I was a bit stressed by the time Saturday rolled around. I had three little contracting gigs in the works, and all of the clients wanted me to actually complete them. But it was hard to tie up loose ends when I was only available to work during the hours between preschool dropoff and pickup on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Theoretically, I should have been able to work on Fridays too, since my wife is usually home then; but she's been picking up extra shifts to help pay for her mid-life crisis car. And theoretically, I should have been able to work on weekends; but there's always either a family event that's more important than working on somebody else's house, or my wife has to run errands and leaves me home with the kids.
My wife was out that Saturday morning, doing something I didn't understand that had to do with makeup and required her and her friend to show up at a department store at 7:30 a.m. and stay till like 1:00. I just needed a couple hours to hang a door at my client's rental property.
It was around 10:00 when I decided that Twin A (aka "Cobra") really should put some clothes on. She had already eaten breakfast naked, and had been happily running around the house all morning without a stitch of clothing on. I don't generally have a problem with my kids running around bucket nekkid, but she was clambering on the couch right by the bay window that overlooks the busy thoroughfare in front of our house, and it seemed, I don't know, inappropriate.
"C'mon," I said. "Let's get some clothes on you."
"No-oo," she whined, wallowing around in the couch cushions. "I'm SWIM-ming."
It wasn't the first time that morning that I had suggested getting dressed. But it was the closest I had come to issuing a direct order, and I worry that I've been way too lax in enforcing direct orders lately.
So I resolved to follow through. Even though her getting dressed was not a big deal, her being in the habit of doing what I asked her to seemed like it should be.
"Get up. Let's go get some Hello Kitty undies."
"NO! I'm SWIM-ming!"
I had just read somewhere that you should deal with defiance by threatening to revoke privileges, and then following through on the threat.
"If you don't get dressed, you won't get any lunch-dessert. Don't you want candy-cane Joe-Joes?" I wasn't messing around.
"No. I don't want Joe-Joes." She dove back into the couch.
Dammit. Diplomatic sanctions failed, right out of the gate. It was time for the use of force.
"All right then. No Joe-Joes. But you still have to get dressed."
I was able to pry her out of the couch cushions as she wriggled like a lake trout to break my grasp.
"O-ow!" She cried. "You HURT me!"
She says this a lot lately. She says it when I brush her hair. Or when I pick her up and my hands are rough from work. Or when she steps on my admittedly gnarly big toenail with her bare foot. Or anytime I touch her when she's hungry or tired.
"You're okay, Boo," I told her. "You're just hungry. Let's get you a snack after you're dressed."
"YOU BENT MY ARM!" She was sobbing now. I didn't think I'd heard that one before, but she says new and random things every day.
I tried to comfort her for a while, but got nowhere. As long as I was trying to be a no-nonsense parent for a change, I figured I should ignore this obvious ploy for attention. I got her dressed and then let her pout and weep intermittently until lunch time. She can be a moody kid. This was a longish sulk, but not unprecedented.
I managed to get her to eat some lunch with her sister, but I had to feed her because she refused to use her right hand. That was because, as she reminded me, I had bent her arm. Faking or imagining injuries was something she had pulled in the past too. She once went for an entire day with one arm limp at her side while in the throes of a weird mood swing. I was annoyed, but more concerned about her emotional health than her arm.
Finally, Mama got home, and I could get away from the annoying child and take care of this task that was hanging over my head. I barely said goodbye before walking out the door.
About ten minutes after getting set up to do my work, I got a text:
"Her elbow was dislocated. I think I was able to pop it back in. She's able to use her arm now and seems happier."
I felt sick. Thank god Mama is a doctor and we didn't have to endure the trauma and expense of an Urgent Care visit. And a CPS report? Would we have had to do that? But still. Fuck. What an asshole I was. That poor kid was in tremendous pain most of the morning, and in retrospect, was being pretty stoic about it. I ignored her when she tried to let me know something was really wrong, because she wasn't quite hysterical. And of course, the worst part is that it was my fault in the first place. I wanted to run home and apologize and hold her and stuff her full of candy-cane Joe-Joes. I still do when I think about the episode.
Part of the irony is that while I have, I'm not proud to admit, handled my kids with more force than was strictly necessary to restrain or remove them when they were being obnoxious and I was being angry, this was not one of those times. I only pulled her out of the cushions out of a sense of obligation to consistent parenting. I may have been a little annoyed, but I was far from angry.
I'm not feeling particularly guilty for "nursemaiding" her elbow, because I wasn't being too rough when it happened. It was a legitimate accident, a fluke. My only guilt comes from not taking her seriously when she complained about the pain.
It just occurred to me that I had the same response when my wife broke her elbow while painting the ceiling in our old house, years ago. I was all, "It's okay...rub a little dirt on it. If it were serious, you'd be howling in pain." Maybe the real lesson here is that the females in my family are tougher than I expect them to be when they're really hurt.