows distraught by my lack of action. Her lower lip begins to curl. Her eyes fill with tears. She stomps her foot in outrage. She has conveyed her needs and she knows her rights. She will not surrender without the ice. I know this, but before I can respond, I hear the shuffle of feet and the ascent up the stairs. My husband has heard the cry for ice and my inaction forces him to the call of duty. He assesses the situation, examines the ever-so-slight mark on the arm and gives me a dirty look. I shrug. He retrieves the pack and treats the wound; the potential bruise is averted, another crisis is solved.
My kids love the ice. No bump, trip, or fall is complete without the almighty, magical ice pack. They’ve even been properly trained to apply the ice to the skin in intervals so as not to chill the skin too much and cause discomfort. Even when my husband is not home, they’ve learned how to moan and groan until they get what they need. I just don’t get it.
When I was a kid, I got yelled at if I complained that I was hurt. Why weren’t you paying attention? Look where you’re going! No one went running to the freezer in a fit of panic that a bruise might purple my lovely leg before the ice pack could be properly applied. You got a bruise and you got over it.
If I was outside, I definitely didn’t complain when I fell off my bike or tripped on the sidewalk. Those were the days of no parental supervision. If I ran into the house crying, chances are I might not get out again because no one was going to be motivated to actually sit outside and observe me in play and my injury was proof that I could no longer be trusted alone outside. I’d have to be gushing blood and dragging a limb behind me before I would reenter the house once I had been given the freedom of the outdoors.
Not only did I not get ice, I often got laughed at when I got hurt. As the third of four slightly sadistic children, if I slipped on the shag carpet and fell down the stairs, I was guaranteed to be met with hearty, hysterical belly laughter and finger-pointing once I reached the bottom. Nobody jumped to help me get up from where I lay sprawled on the floor, crying. Often one of my siblings would do a reenactment of the look of terror on my face as I came flying down the steps and the laughter would begin all over again. Finally, my mother would emerge from the laundry room and yell at them for laughing because that was mean, but nobody was worrying about the rug burns on my rear. Get up and get over it.
Initially I thought my husband was just being protective of his delicate, little princesses, but his obsession with the ice pack runs too deep not to be rooted in childhood. It’s funny how this big gruff man can act in certain ways that allow me clearly envision the little boy he might have been. I imagine a skinny, seven-year-old, before his white boy’s afro was replaced with a crew cut, covered in band aids, kleenex stowed away in the backpack for an allergy attack, ready at a moments notice to have his temperature taken. I feel quite confident small injuries and the potential for small injuries were grave matters in my husband’s childhood.
Recently, my mother-in-law’s disconcerted reaction to my child’s scuffed knees reinforced this suspicion. Apparently, my daughter had been playing a little too wildly on the kindergarten carpet and her knees took the brunt. In fairness, they looked sore, but she was over it long before she got home from school (No. She did not go to the nurse for an ice pack. I asked. Hmmmm.)
“What can we do about this,” MIL asked, ready to get on board and take charge. “Maybe we should pick up a pair of knee pads for her to wear so she doesn’t hurt her knees on the rug again. I’ve seen them in a catalog….but which one?” I can’t respond. I’m quietly amused by the vision of my child, knee pad clad, entering the school building. (In my vision she’s also wearing a helmet and safety goggles.) I imagine all the mommies who linger at the school entrance doing a double take and me trying desperately to justify: Did you know that school has carpets! Carpets I tell you! And they expect our children to play on these carpets. What an awful school. Action must be taken! Our children must be protected!
My husband’s annoyance snaps me back to reality. “What? Knee pads? Maybe she can just learn that when you play rough, you get hurt. And then she’ll be more careful next time, ” he firmly suggests. I’m speechless. The crazy ice pack wielder is nowhere in sight and a calm, practical man stands before me. They continue to debate the pros and cons of knee pad use in everday living and eventually the conversation fades away. Knee pads will not be purchased. I breathe a sigh of relief. There’s hope, yet. Maybe the ice pack isn’t so bad after all.
It’s funny to think about how differently we are raised and how these ways shape us as adults. Even when you don’t approve of one of the parenting strategies your parents applied, you still find them woven into the parent you have become. I would have loved some doting, suffocating attention every time I had a paper cut, and yet, I can’t bear to linger over my kids’ minor injuries, nevermind the imaginary ones. More than once, I have found myself trying to stifle my irritation that they have hurt themselves yet, again. Sometimes it stems from worry, but sometimes it’s just downright annoyance. I can’t help it any more than my husband can help going into ice autopilot at the slightest suggestion of an emerging bruise.
And I wonder how my girls will remember the ice pack interventions. Daddy always took care of us. Mommy was addicted to her computer and her books and wouldn’t help us when we needed her! Thank God, for Daddy! We would never have survived childhood without him. Somehow, I don’t think I will fare well, but I’m willing to take that risk. Hopefully they’ll grow up to be women who don’t waste time on the small stuff, who get up and brush themselves off when they fall down. And I suppose if they find a couple of nice guys to fetch ice for their battle wounds now and then, that’ll be okay, too.