My Brain Owie: Another Example of Kids Breaking Important Things

Some of you readers may have noticed a significant slowing of posts in recent weeks: sorry about that. I have been doing minimal “screen time” lately–computers, TV, reading humorous-but-meaningless lists on Buzzfeed–because three weeks ago, I suffered a concussion. I thought I’d had concussions before–once in seventh grade at recess, once in high school at gymnastics practice–but I realize now: I have never had a head injury before; not like this one.

I am tired all the time. I get killer headaches–still!–if I try to think too hard or stay awake for more than 8 consecutive hours. I nap like a one year old baby–long, hard, and often, with bouts of whimpering and feeling sorry for myself.

How did I get a concussion, you ask?

D2.

D2 headbutted me. (You should try telling people you have to miss work for a week because your three-year old headbutted you. It provides an excellent study in human facial expressions and people’s ability to say something other than what they’re actually thinking.)

The storybrain bandage

I was up early with D2, like often happens. We were in a playful, loving mood, and she had just woken up, so had lots of energy. We began to roughhouse on the bed–D2 loves to roughhouse. Tickling and being pretend thrown or used as a pillow … the toddler usual. But that fateful morning, roughhousing went awry.

It was time to get ready and I tried to get up. D2 climbed on my back. I kept up with the roughhousing game, gently trying to shake her off. She clung tighter, slightly constricting my flow of both oxygen and patience. I shook her off a bit harder and reached around to unlatch her vice-grip hands. She saw it coming, though, and headbutted. I don’t think it was in malice, but she was on my back and I couldn’t see her face. All I know is that her hard-headed forehead cracked me in the soft place behind my right ear. Hard.

I knew it was bad–worse than the usual child injury. It even hurt worse than when Ella broke my nose at church earlier this year at the altar during communion (this is the best parenting year, too, by the way. For real.) I have since had many parents–most parents?–tell me that their children have kicked/headbutted/punched them in the face or some other sensitive spot. One person even got a broken nose! For me, this was my cheap shot.

I shook it off the best I could, got ready, and launched into the summer camp/school/work morning routine. About an hour and a half later, though, my vision got funny. I couldn’t focus and whooshy white dots danced across my line of sight. I was driving at the time, but was close to work, thankfully, and parked quickly. (As a note, I think such circumstances bring me in line with the skill and behavioral norm in Washington, DC, am traffic. I am mostly looking at you, drivers from Maryland.)

In my morning meeting, things didn’t really make much sense and I had a hard time following what we were talking about. This, in and of itself, isn’t uncommon for a first-thing-in-the-morning government bureaucrat meeting, but I found myself drifting. At one point, I leaned my head against the cool metal door jam and considered a nap. (We all know this isn’t an outlandish mid-meeting desire either; it was exceptional only because I actually did it, rather than just wished I could.)

When it was my turn to talk–and I cannot really confirm this because I don’t remember the specifics–apparently I talked nonsensically about the movie Frozen. THE MOVIE FROZEN. Oh, the injustice. elsa ice palace stompThat when I suffer a brain injury, inconsistencies in the plot line from the movie Frozen are what start to come out–my subconscious, leaking out without filter. Insult to injury. People exchanged looks and I won a free teammate escort to the nurse’s office. (Yes, we have a nurse’s office. It is exactly like the one I had in elementary school, where you get Tylenol, a band-aid, and an ice pack for everything. All it is missing is kids with braces brushing their teeth after lunch.)

The nurse declared concussion and told me that MI could pick me up, or she could call an ambulance. I briefly thought the ambulance sounded pretty cool, but was not hit on the head hard enough to ignore the complete mortification of being carried out of one’s workplace on a stretcher after being headbutted by a toddler. Even if she’d hit me hard enough to knock my head clean off, I needed to walk out of there myself to maintain my dignity. (In the end, I limped out of there, leaning heavily on MI while holding the nurse’s ice pack on my head. Dignity is relative, right?)

