Posted by Duff

Yes, we suck. Yes, we’re bad parents. Yes, The Dervish burned her finger on the stove.

Her left middle fingertip, to be exact.

I’ll admit, having a melodramatic child has desensitized me to her meltdowns. Since the issue typically is something like sock seams that don’t line up right, you can see how this could happen. But you know it’s bad when your child ought to be expressing pain but makes no sound for almost 6 seconds. Those are the longest seconds of parenthood. They give you plenty of time to wonder, “Are we headed for the ER? Did she lose a finger/arm/year of her life?”

Then the screaming starts. You know the kind.

Initially, we weren’t sure whether she was crying because of pain or because she feared having her digits forcefully submerged in water, but eventually we were able to hold her still enough to see the telltale white bubble of a second degree burn.

I headed for the drugstore, in search of something to take away the sting. I brought a possible remedy to the pharmacist’s counter. “See this picture?” I pointed to the box, which featured a mother taking a tray of cookies out the oven, and her young son about to cause himself a lot of pain. “It’s worth a thousand words. What do you think of me using this on my screaming three year old’s finger?”

The pharmacist, who has children of her own (I live in a small town and everyone goes to the same place for coffee on Sunday mornings), sneered. It was the look of a mother who has been there, done that, knows I’m in for quite the afternoon. “Milking it for all it’s worth, I’ll bet,” she surmises. She reads the list of ingredients and deems it safe.

When I get home, The Dervish is sitting in front of the TV, watching Shrek, her uninjured hand moving between a bowl of cheddar crackers and her mouth. She has stopped crying, but when she sees me, she howls like a hound. She has also formed a bond with her cup of water, and wants nothing to do with alternate pain relief.

I experienced something similar when I was roughly her age, and I remember the white blister, the panic of this new, unforeseen vulnerability, and the mild nausea caused by even the smallest of burns. While normally I’d encourage her to suck it up (often, she has to suck up the disappointment of resistant buttons or coming inside well after dark), I honor her request to pity herself for the remainder of the afternoon. I’m relieved when she is acting like her(normal, expressive)self and we sit down for dinner together.

Like me, though, she is left-handed, and can’t find a way to hold her fork without aggravating her infirmity.

“Hey, Dervish,” I say. “Let’s hold the fork with our other hand tonight, just for fun.” She is skeptical, but does it after seeing me do it. She eats the five bites she normally eats this time of day. I find it much harder to go through with my suggestion –but I do– and when the meal is over, my neck and shoulder are sore. I have a dull headache that lasts until bedtime.

I want to whine and complain, but I shouldn’t. I ate with the other hand by choice.  A lot of her day is spent switching her way of doing things to accomodate our wishes and directions, whether it feels natural to her or not.

I’ve never liked being told what to do. So while it’s my job, as her mother, to lay down the law, I have to respect her rebellion.