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Somewhere My Mother is Laughing Herself Sick: Payback is a Toddler

Posted Nov 15 2012 1:49am

A trip. A fall. All for the love of a twisted, slippery, seasonally inappropriate jelly sandal. A tragedy of toddler proportions.

This is how my day started.

I carried Jelly Bean out to the car, sobbing into my hair about her “owie foot”, carried her into the house, carried her upstairs to get her beloved blanky, carried her downstairs to get her baby, carried her all around the house, like a pony at the fair. At last I was exhausted with this game and placed her gently on the couch with a movie and a baggie of Peanut Butter Puffins (i.e. toddler crack).

Nap time came and went, filled with heartbroken wails of how much her “yittle yeg” hurt. (And I have to admit, hearing her still mispronounce her “l”s makes me giggle. “Mommy, I YUV you!” “Can you make me my YUNCH?” So serious in her unaffected silliness.) I thought perhaps once her brothers got home, she’d give up the Princess-on-her-pallet act and do her usual rounds of calling them “poopy head” (to her it’s a honorarium), rooting through their lunchboxes for uneaten treats and basically driving them nuts. So when she continued to cry and refused to leave her spot on the couch, I started to worry. But only a little – she is my fourth, I am a veteran parent.

I know all the toddler tricks. And toddler brains are notoriously weird places – just the other day she announced loudly, out of nowhere, “I’m not going to pee in the hot tub.” A good plan, I mused, considering we don’t even have a hot tub. (And then there was a recent shopping trip where she asked the man at the taste-testing table if he was a boy. When he answered in the affirmative, she boldly replied, “Oh! You has penis?” “I should hope so,” he said with such equanimity that I am sure he is a parent.) Yet when my husband came home she would not even be tempted to walk to him with a Crunch bar from a Halloween bag. This might be serious, he said. But it was watching her crawl like a soldier through barbed wire, dragging her useless leg behind her, just to get a drink from her water bottle that clinched it for me.

I called the pediatrician. They referred me to Urgent Care. Who referred me to the hospital clinic. Who referred me back to the radiology department at Urgent Care. So I packed up the boys and sent them to cub scouts and then took my crippled, crying baby to the doctor. Standing penitently in front of the triage nurse exactly 20 minutes before closing, I explained why I’d waited so long to bring her in. “Well it’s not bruised or swollen and I thought she was just milking the situation to get more Peanut Butter Puffins and toddlers, frankly, are squirrely…”

My voice trailed off as the nurse told me sternly, “Kids aren’t dumb. If their foot hurts they won’t stand on it.” She held up the pain ranking chart made up of progressively sadder smiley faces and asked my darling to point at which one was most like how she felt. Suppressing a moan, she picked the sobbing face on the far right, the 10 on the pain scale, the one that was captioned “unbearable.” I shrunk a little even as part of me thought it was probably just because that face was the most graphic, ergo the most appealing to her sense of drama.

We waited. We weighed, measured, temperature-d. We consulted. We waited some more. We marched down to radiology and then back up to orthopedics. We watched the clock tick way past bedtime. We watched Angelina Ballerina on my phone (what did I ever do with my toddlers before smart phones?). We watched them pour over x-rays of her tiny still-forming bones. While we waited she peed through her diaper all over my lap. (And of course I hadn’t thought to bring a spare diaper or clothes. She’s my fourth, I am a veteran parent. I’m too good for diaper bags. And pants.) She ate a sucker and then suckered the nurses into giving her a whole roll of stickers which she then used to cover every square inch of exposed flesh – which was a lot seeing as I’d had to strip her down after the pee incident.

Finally: The verdict. “Well I can’t see anything,” the doctor started. “But sometimes, if it’s a hairline fracture, especially in such a young child, we don’t always catch them.” Looking sympathetically at my daughter who was now sweetly coloring princess pages with the crayons the nurses had dug up for her, he added, “She’s clearly in pain. Kids aren’t dumb. If it didn’t hurt she’d be standing, putting weight on it.” He brought out a splint that would brace her leg from hip to foot, explaining to my shocked self that we had better be safe than sorry.

As I tried to wrap my brain around having to carry Jelly Bean around for the next 3-6 weeks, the ever-loving nurses brought yet another present. An ice pack. Jelly Bean’s eyes lit up as they showed her how to crack it to make it cold and then how to place it tenderly on her “owie.” (They even wrote “owie” in her chart. I know because they asked me how to spell it. “O-W-W-E-E?” “No, O-W-I-E” “That doesn’t look right.” “Nothing does at 10 o’clock at night.”) Proudly, Jelly Bean iced her foot. After several seconds she declared, “All better!”

Then she hopped off the exam table, ran to the center of the exam room and did a perfect Angelina Ballerina pirouette. On her injured foot. Her mischievous giggle assured all of us that there was no more pain.

The medical professionals were right: kids definitely aren’t dumb. An evening alone with mom, a buffet of stickers and suckers, a photoshoot surrounded by the entire adoring radiology department, and – of course – her very own ice pack. Nope, she’s not dumb. But I was also right: toddlers are squirrely. She’s my fourth, I’m a veteran parent. …Who just got owned by a newly minted 3-year-old.

At least she’s not hurt. At least she had a good time. At least I didn’t have to put my boys to bed. These will comfort me, at least until the several-hundred-dollars bill (thanks to our high-deductible crappy insurance plan) arrives in the mail.

That is how my day ended.

And now I’m writing this down – for your entertainment, for my catharsis, by way of explanation – but mostly so I can show it to her 20 years down the road when she has a toddler pulling the same stunt. Which she will, because I famously did the same to my mother. Hilton family lore still loves the story of 3-year-old Charlotte helplessly cradling her monkey-bar injured arm all the way to the ER, only to be magically and instantaneously cured with the application of a band-aid.

I can feel my mother’s laughter, all the way from the next state. Payback is a toddler. Who is just like you.

This is why you don’t get a real post tonight.

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