This won’t be pretty. There will be blood, lots of it. Your hair is going to fall out in big clumps in the drain. You might become chronically anemic. It will be expensive, of course. And you’ll never sleep well again. Get yourself a good chiropractor and therapist. Vomiting is a given. So is diarrhea.
No, it’s not cancer, ma’am. It’s parenthood.
I make no apologies about being the one who made the call to the psychotherapist for my preschooler. Yes, I’m the one responsible for the hour we spent today in the tiny office with the soft chairs and the pretty dollhouse with the multiracial dolls wearing clothes that I could only presume covered anatomically correct bodies. I’m the one who decided it was time.
“I’m going to show you a sliding scale,” the doctor says to my tensed up child. “The top of the scale is the most scared you could ever possibly be, and the bottom of the scale is not scared at all. You move the slide to answer my questions. Ready?”
My daughter nods, clutching Cake and Frosting, her stuffed cats that happen to be wearing gorgeous Barbie gowns, a Mary Kay pink-daisy keychain, and various tacky scarves. I mean, they’re wearing the trash basically. I realize after we arrive that the therapist is taking in the whole scene of my daughter and me, and these annoyingly accessorized cats give a total irrelevant and false message about who we are.
“Okay,” the doctor continues. “What if I say the word shot. How does that make you feel?”
My daughter moves the slider up about midway and clenches her teeth. The doctor can’t tell, but there are tears being held back. Cake and Frosting are damn near being suffocated.
“What if you were to get a shot? How would that be for you?” she continues.
My daughter shoves the slider to the very top, making sure it can’t go any farther than where she’s pushed it.
“Okay. What if I were to just put a shot on the chair over here?”
My daughter moves the slider down just a smidge. It stays there for the remainder of the questions: What if we put a shot without a needle over there? What if I asked you to give Cake a shot? What if, what if, what if.
I explain about the wasp sting three years ago, how my daughter has come to associate it with shots. I don’t know why. Who knows why kids think as they do? I explain about the screaming when she sees a hypodermic needle, even in cartoons. I explain about the doctor’s kit that my daughter obsessed over for more than a year, how we didn’t realize for that long that she and her friend were giving each other pretend shots where — well, where they shouldn’t have been putting things.
“In their private parts?” asks the doctor, instructively.
“Yes, in their vaginas or thereabout,” I respond, instructively. “So, we realized my daughter had been trying all that time to work something out. I’d told her at some point, when she asked about it, that shots are usually given in the arm, leg, or butt. I didn’t realize that the meaning of butt wasn’t entirely clear to her at the time. To her, butt was the whole vicinity of the crack, front to back. So, basically we’re dealing with a fear rooted in a misunderstanding from when she was two, one that had her thinking shots feel like a wasp sting, and possibly in the vagina. That’s what’s up.”
“Aaaaaahhh,” says the doc. But she doesn’t really say it like that. I just think I hear her thinking it like that.
I like her actually. I like how funny she is, how she explains shots are given usually in muscles and then proceeds to demonstrate how the butt is a big muscle. I’d already explained this to my daughter, of course, but the doctor does it better. “When I squeeze it, I go up,” she says, rising a little off her swivel chair. “When I let go, I go down.” I’m in stitches, to be honest. She’s going to be great.
But then she asks my daughter this question: “Does your mom worry a lot? Is she a worrying person?” It makes my skin feel too tight. I’m not a worrying type. I don’t think I am at least. I’m careful, yes, and conscientious and protective, but not at therapeutic levels. I’m proud when my daughter says I’m not a worrier.
When the doctor asks whether my daughter sees me cry a lot, I laugh. This one doesn’t make me nervous. It’s part of our life. My daughter has seen me cry quite a bit, particularly when my husband was deployed. So, I’m amazed at the answer. “One time, when she was pregnant,” she says, “in the bathroom after she threw up.” (I’ve got a bipolar-spectrum disorder, people. My husband was gone for 15 months out of my daughter’s five years on Earth. Her apparent forgetfulness assuages.)
“Is she playful?” the doctor continues. She’s totally drilling. My daughter smiles and nods. “Does she hug you a lot?” WTF? I feel like I’m headed for the gallows for some reason. It’s like watching my daughter on stand at court, being questioned about the kind of parent I am. What face am I supposed to be making during this interrogation? Can I hold my daughter’s hand, or will that be perceived as manipulation here?
“You know what she does?” my daughter says with a burst of laughter. “She gives me a hug and says, ‘Let’s see if we can become one!’ And then she squeezes me really, really tightly, but then when we come apart, she says, ‘Awww, we’re still two.'”
I’m kind of proud watching her burst out of her shell with such a show, maybe even blushing. Don’t you know how it is? How you question whether you’re doing an okay job every day of your parenting life? How good it feels to get some affirmation that the good stuff is sticking? But then I see the doctor’s expression, and it’s not good.
“Mom,” she says to me, prescriptively. “She needs to be her own person.”
Here’s where you can picture a balloon deflating, a leaping gazelle being shot in the neck, or a space shuttle exploding just after liftoff.
You know what? I call bullshit. I’ve lost hair over this kid. I’ve bandaged her blood and cleaned up her vomit. I’ve lost sleep when she stole it. I’ve lost friends and time, too. But I’ve never been a smother mother. A let’s-become-one hug to make her laugh is not a metaphor for our relationship. It’s me trying to kill time between playing plastic horses. It’s lighthearted fun.
“She is her own person,” I say, refraining somehow from gesturing at my daughter’s ensemble, a garish swimsuit-fabric pink dress with gold detailing that would have done Mrs. Roper proud, paired with turquoise-and-gold argyle tights and broken green Crocs. “She just so happens to be a person afraid of shots.”