You know that moment, when your child has a boo-boo and you make a big deal out of it? It’s a tiny thing, this cut, but you make a show of washing it out, drying tears and putting a Cinderella Band-Aid on it. Don’t forget the kisses to make it feel better. I had this image of being the kind of mom who could make all the boo-boos better. So when the time came, I automatically fell into the role of comforter. Well, I’m afraid that I have created a monster: A hypochondriac, whiny, “I’m going to die from this paper cut” kind of monster.
Every day, there’s some new complaint coming from my daughter. She so much as gets a hang nail and we see more drama than an episode of ER. She had a very healthy year at school. There were only a few slight colds. But on many mornings I was greeted with “I’m sick Mommy. I have a cough.” Or “My ankle hurts, I think it’s broken!” Thankfully, I know my daughter very well and I can tell when she’s sick or not. Trust me when I say that most of the time, she really isn’t sick.
There were so many “sick mornings” this spring that I called her teacher to see what was going on. I thought maybe something was making her unhappy about going to school and she was expressing it through “not feeling well.” Nope. Her teacher said she loves school and shows up every day with a smile on her face. So much for my theory.
Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to go to bed, she will tell us that the cut on her toe hurts and she can’t walk anymore. I know it’s a ploy to delay the inevitable. But she’s not just saying these things. She gives a full-on performance with crying (real tears!) and screaming. It’s heartbreaking to hear her say that “Ow! Ow! Ow! It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!” as I keep her moving towards her bedroom. There have been nights when she has been inconsolable about an imaginary bump that I’ve had to let her sleep with a gel ice pack. Don’t even get me started on what happens if she gets a splinter. Oy.
Last week, I got a call from the school nurse. Zoey wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t have a fever and would I like to speak with her? My first thought was “Lady, is this your first rodeo? Putting her on the phone will only make it worse!” When I spoke to Zoey, I told her she needed to wait until she got to her afterschool program. Then I could leave work early and pick her up. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t abandon her with the nurse sitting right there listening! As soon as she got off the phone, she became hysterical. I sent my husband to pick her up and he informed me that Zoey had a severe case of “I miss Mommy.” She made a miraculous recovery at home after a quick rest in bed. And just yesterday, she told her afterschool care provider that her throat hurt because I kicked her in the neck and didn’t say sorry. That didn’t happen, of course, but for the rest of the evening, every time she moved her neck, she complained about how much it hurt.
In my worst moments, in my head, I tell her to suck it up. I tell her to stop being a baby and that it’s no big deal. And in my head, I yell at her to stop making a fuss over nothing. In reality, I can’t do that. As much as it frustrates me that every little bump and scrape is a life threatening situation in her eyes, I know this is her way of telling us something. I’m just not sure what and it’s trying my patience.
In the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” there really IS a wolf at the end. It’s inevitable that there will be something real behind her claims of being sick or hurt at some point. In the meantime, I’m making it a point to downplay her boo-boos and be stern about her freaking out when there’s just no need to freak. How I react has a lot to do with how the scene plays out. I’m also keeping my eyes open and my deep breathing in check.
Post Script: As I wrote this, I remembered when I was about 6-years old, my own pediatrician told my mom that I should never have a baby. He was basically saying that I was such a whuss I could never handle the pain. From that point on, I made it a point to be a little tougher. Maybe there’s hope for my girl.