Sometimes, as a parent, I know I do things with the intention of comforting my child and he does not find what I am doing comforting. Today, after hitting his head on the coffee table, Henry earned his first set of stitches. He was hurt and scared and bleeding. He did not want to have the doctor sew him up. While we waited for the topical numbing medicine to work, I tried my best to give him what he needed, with only moderate success. He wanted to sit on a chair, not the scary bed. He wanted to snuggle without any kisses. Most of all, he wanted to go home.
While it was not a great experience, he got through it okay. He was chatting about his stickers with the nurses on the way out. He is glad to be done with stitches and a little proud of his “owie.” He had to call Aunt Chrissy and tell her about it, well, FaceTime, he likes to see her when he talks to her.
It made me think of a time when my Mom was working to comfort me. I was in middle school. At that point, I had the same headache for about six weeks. These headaches were not new; the first migraine I remember interrupted my day during kindergarten. They have been a regular feature of my life since. Despite our best efforts, the headache wouldn’t go away. We had already been to the doctor once and today we were going, I think for a CAT scan. My Mom picked me up in her car and had a Dr. Pepper waiting for me. While I appreciate now that this was a soothing gesture, at the time, it terrified me. We were not allowed to drink pop or eat in the car. I saw that can and knew that this was serious. I got in and asked my Mom, “you think I’m going to die, don’t you?” No small talk, something about a six-week long headache wears at your social graces. Of course, she hastily and very aggressively denied this and insisted that things would be fine. I had my doubts. Breaking a rule as sacred as food/drink in the car (or really, most rules in our house) was a rare event. That sweating can told me that she was worried enough to think I needed a pop in the car exception, reserved for unusual and likely very dire circumstances.
I think about that can in terms of being a parent to Henry. In a lot of ways it reminds me that the message we send (you’ll be fine, see, have a pop, relax) might be interpreted differently. It is hard to check how well Henry receives the messages I send to him, but I do make it a point to ask, especially when it seems we are misunderstanding each other. To make sure he understands my instance on nap-time is not a rejection of him or the chance to spend time with him or that I am not taking away his favorite show to be mean, but to make sure we can have a more or less civilized meal together. I guess it is a good reminder that sometimes that I need to consider not what my actions say, not just my words.
When have your words said one thing and your actions another?