My daughter stuck her hand in an electric baseboard heater two days before Christmas. She wasn't quite eight months old.
I'd looked away for just a moment (as you do), and looked back when I heard the cry of pain seeping from her throat. You know, the cry the doctor might warn you at your first round of vaccinations is "a little different from the cries you've heard before..." but that you may have already heard by that point, if, hypothetically, you once dropped your phone on her head while nursing her.
I ran her burned hand under cool water and called the nurse line -- they don't let you call anonymously, by the way, so in case you're thinking of contacting social services, please know this is already a matter of public record. As I was on the phone I noticed a welt appear on the baby's forehead, too; I guess when you're grasping at a searing hot heating coil, you really want to lean in so you can get your hand right in there. The nurse recommended I follow up with a doctor.
At the walk-in clinic an hour later, the doctor, seeing my guilty expression, did his best to reassure me that I wasn't the Worst Parent In The History Of Ever by mentioning that he had kids, too, and that he knew how it was.
"Just wait," he said. "When they get older they find even worse ways to injure themselves."
He sent us home with a prescription for Fucidin and advised me -- somewhat bafflingly -- to leave the burn uncovered, while also noting that the ointment was not to be ingested. This seemed like a tall order given that my daughter spent the entire appointment with both hands shoved firmly in her mouth. I ended up following the second directive at the expense of the first, taping a sock over her hand to avoid poisoning her on top of it all.
But the advice to just wait was the bit that really stuck with me. I'd heard this kind of thing before.
A few months earlier, I'd been walking up Commercial Drive with the baby in a carrier. A woman, probably a few years younger than me, passed by going the opposite way. She was pushing an infant in a stroller, and pulling a small blond toddler along by one arm. This kid was beside himself in the throes of a tantrum, his feet barely touching the ground as he resisted the walk.
As they passed, the harried mother said to me, in a tone that sounded almost malicious:
"Good luck -- two is awful."
I decided this probably wasn't the right time to ask if she meant two the age or two the number of children. I mustered up my best empathetic smile and kept walking.
It's an interesting phenomenon among parents, this "just wait." This "good luck." This need to warn one another about what's next. I feel the urge to do it, too -- mostly with pregnant women, since my wee one is still, well, wee.
I wonder, though, what will happen if all I ever do is look out for the perils that lie ahead? I'll wait and wait and wait and then these precious years will be over. And in waiting in fear of what's next, I'll have missed the process of actually getting there.
Now she's the girl with tiny dimples, a whisper of hair and only six teeth. Now she's the girl who squeals with delight every time she sees a dog, who mashes bananas in her hair, and who never listens when I tell her to be gentle with the cat or stop putting garbage in her mouth.
Who moves around the house in a funny little baby-seal hop, and who learned to crawl only after she learned to climb the stairs.
Who has all the toys in the world, but prefers my springform cheesecake pan above all else.
Who isn't afraid of anything... except maybe Santa.
Who still tries to stick her hand in the heater at every available opportunity.
I love this girl. And I'm sure to love all the versions of her that she'll become.
So, here's my promise to her: My darling small one, I will not just wait. I won't dwell on the worse or the harder of the future; on the new ways you'll devise to induce panic in your poor mother; or even on who you'll become. I will love you at every stage, through every change -- even that five-or-so-year period when you'll hate me.
Time will pass on its own, so I'll try my very best to be present for the now of you. I want to be here -- really be here -- for all of it.
And I will. Just wait.
This post was originally published on the Good Mother Project.
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