Our first pediatrician counted bruises. At our one-year, well-child check-up (a misnomered event, was more like 15 months) she chatted quietly with my toddler while her index finger gently tapped and counted each boo boo, inviting him to count along with her. I think we numbered about nine, mostly scrapes and dings between sweet knees and ankles.
I wasn’t prepared for this.
I loved the pediatrician’s office--honestly, because I was never there with a sick child--because the staff always sent us away feeling happy, excited and proud about my healthy, brilliant, baby boy and my obvious success at this parenting gig. I loved the funny produce-market scale they used in the early months. I loved that staff all fussed over baby boy as if he was the first and most amazing child they’d seen all day rather than one of what would certainly number more than 100.
But counting boo boos? Am I in trouble? I’m thinking, Yep, I know what this is, I should have watched him more closely, I should have padded his lower body, I should have fitted him with a custom toddler helmet, I should have not encouraged that crawling-down-the-steps-backwards thing that seemed so empowering and, well, cute. And now, because I’ve failed at this most basic of mothering skills, protection, my beloved pediatrician is in the awkward but-this-is-what-happens-to-mothers-like-you position to catalog and document my failing and no doubt, report it to some higher, wiser, authority. Shit. I consider interrupting the counting. Save us both the embarrassment. Admit my incompetence. Beg for another chance. I want to scream, I can do better!
While his mother works through her panic attack, my boy giggles his big belly-laughs. Counting boo boos is funny! And ticklish! Surely, I think, this will count for something! See? He’s happy and laughing! Can’t his sunny disposition offset what now looks like more bruises than clear skin? Sort of like an Olympic scoring for moms: Scale of 1-10, judges award 1s and 2s for protective instincts but I get all 9s and 10s for having a happy baby! I won’t win any medals for Olympic mothering but at the very least, I can go back to training. And stay out of jail.
And then, just like that, our pediatrician is talking to me. She says, he looks great; he’s got enough boo boos to show that he’s been trying new things, trying to get around on his own, is out exploring the world.
I want to weep. I want to laugh. I manage to squeak, oh, right, he does have some boo boos. She’s finishing up her exam--baby boy tracks her gestures, plays with her stethoscope, squeals and squirms when she peeks in his ears--and she goes on to explain that toddlers with no bruises probably aren’t doing what toddlers need to do.
It takes a minute for this to sink in: Toddlers with no bruises probably aren’t doing what toddlers need to do. And it’s this epiphany, this obvious truth, that’s let me rationalize my way through life with toddlers-turned-teenagers. Football, skateboarding, wrestling! Scar tissue on lips, elbows, heads! So many opportunities-seized for my babies to become battered and bruised young men!
I’m impressed by my own tolerance for my kids’ self-abuse and suffering. I mean, every day, they skate down a hill that I’m afraid to walk down and I just shrug, I’m cool, orthopedic walk-in clinic open ‘til 7 on weeknights, whatever.
And now, some lessons learned as I batter my own way through middle-age, the notion of a bruise-free life is good for a laugh, at best; it’s good for a cry, at the honest worst. Bruises? I’ve got a few. I’ll take them as a sign I’m doing what I need to do, too.