Friday, December 26, 2008

Armed and Dangerous

I dislocated Maya’s left elbow on Christmas Eve.

We were getting ready to go to the Farmer’s Market, but she was on the floor in her feet pajamas. She offered me her left hand so I could pick her up and change her upstairs. Instead of lifting her under her arms, I yanked her hand and she immediately started screaming.

“What, what is it?” I asked.

“You probably did something to her arm,” Verna said, maternal concern etched across her face.

No swelling, she could still move it; OK, she was writhing in pain and refused to let us near the arm, but she’s fine, I thought. I had that empty feeling in my stomach, though, a this-can’t-be-happening twinge of guilt and fear that I had done serious damage to my daughter.

I called the Kaiser advice line and the nurse scheduled an appointment with Maya’s pediatrician for 10:45 am. It was 8:30. The nurse said we didn’t need to rush to emergency because they’d only refer us to her doctor anyway.

At this point, Maya had cradled her arm against her body at a 90-degree angle as if it were in a sling. She would only sit on Verna’s or my lap. How were we going to change her into her clothes?

She cried and cried and made sure we didn’t even go near the arm. She kept the arm close to her body, but I was able to pull her sweater over to cover it. I did the same with her jacket: stuffed her right arm through and draped it over the other side.

Maya screamed and cried when I placed on her on the scale in the doctor’s office. After the assistant left, I read to Maya in the examination room. There were two books: one about Clifford and manners, another about a boy who befriends a brush that magically turns into a canine after the boy had to give his dog away. I read each of them twice before Dr. Patel rescued me, er, came in.

Dr. Patel, who has an 8-month-old, is an osteopath and a pediatrician. She started manipulating Maya’s left arm while Maya was once again screaming and crying.

“I felt something pop back into place in her elbow,” Dr. Patel said.

“So I dislocated it?”

“It’s pretty common,” she said.

More often than not, ‘nursemaid’s elbow’ occurs when a child yanks his or her hand free from his or her parent’s grasp, she said. The treatment? Ibuprofen, ice, x-rays to make sure there was no substantial damage.

“She should be fine within an hour,” the doctor said.

At each interval during the morning—in the exam room, after Dr. Patel came in, before her x-rays—Maya’s mouth quivered as she tried to hold back the tears. The nurse or medical assistant kept telling her how brave she was, so maybe she thought she had to act that way.

We sat in another exam room after the x-rays, waiting for Dr. Patel to tell us the results. Maya looked over at me and smiled.

“My arm is better, daddy.”

“Can I put your arm through your sweater?”

“Yep,” she said.

By the time Dr. Patel returned, Maya was smiling, laughing, and raising her arm as if she were in a toddler aerobics class.

Even though Maya’s injury was an accident by a parent who should have known better than try to hoist her up by her immature bones and tendons, I was worried how the medical people would react. I half-imagined child protective services rolling up to the house to take Maya away or an alarm blaring and lights flashing as I registered Maya for her appointment.

See, we have a history of injuring our children. When Miguel was about 8 weeks old, I cut one of fingers too far past the nail line and it started bleeding. And wouldn’t stop. The Kaiser nurse said to apply direct pressure. It worked.

Two months later, Miguel was lying on the bed with Verna in the bathroom about ten feet away. He rolled off and conked his head on the carpeted floor. Kaiser said to monitor him and come to the emergency room if he exhibited any signs of a concussion. About a year or so later, Miguel went to put on his rain boots that were collecting cobwebs outside, and a small rodent bit his finger. Kaiser said there was no need for a rabies shot because mice and rats were not considered dangerous.

But I knew we were on some kind of list. Legally, medical professionals and hospitals must report ‘suspicious’ incidents in order to protect the safety of all children. So after I called Kaiser about Maya I imagined the following conversation at the hospital.

“Just took another call from the Friedman-Wefald home.”

“What’d they do to Miguel this time?”

“Actually, it’s for a Maya, must be the younger sister.”

“That’s it. These people must be stopped. We must prevent them from intentionally harming yet another child. Call child welfare and the police. Stat.”

In the end, though, everything was OK. Maya showed no signs of injury at all the remainder of the day or yesterday, Christmas. She even spent part of Christmas Eve evening jumping from the couch onto pillows on the floor with her cousin Madelyn in Lafayette.

