Ryder fell down and busted his lip Friday night. We were at the mall, and my wife was trying to tie his shoe. Well, he doesn’t like his shoes much, and getting him to stand still while you try to tie them is like trying to ride a bronco – if you can get him still for eight seconds, you can do it, but he’s gonna fight you the whole way. So he tried to move, and BAM! Over he went, face first onto the floor of the store. Split his lip, and the blood began to flow.
Julee felt awful. She said she saw it happening, and she feels like it’s her fault he fell because essentially he tripped over he hands while she was trying to tie his shoe. First time he’s ever busted his lip, and, as lips do, it bled a lot. Julee freaked out, partly because of the blood, partly because of the shock of the event, and partly because she feels responsible. Terrible.
I, on the other hand, quickly assessed the situation and concluded that, yes, he busted his lip, no, he didn’t knock out any of his teeth, and once the crying stops, he’ll be fine. Within about five minutes, both the crying and the bleeding had stopped, and Ryder was happy again, albeit now fascinated by how his lip felt. It was swollen, and it was a good split, but nothing serious. Considering how much he likes to run and how easily he can trip over his Converse One Stars, it’s actually amazing that it’s taken him nine solid months of walking to bust his lip. He seems to have an uncanny ability to catch himself before his face smacks the ground. In any case, within minutes he was his normal, happy, rambunctious self, and it was as if nothing had happened. Julee still felt awful, but we finished our shopping trip and went home without further incident.
I sound like I’m bragging, don’t I? “I’m so manly, I knew he wasn’t hurt, while my poor wife freaked out.” Not the case at all. I’ll try to eloborate.
First: I’m around Ryder all the time, and my wife isn’t. I’m much more familiar with his moods, his temperament, his reactions, etc., than she is, and I can respond to what I read from him faster and usually more accurately just because it’s kind of like a private language that he and I share. Julee’s not bad at it, she just doesn’t know it as well as I do. As soon as I heard him cry, I could tell it wasn’t too serious, because he has a very specific cry when he’s just plain mad about something – it builds from silence. There’s the moment of the incident itself, and then, you see him gear up for it. He stands perfectly still, and his little face twists up into a knot, his mouth open in a round frown, he may utter a small scream, then he takes a good three to five seconds to prep for it. Holding his breath, he builds the anticipation, planning the exact moment to suck in a sharp breath and then blast it out in a long, loud, high-pitched shriek. His little lungs are the most efficient bellows I’ve ever seen, and he can break your eardrums.
It’s the pause, however, that really always lets me know it’s not as bad as it’s about to sound. He’s inherited a flair for the dramatic from both of his parents, and he’s already developed a razor-sharp sense of timing. So he’s got his bit that he’s worked up for maximum dramatic effect, and it’s very recognizable. Under the right circumstances, it’s damn funny. Not Friday, tho, because he obviously had been hurt, albeit not severely.
Second, boys bust their lips. All the time. Boys scrape their knees. They black their eyes, they cut and scratch up their arms and legs, they bump their heads, they get hurt. It’s what boys do. Trust me, I used to be one, so I know. So once I took a quick look at his mouth and could tell he hadn’t knocked a tooth loose, I pretty much let it go. “He’s okay,” I said, while Julee’s eyes watered up and she frantically rushed him out of the store looking for a bathroom. Boys are physical, so injuries are to be expected. Granted, broken bones and severe bleeding are different stories, but a busted lip is nothing to freak out about, because he takes his lead from us. If we lose our shit, he loses his. So I decided to remain calm and not make a big deal out of it so that he would hopefully calm down quickly once he realized it wasn’t a serious injury. And that’s exactly what happened.
Third, this incident and my experience earlier in the day made me start thinking about boys and men, injuries and pain. It’s a subject that most males quickly become familiar with, and many of them make it a part of daily life.
