Monday, June 28, 2010

Lessons from an 18-month-old

I seem to get schooled on a regular basis, picking up lessons I’m supposed to learn from unlikely places; eighth graders, people I have nothing in common with, and my toddler have been my latest teachers. It’s quite humbling and refreshing at the same time.

Take my endocrinologist appointment last week. My mom was luckily in town so she came with me to hang out with Wren because my daughter has an aversion to all doctors’ offices, not just the ones intended for her. The trigger seems to be the scale. Once the scale is visible, she pretty much starts the pouty lips. Maybe it’s because she’s had her ears irrigated, poked, and drained at doctors’ offices after they weigh her, or maybe she’s just a girl and doesn’t want anyone to know what she weighs. Either way, it tends to go down hill after that.

Having my mom there was a gift because Wren was pretty much occupied until the nurse started unwrapping the syringe to take my blood. I assured Wren, as I had all morning, this appointment was for me, not her. No one was going to touch her, mess with her ears, make her get on a scale. We had been having this conversation for an hour prior to the appointment. Still, when the needle was visible, the lower lip started quivering. She sat in my mom’s lap just staring at the needle while I tried to figure out why she thought they were going to stick her. The tourniquet was wrapped around my arm and she was five feet away. I kept telling her it would be okay and no one was going to touch her. Finally, my mom stated what should have been pretty obvious: she wasn’t worried about her, but she was pretty devastated that someone was about to hurt me. It proved to be true. When I didn’t cry and assured her I was okay, she held in her tears, though the bottom lip never stopped quivering, and she gave the nurse one of the nastiest looks I have ever seen come from anyone.

It was empathy. It went beyond feeling bad for me; she felt my pain in a way that hurt her. I saw it again the next day when a little boy started crying and sticking his fingers in his mouth due to teething pain. Wren, in the throes of trying to bust through that last eye tooth, began crying with him. She couldn’t make him feel better so she just wanted him to feel less alone.

I felt like a jerk for not making this connection sooner. Empathy? Who knew? That’s why last week at my OB appointment when the doctor picked up the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler, the little heartbeat had to compete with the wailing sounds coming from my toddler. I thought she was just mad because I wasn’t holding her. Actually, I’m sure the jelly and the magic Doppler wand being spread over my stomach might have looked scary to a kid. I didn’t assure her everything was okay because I had no idea that’s what she needed. I am a not so smart mommy at times.

It’s sad, but I find empathy to be a pretty foreign idea to adults, or at least to me. I don’t hurt for others much. I feel bad for them, but mostly I’m glad I’m not hurting. My daughter still has the ability to care about others as much or more than she cares for herself. Obviously, this example has not come from mom. However, if I’m lucky I can pick up on her example and do better in the future. Christ gave me this child, I thought, to train and raise. Now I’m wondering if I’m the one getting the raising. Either way, it’s working out.

I’ll save the lessons she’s taught me on adaptability for another day. Let’s just say she gave up her cow’s milk and took to drinking unsweetened coconut milk without complaint. I have yet to try the coconut milk and chugged organic whole milk straight from the carton after she went to bed tonight. Enough said.

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