Saturday, October 3, 2009

Feel the Fear

Have you ever sat in a busy city playground with dozens of preschoolers running all around? Dashing through the sprinkler, flying down the slide, fighting over shovels in the sandbox. The noise can reach a pitch sometimes--not so much a volume, but a pitch--that can drive you to distraction. To distraction, or to the "Happy Place," that zone you could remove yourself to, if only you weren't a Mom with a kid to keep an eye on.

That headache-inducing drone was no match for my Everett. I remember one afternoon in the playground a long, long time ago, Everett tripped and fell on her knee. She got up, looked down, and let out a screech that brought the entire assemblage to a momentary standstill, like in those old EF Hutton commercials. It was quite an accomplishment when in any random thirty-second period a child could fall and scream or cry over a minor bump or scrape.

Everett's scrape and accompanying droplet of blood was no worse than any other injury incurred by any other child that afternoon. She didn't even cry, either...until she got up and looked at her knee and saw the red.

The shriek had me diving into my pocketbook to look for a band-aid, a tissue, something, even though I knew I was just doing it for show. I was never one of those "good" moms who had wet naps, carried a mini first aid kit in my bag, and always had a water bottle and a ziplock bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish.

After the initial few seconds of the freeze-frame, a playground dad came over with a tissue. As I gratefully reached for it, Everett screamed even louder and scared him away. Another mom came over who hadn't seen the simple fall and wondered, from the intensity of the ruckus Everett was creating, if perhaps she hadn't broken a bone.

"No, no," I said. "She was just walking along and she tripped."

She wouldn't let up with the consistent, high-pitched wail. After a minute or so more of trying to calm her down, I stood up, tucked her under my arm like a rolled-up towel, and walked the three blocks home with her.

Everett doesn't like blood, I discovered that day. Really doesn't like blood.

Everett doesn't like needles, either.

We were in the pediatrician's office for a routine check-up. Everett must have been about five years old. We met with the nurse beforehand for those things the nurse does--the hearing test, the height and weight check, the eye test, the blood test.

The blood test??

"It's easy, Everett, it's just a tiny poke on your finger," said the nurse. Everett was sitting on my lap, and I could feel the rumble from deep down inside her. Like when you walk down the sidewalk and the subway passes underneath. I tried to hold her without holding her. I figured if I just rested my hands lightly on her arms, she might remain calm long enough to get through it. The nurse took Everett's hand in hers, isolated that one finger, and started toward it with the lancet.

It's amazing how strong a five year old girl is. Or can be, if driven by a strong enough aversion. Five seconds after I had rested my hands gently on Everett's arms, I had her in a full-nelson. She squirmed and hollered. The nurse, still holding Everett's hand in one of hers, and the lancet in the other, was temporarily frozen. Everett's shrieks just had that effect on people. Even pediatric nurses, apparently.

"Do it! Do it!" I shouted, as I struggled to keep her in my lap. Now was no time to be stunned into inactivity. I had slipped off the edge of the chair and was now on my knees. Everett had managed to get her feet on the floor, and there was no telling how much longer she could be contained. The nurse regained her senses, tightened her grip on Everett's hand, and gave her finger a poke.

And Everett fainted.

Well, swooned might be a fairer description. She didn't pass out cold, but she stopped screaming, stopped struggling, and fell limp between my arms. The nurse took the opportunity to squeeze the blood into those stupid tiny vials.

In walked Dr. Strassman (or "Dr. Scratchman," as Everett always pronounced it.) "What's all the hub bub?" she asked as she opened the door, then looked down at the three of us on the floor. "Everett! Honey! What happened? You're as white as a sheet!"

"Hi Barbara," I said, as Everett came around and I began to haul us back onto the chair. "Everett doesn't like needles."

"No kidding," she said.

It wasn't the first time Everett had torn up the pediatrician's office. A deer tick lodged itself into her's scalp one time, and I couldn't get it out. Well, I had actually managed to do exactly what the books tell you not to do, which was pull off the tick's blood-gorged body, and leave the head buried under the skin. If you don't get out the head too, you haven't solved the problem. It needed a steadier hand than mine, and better tools than the eyebrow tweezers from my makeup bag, so I brought Everett in to the office.

Dr. Hernandez was on duty that day. He was the "new guy," who had joined the partnership with Dr. Strassman and her female partner a couple of years before. Dr. Hernandez was young, but bald, bearded and rotund. He curled up the ends of his moustache with wax, had little rubber figures of Goofy and Big Bird curled around his stethoscope, and worked very hard at cultivating a jolly demeanor to put the kids at ease.

Everett hated him.