The thing that I think impresses me the most about Ryder’s reaction to this situation (and others) is that, to me, it seems that he gets mad about it. He’s hurt, he’s crying, yes, but instead of just sobbing and feeling bad, it pisses him off. I’m kind of the same way when I get hurt – it doesn’t bother me so much as it annoys me and makes me mad as hell. Now I’ve got another inconvenience to deal with, thanks a pantload. So it looks like he’s learning to take his licks and get back up, and this makes me feel good about his chances in life. If he can learn that getting knocked down doesn’t have to mean the fight is over, he’ll be stronger for it. It means he’s not afraid.
Despite my seemingly cavalier attitude about Ryder’s little accident, it hurts me every time I know he’s in real pain. If he screams his for-real scream when I’m in the other room, I rush in there, preparing myself for the worst, and thankfully I’m usually relieved to see that it isn’t as bad as it could be. Even when it’s a diaper rash, I want to make it go away.
Julee’s a worrier, I’m not. At least, not to the same degree. Last night we were watching the History Channel’s “Zombie Apocalypse” special (a hoot, by the way), and I started talking about the fact that I personally have devoted time in my thoughts to considering what my zombie preparedness kit would consist of – which weapons to use, how much gear to carry, and so on. Great use of my free time, huh? Julee laughs and says, “Meanwhile, I think about who’s gonna get cancer. Your attitude is probably healthier.”
Maybe she’s right. By spending time mentally considering a worst-case scenario, I can prepare myself for how to deal with smaller-scale incidents. I’ve got a vivid imagination, and I’ve imagined horrible things happening to myself and to those I love plenty of times. Somehow, I’m able to process these things fairly safely and put them in the back of my mind to use when necessary. By becoming familiar with them, I teach myself not to fear them. Julee worries about them instead. As a result, when Ryder gets hurt, my first response is to calmly assess the situation and then take any necessary action. I’m a Red Cross CPR Trainer, so the first time Ryder started to choke as an infant, I knew exactly how to take care of it. I managed to perform the necessary actions quickly and confidently with no hesitation. He was less than six months old.
Honestly, I surprise myself that I’ve become this capable of dealing with an emergency situation. I wasn’t always like that. But I kind of look at what’s happening, and I’m usually able to say, “Well, it could be a helluva lot worse.” But that’s part of my job as a father, isn’t it? To protect and take care of my son, sometimes I’ll have to hide my own fear and take care of business. How can I teach my son not to be afraid if I can’t control my own fear? Push it away and be strong until the danger is past, and then let it go. If I’m gonna be around him all the time, I’d better be prepared to handle whatever happens.
Boys fall down, boys get cuts, scrapes and bruises, they break bones, they black eyes, they acquire scars, and scars aren’t necessarily bad things. But the truth is, no matter what happens – no matter how I react to it on the outside, whether I laugh it off or dismiss it or just put a Band-Aid on it – every time he gets hurt, it hurts me more. When your child is hurt, it hurts your heart, and that hurts more than any physical pain. I know exactly what my mother meant whenever she said, “This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me.” I want my son to be tough, strong, confident, brave, capable of defending himself and others, but I never want him to get hurt. I know it’ll happen, but I don’t want it to. I may jump in and handle the situation first, I may react calmly and confidently at the time, but there’s always a moment afterward where I stop to consider what could have happened. And that’s when I get scared. Once I let my imagination run wild. But letting it run wild allows me to blow off the emotional steam and get rid of the shit that can build up behind worry. It’s mental exercise, making my muscles stronger and more flexible, more adaptable and ready to respond when needed. So I lift the weights and I put them down, and each time I go back I can lift a little bit more. Nietzsche had it right: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. But only if you let it.
We don’t want to see our children in pain, ever. We know they’ll have to deal with it at some point, and dreading the day that they do just makes it worse for us as parents. It’s one of those things where you try to be an optimist, where you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But let that preparedness be your armor, your shield, allow it to help you protect your children, not shelter them. Because they’re gonna fall down, and they’re gonna run to you when they do to make it all better.