This is my youngest son. He’s just turned five years old, and yes, how you see him here is pretty much how he approaches everything. With gusto. He a real “Life, Be In It” kid, and he’s a real lot of fun. My boy wasn’t afraid to ride his bike without training wheels. He wasn’t afraid to ride a horse. He wasn’t afraid to ride a roller coaster at Luna Park a few months ago (granted though, that one scared him off any kind of roller coaster since), and he isn’t afraid to try new food, meet new people, go new places, do new things.
Only one thing really scares my boy…
I first noticed it, like really noticed it, when he was about two years old. He’d fall over, maybe graze his hand (maybe not, I couldn’t tell), and after the screaming was over (granted, he’s not much of a screamer. He’s the kind who picks himself up again and says “I’m okay!”) and the cuddles had quieted him I wouldn’t be allowed to check for damage. He’d hold his possibly-grazed-possibly-not hand in a tight fist, or behind his back, or both. For hours. Hours and hours.
Can’t look Mummy. There might be blood.
Generally, after a bit of a cuddle and by the time he’s off and running again it’s pretty obvious that nothing’s broken (okay, as I write this I’m remembering the story of when my husband was in grade 4 and hurt his ankle playing soccer…possibly even continued to play until the end of recess…before they discovered later that he’d actually broken it. Mummy note-to-self: resuming of activities doesn’t mean things are definitely okay. Hmmm.) and there’s no great rivers of red running down his arm I’m happy to let him go.*
I used to think he’d forget about it, that he’s open his fist to catch a ball without even thinking about it, that he’d pull off his socks and jump into the bath at the end of the day without batting an eyelid.
Not my son.
I’ve bathed him in socks because he’d stubbed his toe in the morning (he’s also scared of bandaids, although sometimes I have to force that issue. They need to be covered with a sock). I’ve washed his white-knuckled fist and carefully dried it again, praying that he opens it in his sleep before any kind of mildew sets into the wound. And I’ve witnessed tender moments of trust late at night when he’s called me in and made me stand a good enough distance away and promise not to touch while he carefully unfurls his hand and shows me the remnant of the damage.
He makes me laugh, him and his “Mummy it’s okay, I haven’t got blood.”
Sometimes, let it be said, I’ve laughed a little too hard. That changed when I realised the person he’d inherited this strange trait from was…ermm…me.
Want to hear another story?
When I was young, maybe in my early teens, something happened to me. No no, before you jump to the worst, it wasn’t that. Nobody would ever be arrested for inflicting this kind of damage, nor was it really that serious in the large scale of things. Dumb more than deadly; stupid more than shameful. But it hurt. A lot. I’d been in a vulnerable place. Always been a sensitive soul. And the trouble was…you guessed it…I didn’t tell anyone. I bunched up my metaphorical fist and hid it in a glove and wrapped it in a jacket and put it behind my back and kept playing. For twenty something years.
Now, I’ll repeat myself here. This was the emotional equivalent of a grazed hand, not a gaping wound that needed stitches, but still it frightened me. The fact that there was a hurt there frightened me. The longer I hid it the more it frightened me. And the more it frightened me the longer I hid it.
I grew up around it. I learned, metaphorically, to do life quite well one-handed, and to use that balled-up fist for balance if I needed it. I knew it was there. It didn’t bother me that much. Only occasionally did I look at my friends who could use both hands and experience that pang of longing to be like them.
Twenty. Something. Years.
I can only vaguely remember now what prompted me to peel off those wrappers and begin the arduous process of looking at my wound. I remember the person I showed though, and how I’d made sure she had her (metaphorical) hands behind her back, and that she was a good safe distance away. I remember with acute detail the act of showing her though, the fear and trembling, her compassion and understanding. How she looked at my wound and said “yeah that must have hurt”.
That simple thing, the me showing, the her looking, made all the difference. I use two hands now, open-palmed. So much more practical for things like, you know, living.
Through that painful process of exposure I’ve realised that I have some amazing friends around me. Top quality people, people I trust, people I know that I can, whenever I need to, go to and show them where it hurts. And it’s made me more aware of the people around me who are living life with one hand in a fist in a glove tied in a jacket behind their backs–or worse, and how I may be able to be the person they come to and say “Is there blood?” and, God help me, that I may be able to be the one who has compassion for them and not laugh off their fear but instead say to them “Yes, but I can help you.”
*For anyone out there who’s concerned about my parenting style here, YES, if I thought there was serious damage I would absolutely haul him off to the doctor and prise open his rock-hard fist and make him endure whatever suturing he needed. Thankfully none of his injuries have ever come to that. Heaven help us if it does!