Momma Says the F Word

Profanity, parenting, and ridiculously verbose descriptions of absolutely nothing.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Keeping the helicopter grounded

So Phook sprained her ankle. She jumped off something yesterday on the playground and twisted it. I knew nothing about this until she got off the bus and it took her 15 minutes to get into the house. I was thinking her speed was 80% fatigue-related, forgetting that the kid is the toughest human I've ever known. I was folding laundry and was largely unconcerned as she discussed her injury, but then I asked her to take off her tights so I could examine the thing.

Yup. She looked like me pretty much every other month of my life since I became a biped. Which is to say the ball of her ankle was 3 times its normal size and black and blue. Damn. I put her on the couch and iced it, and gave her ibuprofen. I asked her about what happened and she told me. When I inquired as to whether she had cried, she said that she wanted to, but she didn't. The teacher saw it happen and had given her ice. The teacher didn't call me, which shocked me somewhat, but I could totally see Phook giving her the patented hard-ass Phook "I'm okay." Plus she was wearing a dress and tights so the damage wouldn't have been easy to examine, so I'm giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt. (That right there is some intense progress.)

I had made Phook a haircut appointment for last nite and had plans to take her out to use her very first Book It! certificate from Pizza Hut, and I asked if she thought she could still go. She said she could. I was skeptical, but she was being a badass and I thought I'd let her.

We went to the haircut and the stylist noticed the limp and we chatted jovially about the incident, and the stylist fussed over Phook in a nice way. As we were leaving and I asked Phook if she was up for the pizza date, she said, "Yeah, but don't tell the waitress about my ankle. I'll be jealous." "Jealous?" I asked. "Oh, no, not jealous. Embarrassed. I don't want anyone to know about my ankle." I agreed to these terms.

Here's the thing. Phook is the toughest kid ever. Tough like a grandpa who lost a leg in WWII and won't let anyone help him mow his lawn. She will not cry if at all possible. But more than that, she doesn't want anyone to know she should be crying. This is not the typical behavior of a 6-year-old girl. It's not even the typical behavior of this 33-year-old girl.

I don't remember if I blogged about it, but a year ago at Easter Phook got a terrible black eye due to a run-in with Bigs on a swingset. Like, terrible. It was one black eye but it was so bad that she turned dark and yellow even under the opposite eye. She was swollen and terrible looking for a long time. And she cried, oh she cried. But not from the pain of the injury. From the horror of others seeing it. It was a challenge to get her to go to school with that, because she didn't want the other kids to see it. This is how an injured Phook rolls.

Our hair/pizza date was really fun and she managed okay on the ankle.

This morning, she woke up and came down the stairs on her butt. And then she said she didn't want to go to school. I asked her why. She said, "I don't want the other kids to see me walking funny and know I'm hurt."


Really and truly, the kid's ankle is hurt. She absolutely can't do gym on it. It would be good if she got iced, was able to keep it up and maybe even wear a slipper instead of in a shoe. But I believe that by a slim margin, she can physically drag herself through her day today on that ankle hopped up on ibuprofen. If she had told me she didn't think she could physically do it though, I would have believed her and let her stay home. She is like a 90-year-old Jack Palance doing one-handed push-ups and lighting a match on his face, after all. So if she says she can't do it physically, I'd give her the benefit of the doubt.

But it wasn't that. She wanted to stay home because of how she felt about the other kids seeing her hurt.

My instant reaction was to let her stay home. Of course I don't want her to feel embarrassed. Her lower lip was quivering as she begged me to let her stay home. It was terrible. Totally terrible. I wanted to rock her like a baby and make her pudding and let her watch TV all day.

But I didn't. I told her about a time in high school when I sprained my ankle so bad that I had to use crutches. And I was so embarrassed. And I even had to have friends carry my books from one class to another for me. And everyone was really nice to me. And even though I was scared at the beginning of the day, by the end of the day I just knew how nice my friends really were.

She listened, but she was not convinced. Big K picked her up and told her he'd walk her to her classroom. I told her I'd call her teacher and make sure she knew that Phook didn't need to do gym, could take her shoe off, and to call me if she was having too hard of a time getting around. And that I'd pick her up so she didn't have to get on and off the bus. Phook was not pleased. She knew what she had to do, but she didn't like it.

It was so awful. The helicopter parent in me wanted to send down the emergency ladder and scoop her right up. It wasn't fake hard for her to go to school today, it was real hard. And I wanted to rescue her. Oh how I wanted to rescue her. Isn't that everyone's instinct when it comes to our kids? For me it is at least. The thought of her suffering in any way invokes a truly primal response from me. My instinct is to hover, hover, hover and protect, protect, protect. That is my instinct. But my job is different. My job is to keep that helicopter grounded.

I hate that job.

I gave her the hugest hug. I said as many reassuring things as I could possibly say. I kissed her and hugged her. And I sent her off to school.

And then I laid on the floor and bawled.

As my spouse always says, "Perception is reality." So even if the kids won't tease her (and I believe that they will not in the protected setting of her tiny school), she thinks they will. She is embarrassed of her limp even though she doesn't have a reason to be. But it is her reality. And I feel her reality like we're conjoined twins. Hence the floor and the bawling.

Oh how awful.

Truly, if I felt that she couldn't reasonably get around on that ankle without a little accommodation (when I called the teacher, she said she'd take the kids on the elevator today instead of using the stairs), I wouldn't have made her go. But I could not, in my heart of hearts, protect her from an emotionally/socially difficult experience that can teach her to be more resilient in a future that will inevitably include boatloads of similar experiences.

The helicopter stayed grounded.

Oh how I am struggling to keep it tethered to the helipad. I want to go to the school RIGHT NOW and pick her up and take her out for ice cream. Oh how I do. Oh how I do.

There are a lot of times since becoming a parent that I've really marveled at how the experience really illustrates how much humans are animals. I'm not using that as a metaphor. Humans are animals. Fact. I want to herd my young into a safe little den, curl around her, and snarl at intruders. That is the instinctive response in situations where my young are vulnerable. It is so hard to fight that response. Because the signals in the parent brain--those animal signals--are sometimes difficult to interpret. As a parent, all you get is the signal to protect your young. The thing that's tricky is that you often get the "protect your young" signal when you are really experiencing a "shelter your young from something difficult" situation. An animal absolutely needs to protect its young, and that's why we have that signal in the first place. However, an animal may not end up with young who can some day protect themselves when they respond with "protect your young" force to a "shelter your young from something difficult" situation. And therein lies my sympathy with helicopter parenting. The signal you get is to protect, regardless of the actual danger. And it is really tricky to see clearly when you get that signal. It is nuanced. It is open to interpretation. It is emotionally fraught. And you have to go against nature when you choose to release them into the difficult situation.

But she is at school. She is at school. The teacher knows to call me if Phook really struggles on it today, and I will very happily go pick her up if I need to. But I wanted her to try. Above all things, I value trying. So she is there, trying to get through her day, and I am here, trying to get through mine. And it isn't easy for either of us.

This is hard. This is really hard. I hope I did the right thing.


Blogger HEATHER said...

Holy cats-did you read the child Sun Tsu's the Art of War as a bedtime story?! Usually kids want attention. I wish I could get my boy to be as tough as she is! Dude she is fierce! I am in awe of her! Phook for President!

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great comments, they really create a community. Spambots

2:22 AM  

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