Paul and I stood in Frankie’s bedroom last night, watching him wriggle and whimper in his sleep, as he tried to get his broken elbow into a comfy position.
“What injuries,” I asked Paul, “would you sustain to take away his pain?”
“Broken arms and legs,” he said, without hesitation.
“All of them, at the same time?”
“Would you lose a finger?”
“Not even a little finger? I would.”
“Na, I don’t want anything long term or life threatening.”
“So not AIDS?”
“Not AIDS. He’s only got a broken arm. Jesus.”
“Would you be kicked in the balls?”
“Yes,” Paul said, “and knee-capped, too, but only if I didn’t walk with a stoop afterwards.”
“Non-cancerous brain tumour?”
“No. Nothing brain related. You could cut all my fingers and pour vinegar on them. And you could stab me.”
“I could stab you?”
“No, a surgeon. A surgeon could medically stab me. I would happily be stabbed by a surgeon if it would take Frankie’s pain away.”
This conversation went on for a little while; I won’t bore you with (more) details. But you take my point: I’d do whatever it took to take my children’s pain away. Although, like Paul, I draw the line at AIDS. Kid’s only gonna be in a sling for another three weeks.
Yeah, so Frankie broke his elbow last week. We were at a shitty playcentre, and I was chasing Alice while Frankie swung on some shitty monkey-bar thing, and suddenly Frankie wasn’t swinging anymore, he was on the ground, and another mother was standing over him with a panicked look on her face. And I, because I’m mother of the year, assumed he’d just popped his elbow out of the ligament again – which is what he likes to do for fun, on occasion – and ACTUALLY CONSIDERED TRYING TO POP IT BACK IN AGAIN, but then realised he was so pale as to be transparent, so carried him out to the car, with a small, tantrumming girl in socks lagging behind. (The tantrumming girl in socks was Alice, by the way, not another kid I’d picked up just to liven up the journey to the hospital.) Frankie didn’t cry, not once, although he fell asleep in the car and screamed when he kind of rolled on to his elbow. And still I thought he’d just popped it out, ‘cos I’m a dickhead, and it wasn’t until we were ushered straight through for x-rays and I got a good look at his misshapen elbow that I went all lightheaded and weak at the knees.
I am not very good, you see, with illness and injury. I have to sit down and put my head between my knees when my kids stub their toes, and I’ve got a weird fear about them knocking their teeth out. I scream “check the teeth, check the teeth!” when my kids fall over, and then go and hide until someone – usually Paul, sometimes a hapless passerby – shouts back “ALL PRESENT AND CORRECT”.
After Frankie’s x-ray, the doctor came over to confirm that, yes, Frankie had broken his elbow, which would’ve been FINE, if he hadn’t gone into DETAIL, with DIAGRAMS. As soon as he got into DETAIL, with DIAGRAMS, I thought I was gonna spew, and had to sit down. And then the nurse (she called herself a nurse, I’m still dubious about her medical qualifications) came over to put Frankie in a cast, and went into great detail about her son’s broken wrist – “his hand was facing in the opposite direction! Severed all the tendons! His fingers went blue!” – and I was, like, shit, bitch, will you fucking STOP?
So no, I’m not very good with illness and injury, but I’m even worse with seeing my kids ill or injured. As the “nurse” put the cast on (twice, ‘cos she made a mistake the first time), I kind of hid behind Frankie and cried, while Paul held his arm in place. And that wasn’t too bad, because they gave Frankie some kick-arse drugs while they twisted and turned his arm, and he wasn’t in too much pain. But then, when I took him back to hospital a few days later, he had to be taken OUT of the cast, and put into a sling, which meant BENDING his broken elbow. Completely. So that his hand touched his chin, if you can imagine that. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT? And this time there were no drugs, and no Paul, and so I had to be strong, but I was not strong, I just held Frankie while he screamed and screamed, and I cried and cried. Not, like, sobbed, just silently cried, with big, fat, ugly tears rolling down my squished-up head.
Man, that is some tough parenting, right there. No one tells you about that, about the pain that you feel when your kids are in pain. I know it’s not the same, but it’s sort of like when your kids are having a difficult poo, and you kind of hold your breath and push while they do. No? You don’t do that? No, me neither, I just heard of someone doing that, once. What a weirdo. What I’m trying to say, in my usual cack-handed fashion, is that we hurt when our kids hurt. It’s possible that we hurt more, ‘cos our hearts hurt, too. That sickness and health thing? That’s not just marriage, it’s parenthood, too. As much as I’d love to turn and run when my kids are hurt, and come back when they’re better and restored to perfect health, it’s not part of the parenthood deal. Someone really needs to warn new parents and parents-to-be about this; in fact, maybe babies need to come with a warning label, something like: “Will cause heartache, medicate with booze and tears (you, not them).”