We'd been to Dr. Hernandez before for one reason or another when Dr. Strassman wasn't there, and Everett had developed the habit of smiling happily in the exam room while we waited, then screaming long and loud once he came in, ceasing only when we'd finished and Dr. H had made his exit. He'd dance those little figurines in front of her face, "Oh look at Goofy! Goofy says 'Hello Everett!' Oh, now look! Here comes Big Bird!" Everett never bought what Dr. Hernandez was selling.

Dr. Hernandez thought it shouldn't be too hard to get that deer tick head out of her scalp. He took out some instruments--a long forceps, a scissors-looking thing, and some tweezers. He clinked those around as she sat on the exam table and eyed him warily.

"This will be sooo easy, Everett," he said, too enthusiastically. "You'll lie here and Mom will help me, and we'll be done in a few seconds."

After a couple of minutes, I was drenched in sweat. I had my full body weight thrown on Everett atop that table, as Dr. H fumbled on her head with those tools. "Well, this isn't working," Dr. H said as he threw down his tweezers. "We'll need some more help here." A nurse was called in, who, along with me--after Dr. H and I had caught our breath--threw her full body weight on top of Everett too. Everett bucked, yelled, twisted around, and knocked the three of us grown ups repeatedly into each other and into the walls of the tiny room.

Dr. Hernandez gave up after a few more minutes of fruitless digging. "You know what?" he said with an aggravated edge to his voice. "It'll be fine. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't get infected. Put some of this on it for a few days," as he handed me a tube of goop. "If she gets any weird symptoms, call me." He left the room.

And I had to practically carry Everett home in a basket.

Girls all want to get their ears pierced eventually, and Everett was no exception. When she was ten or eleven, she started expressing this desire in earnest. I was fine with it, though Peter was not. He thought she was too young, he thought it was unnecessary, he thought this, he thought that. I went along with him the first couple of years when Everett asked periodically. I felt it was something that had to be OK, not only with me, but with Peter, as well.

Though by the time she was thirteen, enough was enough. We were up in P'son one weekend, and Everett's friend Annika had joined us. Everett was pressing me again on the issue. I went to Peter and told him I believed it was time Everett should be allowed to get her ears pierced already if she wanted to. I wanted him to be on board, but enough already.

"We're leaving to get Everett's ears pierced, Peter," I announced as the two girls and I walked past him as he ate his sandwich at the kitchen table. I slowed down to a cartoonish pace as the girls sped out the door. "If you have anything to say, speak I go.....we're going...." Peter's silence signaled his tacit approval.

In the car during the twenty minute ride to the mall, Everett suddenly remembered that getting her ears pierced involved an encounter with a needle.

"How much does it hurt to get your ears pierced, Mom?" she asked.

"Oh, not too much, Honey," I said. It just hurts for a second, a nano-second, really. It's over before you know it."

She pondered over this for a few moments. "So you weren't scared when you got your ears pierced?"

"Not particularly, no," I said. "I was more excited, I guess." I remembered the faceted gold posts I had when I got my ears done back in high school. I was even older than Everett was, maybe fifteen. My father held out against it for longer than Peter did.

She thought a couple of minutes more. "Will you get your ears pierced, too?"

Huh? "What do you mean, Honey?" I asked, "I already have my ears pierced."

"I know," she said, "Would you get second holes before I do mine?"

"Oh, Honey," I said, "I don't really want second holes. I only wear earrings now and again as it is. I really don't need a second set of holes for another set to not wear...."

"Well, one then, maybe? Could you get a second hole in one ear, maybe? That's kind of cool. Why not do that? Oh please, Mom, please? Then I can watch you go first and I won't be so nervous. Please?"

Oh...all right.

We went to the earring stand at the mall. Ear piercing free with earring purchase. The same racket it's always been. You have to buy 14-carat posts, too, or risk infection. I've never been sure that that's not a racket, as well.

We searched through the selection. When you're getting a piercing, there isn't a whole lot to choose from really. You start out with the tiny gold balls, and how many of those can there be from which to choose?

As I had promised, I went first. I climbed on the stool as the earring girl loaded up the gold post. It's not quite technically a needle they use when you get your ears pierced professionally. What they do is load the earring into some sort of...gun, for lack of a better word. I've never looked at it too closely, but they load the earring into the gun, and hold it to your ear lobe after they've swabbed it off with alcohol, and you hold still for a few seconds, hold your breath, and....

Boom. Pierced ear.

I didn't flinch, I didn't blink. I sat there with a big grin on my face as Everett stared at me intently. "What do you think, Honey? How does it look?" She thought it looked fine, though she looked a little serious, so I didn't dawdle. "Climb on up, Everett. Your turn!"

"Everett. Climb on up now. Your turn."

"Everett," said Annika, who already had three or four holes in each of her ears, "C'mon! Aren't you excited?"

"Yes, it's your turn now," said the big girl with the nose ring who was manager of the stand and chief piercer.

Everett shook her head. "I think I'll wait."