And I certainly learned my lesson. Finally. Yesterday, Maya was standing on our bed after I’d changed her diaper. She lifted her hands above her head and wanted me to grab them by her wrists so she could float to the floor.

“No, no, I can’t do that,” I said. “I have to grab you under your arms.”

“Why?” she asked. It’s her most used word.

“Because I don’t want to hurt you again.”

She smiled and said, “OK.” Then she leaned her body toward me and let me her guide her carefully off the bed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holy Days

We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas because Verna is Catholic and I am Jewish. When I told Maya we were going to a Hanukkah party and were going to eat latkes (potato panckaes) and light the menorah, she said, "Bubbie Brayna."

Those two words shed for me nearly over-powering light into the mind of a toddler. How do their cerebral synapses fire so brightly and quickly?

I'd read her the book Chanukkah Guest (by Eric Kimmel ), in which Bubbie Brayna, hard of hearing and failing sight, mistakes a lumbering bear in the forest for the village rabbi and prepares a holiday feast for him, a few times last week, and now she connected our Hanukkah celebration with the story.

Or she'd say "Bubbie China" because it sounds just like Brayna in her 3-year-old mind. After that she 'd say, "Luca say that."

Luca is her friend, about 2 1/2, who lives just down the street. Maya was there recently when he picked up the telephone. His mother asked, "Luca, who are you calling?"

"China," he said.

So Maya remembered the incident and connected it to Bubbie Brayna and the latkes and the menorah. And all of that got me thinking how uncluttered a child's mind is, and how much room there is for them to make those amazing connections. Children don't have to and shouldn't have to worry about paying the mortgage, having money for holiday gifts, dealing with grief and loss, job insecurity, clogged highway traffic, or gorging on Christmas cookies.

Most kids just live in the moment. Whenever Maya hears the words 'party', she automatically responds, "Cake." Now, when she hears latkes and menorah, it's "Bubbie Brayna."

Their minds are uncluttered, one of Miguel's preschool teachers likened it to living in the pink soup (and she said we must, as parents, ensure they are in that soup for a long time), but that doesn't mean we should have high expectations about what those beautiful minds can handle.

Maya has already perfected the well-worn adolescent response of "I don't know" to many of my queries. It's not that she doesn't know, I think, but that she is merely saying, "I am so in the present, dad, give me a break with your incessant need to know."

So we lit the menorah last night and Maya connected that with birthdays. We sang the blessings and she promptly blew out the candles.

"Bubbie Brayna!"

Monday, December 22, 2008

In The Beginning

Shhh! I am at work now, trying to sell luxury cars during a severe economic downturn, days before Christmas. So I might as well start writing when things are s-l-o-w.

Our son is spending the next ten days or so with family four hours south of us. It hit me last night that he won't be home for Hanukkah or Christmas this year. He's only 10, so I am not ready to abandon watching the sublime joy on his face as he opens and uses his holiday gifts. When he's in high school or college and only wants to spend time with his buddies and significant others, I will be prepared. But now he's still a kid.

Anyway, I had no legitimate reason to balk when he called me yesterday (while I was at work) and said somewhat meekly, "Dad, can I go to Uncle Marty's for vacation?"

"What did Mommy say?" I asked.

"She said to ask you."

Oh, thanks, Verna!

Later, when he and Marty stopped in to say goodbye, Marty said, "I didn't think you'd let him go."

What can I say? I've earned my reputation for being a neurotic Jewish mother. But the truth is if the ties are too tight, he will choke or suffocate and the subsequent resentment will fester.

And he will have a great time. He'll play with my niece and nephew: sports, computer games, movies, outings to the beach, more sports, dining, and all the rapid activities a large family can handle.

If he'd stayed here, while I was working most days and weekends, he'd have to compete with the tornado we call Maya, nearly three and as demanding and exciting and frustrating as any toddler. So he told Verna he wanted some peace and quiet, and now he's gone until just after the New Year.

Until then, I've had an involuntary glimpse into the future when he will choose more often than not to do things without us.

It's all about trust. I have to trust others to care for him. I have to trust Miguel to act wisely and graciously. And I have to trust that Verna and I have done pretty well with his foundation so far.