Hours and days and even weeks passed and mostly I slept. I took five hour naps. I went to bed at 5:30. I woke up at noon. I feel asleep in the car (shotgun, Maryland, you can only sleep while in shotgun!). My kids learned to creep carefully and quietly around the house and be extra nice to me on account of my “brain owie” (which D2 does not know she was responsible for. I should ask her, actually what she thinks happened to me. It is probably hilarious.)

Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.
Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.

I can’t work a full day yet and get bad headaches if I try to do almost any adult activity; last week on vacation I had to miss seeing a summer blockbuster movie in the theater because it was too large a screen and too intense a soundtrack and I couldn’t handle it (just like when we took Ella to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Except we went… so much screaming. So many tears…) And yet, it has been pretty fantastic. My kids are soooooo nice.  MI is taking care of me in a way that I haven’t experienced maybe since we had kids.

Sure, my job is about thinking, which I can’t do as well anymore. And I am going steadily more stir crazy without my usual workouts. And I know there are words I used to know that I can’t come up with anymore (shortly after the injury, I called a plate a “dinner circle,” for example). But I get to sleep all the time and am surrounded by the best version of my family–caring, kind, and a bit more quiet.

Plus, I have convinced myself that eating ice cream is the only way to ice your brain from the inside. Time for my treatment and my nap.

Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.
Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.

Accidental Decapitation and Other Profound Toddler Insights

It was nearly time to leave. Five more minutes, and I was trying to sneak in a few more dishes, clear a few breakfast plates, and speed blow dry my hair for work. Five minutes.

I asked D2 to put on her shoes. I asked her to pick up the toys on the living room floor. I asked her to finish her breakfast. I asked her to brush her hair.

She could not. She was unavailable because the only thing she could do was find Christmas ornament Princess Anna, so that it could accompany small, plastic Queen Elsa, who needed someone similarly sized with whom to play.

I knew where Anna was. I’d seen her in a toy bin earlier that week. We needed to GO. I spent two of the five minutes explaining why we did not have time because WE ONLY HAD FIVE MINUTES, then finally caved when I realized she cared more about finding Anna than I did about my plans at work. I found Anna. Just because toddlers are small and have different values doesn’t mean they are ridiculous, right?

Wrong. They are ridiculous.


I started to go upstairs for the speed hair styling–nope. Called back down to remove a tag that was stuck to Princess Anna, obviously making her impossible to play with. Maybe even impossible to touch, given the freak-out crying that was going on. [Why are we playing with a Christmas ornament in April? Why did it still have the tag on it? Why does Disney even make clay Christmas ornaments in characters that are only going to appeal to small children? What diabolical person first invented glitter?!  I do not know.] But nothing could go on until there was no tag.

As I removed the tag, I took the chance to remind D2 about how this was *not* a plastic Anna.

Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.
Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.

This was no magiclip. This was BREAKABLE ANNA, and she COULD NOT drop it because it would break. She had to be sooooooo careful. (I knew this was true. Because Anna used to be one of a set; may Christmas ornament Elsa rest in peace.]

As I handed Anna over, tag-free, I asked

“Can you please be so careful? And make sure not to drop her?”

” I will be sooooooooo sooooooo careful.  I will not–” [drops Anna.] “Oh! It is ok, she is okay!  She did not break.”

“Ok. She did not break, but you dropped her right on the rug. If you drop her on the hard floor, she will break.”

Whatever. We both knew. I knew it was Anna’s last day. Anna knew it was her last day. Nothing could stop fate.

What D2 knew, though, was something else entirely: her mom was over-dramatic and clearly dropping the figurine was NBD. Parents.

Moments–seriously MOMENTS later–D2 quietly approached me in the bathroom where I was blow drying my hair any way, even though we were late. Clenched in her right hand, Anna’s body,decapitated anna coated lightly in glitter. In her left, Anna’s severed head, still primed with a white string to hang from the Christmas tree. Decapitated within 2 minutes.