No amount of cajoling could convince her otherwise. Annika tried. The big girl with the nose ring tried. I didn't try particularly hard. Who was I to talk Everett into poking a hole in her head (as my father described it back in the day) if she didn't want to? Though I felt a little bad that she was too scared to do something she clearly wanted so badly to do.

We returned back home to the P'son house. Peter noticed my second hole and I explained why I had it. "Very fashion-forward," he commented. "So,where's Everett's earrings?" He was wise enough not to laugh too loudly when I told him the rest of the story.

The next morning, after a giggly night and undoubtedly much cajoling on Annika's part, Everett asked to return to the mall. She wanted to give it another try. After lunch, we drove back down, though this time we bypassed the big girl at the earring stand, who I wasn't sure would be as accommodating this time after yesterdays aborted attempt, and went to the girly accessories store way down at one end, next to Macy's.

There was a girl ahead of us, a little younger than Everett. Everett picked out her earrings, then watched the girl carefully as they pierced her ears, while I signed the forms that said I wouldn't sue if Everett's ears turned gangrene and fell off. No hard feelings.

She did better this time. She actually climbed up on to the stool before she decided she really didn't want to do it.

"Yes you do, Everett. Yes, you do," said Annika.

"Yeah, c'mon Honey, second time's a charm. You're up here already, you can do it," even I chimed in. I didn't care if she got her ears pierced or not; I just didn't want her to not do it because of fear.

The girl fumbled getting the earring loaded in the gun. I willed her to hurry up. Annika and I were on either side of Everett, cheering her on, keeping her on that stool. The girl got it together, swabbed Erin's ear lobe and...

Boom. Pierced ear.

Everett blinked hard and jumped noticeably. Then she opened her eyes. She heaved a sigh, smiled, and started to get down off the school. "One more ear to go," we reminded her. Her face clouded once more. "You can't leave with just one ear done, can you?" asked the girl.

Before Everett had the chance to say that yes perhaps she could, and thank you very much, the girl had the other earring in. Case closed.

I let my second hole close. It just wasn't me.

Everett still rocks an extensive earring wardrobe.

Everett's in college now. It's her first weekend home, and boy was it exciting to see her. We talked about her classes, we talked about her roommate and her new friends in the dorm, we talked about the school cafeteria and the telemarketing job she's going after to make a few extra bucks. She came with me to see my dad, and the three of us did a bookstore run and had a nice lunch. Having fulfilled all her familial obligations, she was preparing earlier this evening to meet up with some girlfriends, go out for a little sushi, and see what trouble they could stir up.

She came into my room to use my big mirror to put on her make-up. It's still kind of warm, so she had on some cutoff shorts and a little tank top to take advantage of the few warm evenings left in the waning days of summer. She had her back to me as she applied her mascara, and told me of her plans for the evening.

Her long hair was down, flopping around across her back, as she leaned forward, mouth open, tilting her head first to one side then to the other, as she stroked the mascara wand across her lashes. I saw something on her left shoulder as her blond hair swept briefly past it.

"What's that on you shoulder, Erin?" I asked.

She hesitated for a micro-second, if at all.

"It's a tattoo," she said.

"Already?" I said. I knew you had it in your mind to get one, but I didn't think you could before you were eighteen. Can I see it?"

"I got it on South Street," she said as she sat down on the bed next to me. "It was an OK place. It was clean, I saw the license on the wall, and the guy was really nice. He did a good job, don't you think? Are you mad?"

If it was an "OK place," I'm not sure why the proprietor would give a teenager a tattoo without first checking ID. "I guess he thought I was over eighteen," Erverett said. I don't know about that. Perhaps times are tough, and he wanted to make his fifty bucks, which is what Everett said she paid for it. I looked at it. A butterfly. It looked clean, it didn't look irritated or infected. It was pretty well done, it seemed, as these things go.

"Are you mad?" she asked again. She really wanted to know. Everett hasn't worried about whether or not I was mad in at least a year and a half.

"No. I'm not mad. I mean, what's the point of being mad? It's done, right? I just hope you're as thrilled with it when you're seventy as you are today."

Everett gave me an eye roll at that last slightly gratuitous comment. I couldn't help it. My dad, and Peter, drew the line at pierced ears. I guess my line is drawn at tattoos. And Peter doesn't even know about the tattoo yet.

"Are you going to tell Dad?" Everett asked, as if she were reading my mind.

"Yeah, I have to tell your dad, of course," I said. "But I'll wait until after you're back at school."

But then, I wondered, a few minutes later. "Hey, Everett," I shouted into the other room. "How did you have the nerve to go in there to get that tattoo with the needles and all? Didn't it hurt?"

"Just a little, not much," she said.

"But weren't you afraid?" I asked.

"Not any more," she called back in. "I'm not afraid of needles any more."

Great, I guess.

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