As D2 told me that she was sooooooooo sorry (which is the same as being sooooooo careful, I’ve found, in terms of shaping children’s future behavior), I thought about how children were so hard sometimes because no matter how many times you said something or how seemingly simple the task–‘hold this one small thing that you wanted in your closed hand until we get to the car’–it never worked.  And there was breaking and crying and lateness.

I left decapitated Anna on the bathroom counter–Toddlers, ye be warned!–and we left for school with only plastic Elsa, sad and alone once more.


Throughout the day, though, I realized that as rough as parenting toddlers can be, I am pretty flake-y myself. My follow-through, pretty toddler-like, in fact. The work project that I hadn’t sent out specifics for on which other people were waiting. The appointments I needed to call and set up, the chores I needed to do, the errands I needed to run, the more chores I needed to do. The puppy I decided I wanted yesterday, only to realize that . . we can’t have a puppy, so I had to back out and disappoint people, including myself. Today, even, the hour I should have spent prepping dinner and straightening the living room that I instead spent watching Disney Toy Collector and sneaking chocolate chips out of the pantry. Flakey.


I guess the world is too big and the tasks too many, and we are only really able to focus on the handful of certain things that really matter. And the trick is figuring out what those are and doing them well, rather than scrambling to hold all of them.

When I picked D2 up from school, she was running through the playground with a pack of friends. When she saw me, she ran straight over and, with a huge hug, presented me with “the longest piece of grass ever!” She had found it herself almost an hour ago and had been clutching it for me the whole time so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I added the precious grass to my nature jar, which is full of sticks and pine cones, grass and dry flowers that my girls have given more over the years. There was once a period spanning almost two-months when toddler-aged Ella saved me a handful of grass every day (similarly clutched for hours) so that I could share the best part of her day.

We don’t have a whole Christmas ornament Anna anymore. And I did a pretty mediocre job cleaning and planning my work project. But I have the longest blade of grass ever in my nature jar, which seems like evidence of us holding on to the right things.

My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.
My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.

The Things They Handed Me

Small children value, trust, and appreciate parents.

I can tell. Why else would they think we should get to hold their weird treasures and see and touch their disgusting trash without fear that we are judging them?

Well, sometimes I am judging them. And kids over the years have handed me some ridiculous things.

  • So, so many apple cores. Apple cores in the car. Apple cores at the mall. Apple cores on walks. Apple cores while apple picking. Apple cores while in the grocery store buying apples. And I never get to play ‘Apple core, Baltimore.’
  • Food. Not new food. Not delicious or fresh or clean food. Mostly food that they tried eating (because I made them or they didn’t inspect closely beforehand) and disliked so intensely they couldn’t bring themselves to swallow. So they eject the masticated food into the obvious receptacle: my palm. Some restaurants are just not for toddlers.
  • Toddler underwear. Usually underwear that has had a really terrible day. The  hand-off of the unfortunate underwear usually happens when company is over and is inevitably followed with an overly blunt summary of the potty misfortune and a promise to NEVEREVERDOTHATAGAIN. They never ever follow through on the nevereveragain promise. Potty training has won so many battles. Probably I will win the war. It is a long war.
  • Personal items. Things that adults–if left to their own senses–would never want to touch at all. Where they would use latex gloves or hire professionals or squeal and then compulsively wash their hands.  But, once you have kids, that stuff becomes stuff you stuff directly into your jeans pocket until you can fish it out and discard/display at an appropriate time. At last week’s playdate, for example:

    Friend’s child: “[Ella]’s mom! here, look at this!”
    Me: “Is this. . .”
    Friend’s child: “Yeah! My tooth just came out! Will you save it for my mom?”

  • Vomit. You know sometimes when you are driving your car with a passenger in shotgun and you have to break really hard and you instinctively put your arm out to the side even though the passenger is an adult and you don’t need to do that and your arm would not prevent disaster anyway? And you think, why do I have that useless instinct? But in the moment of car crisis, you just do it? That is what happens when my kids are right, right next to me in a public, non-bathroom space and then they suddenly throw up. I instinctively catch it. Does it make sense? No. Can I stop it? Not yet. I have a great airplane story. Ask me some time you want to appreciate business travel.
  • Goo. I don’t know how toddlers always have this. But they do. And when they’re done with it, they give it back to the universe. And by universe, I mean mostly  just me.

    I broke my egg. The white gooshed out, but here is the yellow.

  • My own things, in less pristine condition. The dreaded “I borrowed…was an accident… really sorry.” Like ‘I borrowed your beautiful ring and then we were playing buried treasure and I buried it and now we can’t find it, but here is your spoon that we used to dig for it and it got bent. I am really sorry.’ Or ‘I took your necklace. And then, I am sorry to say, it got itself broken. Outside. Most of the beads are still in the bush, but I got a few back for you! Can you get the rest?’
  • Mysteries, waiting for answers. These are always gross mysteries that I would not choose tosoapy seashell study if I was ever given proper warning. Do you think this is animal poop or melted chocolate? I cannot tell and I *never* want to hold it if we’re not sure. You figure it out. Just don’t taste it, come back inside, or touch  me again.
  • Thoughtful toddler presents. Like how D2 had a two-month phase where she would bring me seashells filled with hand soap. And Ella collected “nature” that I still display in a vase on the bookshelf; except an omitted piece of bubble gum. Because while it was in nature, we decided it wasn’t actually nature. From my hand, straight to the trash.

 

 

Do It Myself

D2 is getting older. Three, to be exact, which is pretty big and grown-up. And she is ready to do all sorts of things herself that grown-ups used to do for her. She dresses herself (today she is wearing both a dress and a maxi skirt–fashion at its finest), she makes her own lunch (mostly granola bars) and reads her own stories (mostly about fairies and High School Musical).

I like independence and there are quite a few things I am ready to stop doing as a parent, so I roll with toddler independent streaks. So today, when it was time to take cupcakes to our neighbors and she asked if she could carry them, well, I considered it.

These were amazing cupcakes. Yellow cake, whipped chocolate frosting, multi-colored sprinkles. Light and fluffy and chocolate-y and delicious. For the first batch, Ella carried the cupcakes and D2 delivered the accompanying card. Super successful. I watched from the door, seeing their adorableness on the sunny porch on an almost spring-ish day. Dresses and sunshine and cupcakes.  Ahh.

When they got back, D2 asked Ella if she could puuuuhhhh-leease carry the cupcakes this time to the second house. This was a fuller plate (larger family). It was a much longer walk. There was a stiff breeze and she was wearing a maxi skirt, which they don’t actually sell for people her size, so its too long. This was a risky gamble.

I remembered the last time D2 got to “carry the cupcakes.” Last October for a cake walk. She dropped the cupcakes face down within 10 steps, smooshing them terribly into the plastic wrap. We still took them, but I don’t think they went in the first round.

Today, in retrospect, I should have wrapped them. But I thought that might give her a false sense of security, as I remembered how stuck the dropped ones got last time. So I just encouraged her to “Be so careful. Walk so slow. Be sooooo careful.  Walk sooooo slow.”

They were off. I watched her slow progress across the courtyard. I could feel looming disaster and fragile hope, swirling together in the almost-spring wind.  Ella dashed across the grass, carrying nothing but a card, while D2 painstakingly followed. Slow, careful steps. Man, she is cute and she is trying so hard. She is listening. She is getting so big.

She made it farther than I thought she would before it all went down. Near the large oak tree a protruding branch, or a strong gust, or the malicious hand of fate tripped her up. She was moving so slowly that it actually was slow motion. The cupcakes flew up in the air and gracefully arced in all directions towards the wet, leafy mulch.

I ran; the neighbor ran. Everyone was too late. D2 was crushed, picking up the gorgeous cupcakes, now decorated with “disgusting nature.” The neighbor said thank you and told her they looked like they had been delicious. D2 put them sadly back on the plate and headed to the house. She carried them successfully the whole way.

So, we’re making new cupcakes. And she threw those ones away all by herself and told me that this afternoon I could help her carry the next batch.

Seems like growing up to me.

IMG_20150315_115620243_HDR

“Even though I got this a long time ago, it is still sort of the way it is supposed to be.”

Fortunately, as I said, we were toward the back. And in an act of true grace, the woman immediately behind us was *actually* blind. And there was another three-year old who kept yelling loudly. I thought we could make it.

Or, the story of how children mostly just break everything.

The quote in the title was part of a explanation from my five-year old neighbor, said with an air of pride and surprise, that she had owned her plastic sword for a very long time (like, more than a year) and it had not broken yet. So remarkable was that fact, she had decided the sword was unbreakable–even though made of plastic and purchased at the circus. I am totally with her, though; that sword must have some magic powers, because children break pretty much everything.

I share the most recent example: this morning at church. We came in late, as we do, and so sat toward the back. Ella was in charge of packing her own entertainment for the one hour-ish session and carefully selected five, small, identical plastic zebras. (The choice, incidentally, allowed me to say the awesome, new-to-humanity sentence, “Stop lining up your zebras and brush your hair.” I always like thinking that I am saying something that no one has ever said before.) We sat next to dear friends of ours and their similarly-aged daughter had also brought plastic animals. What are the odds?  She had reptiles–snakes and lizards and something else. Maybe frogs. The zebras and the lizards tried to hang out together at first. Lining up. Thinking about Pride Rock and the Glass Menagerie. Planning future dioramas. But, eventually, a fight broke out.  And the snakes kept knocking the zebras over and the zebras stampeded the reptile cave. It was all in good fun–very energetic, almost-certainly-louder-than-it-should-have-been fun–and I mostly let it go because we were still on track for her best behavior at church all year. Maybe ever.

Big mistake. As it turns out (hindsight, oh, hindsight), the menagerie fight served to awaken the real beast: six-year old destructive energy. The incessant moving. The inability to keep from grabbing all objects in proximity. Running and jumping as the only acceptable method of transportation. Fortunately, as I said, we were toward the back. And in an act of true grace, the woman immediately behind us was *actually* blind.  And there was another three-year old who kept yelling loudly. I thought we could make it.

Communion. Ella was late walking up the aisle with the rest of us because she had to collect her five zebras to come along. Obviously. And then she realized half way up that she couldn’t receive bread and hold zebras, so she gave them all to me. Awesome. My pants had pockets, so I filled them with zebra. We had a nice, peaceful 53 seconds of communion, and then MI and D2, following proper protocol, left the altar. Ella did not. She stood on it and started to bounce. No. I leaned in to stop her and lead her away, at precisely the same time that she either lost interest, realized it was almost time for snack, or saw an opportunity to run.

She exuberantly bounded off the altar–straight into my face–as I leaned forward to corral her. And thus came to pass the first time that someone BROKE MY NOSE AT CHURCH. Right up in front of the congregation. At the altar of God. Immediately next to the choir.  BROKE MY NOSE AT CHURCH.

My eyes watered, but I did not scream or cry. Pretty much, I was a badass at getting my nose broken at church. I do think people noticed, since she and I were pretty much the last ones up there. MI told me, though, that it was not clear from my face whether I’d had a strongly spiritual moment or a terrible accident. I bet they assumed the best of me, unless they’d been watching Ella much. She immediately realized my pain and loudly apologized with, “I am sorry. I am so sorry. I am soooo sorry. Can I have my zebras?” I yell-whispered that no, she could NOT have her zebras (No zebras if you break someone’s nose.) and shuffled, semi-blind back to my seat.

Reflection. After the end of the service, which was graciously not long, MI and my friend laughed at the story and then politely suggested that my nose was perhaps rather crooked. I straightened it the best I could in the bathroom, with some backup from MI in the car, and am now waiting to see what happens post-swelling.

I add this to the pile of stories of things broken. The mounting list of mysteriously missing items. The odd way everything is sticky around the house. Kids.

And even though I had them seemingly a long time ago, everything is still sort of the way it is supposed to be.