Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Bent My Kid. I Hope She Bends Back.

Here's the moral in advance: It doesn't matter what you do, you're gonna fuck your kids up.

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.  



  1. Well, the good thing is that you go through the mental process of gauging force. There are plenty of dads that plow through their kids on a daily basis, and those kids grow up to plow through other people in their own lives. What separates the good and bad dads is feeling a sense of "oh shit" when you accidentally (or even purposely) use a little more force than intended or necessary.

    And anyway, we all knew you were a monster before all this. :)

    1. Well, at least I didn't shock anyone with this revelation.

  2. "Mid-life crisis" car??? Your wife is way too young to fall in that category!.... Now if she was in her 50's that's another story!.
    Yep, females are tough... Giving birth didn't seem to bother me... and that was WITHOUT drugs... My son can endure pain pretty well... Never complained about his braces-- never used that wax they give u when they first put those chains on..
    Don't feel bad that u didn't take your little one's crying/sulking serious... We all have done our fair share... then again, I was told kid's bones are soft.....

    1. Giving birth didn't bother you? You should consider going into mixed martial arts.

    2. my tolerance for pain must be high.. didn't realize it till i gave birth (3x)... also my pregnancies were easy and labor was too.

  3. A few things:

    1. While at Gramma's house one Thanksgiving my then 10 yr.old nephew fell out of a tree. He came crying into the house where pretty much every one of the 85+ people gathered there took a look (including a Dr.) and declared it a right of passage, but not broken. His dad told him to "suck it up and quit being a baby." -and yes, four days later he was still acting "like a baby" and a trip to urgent care proved it was, indeed, broken; in two places.

    2. As my husband reminds his sons: "Never underestimate an animal that can bleed continuously for a week and go about it's normal activities without anyone being the wiser. Bleeds for a week. And doesn't die. And does that every 28 days for 40 some years. NEVER underestimate the courage and power of a woman. They deserve your respect."

    Moral: You're not alone in the group of adults who have misjudged a kid's injury. You are a great dad to rethink it all. And yup, those women in your life will amaze you for years to come. : )

    1. Haha...the "bleeds for a week" thing was a popular refrain among the rednecks I used to work with on construction sites. But it was usually preceded by "I don't trust nothin' that..." and followed by "and doesn't die."

  4. My twin, Alex, broke his arm when he was 2. It was in full view of about 6 adults who could not stop him from jumping off the couch. What followed was a parenting failure of epic proportions. I was mad that he didn't listen when I told him not to jump off the couch, and then he got hurt and proved my point. He cried and cried. I consoled him a bit and checked for damage but was still miffed. Then we offered him ice cream with sprinkles. He wouldn't touch it. Was still crabby though not screaming. We decided to head home. (We were at my parents' house.) He screamed like his face was being ripped off when I put him in his car seat. He begged for Nana's special teddy bear and then refused it when she brought it out.

    We got him home and got both boys dressed for bed. He was calm now, and I assumed very tired after our big day and its dramatic ending. And then, as I sat on his brother's bed watching Daddy read them nighttime stories, I noticed he wasn't moving his arm. Then I went and saw what I thought was a teeny tiny bump. Something in my brain said, "Dude, that kid is hurt." So, I took him to the ER. Sure enough, broken arm. He suffered through it for about 2 hours. I felt like such an ass. I didn't make him break it, but I sure didn't help things.

    In other words, God it sucks when we screw up as parents.

    1. Yup. It's hard to know when we're smothering and when we're neglecting.

  5. My boy's elbow has done that a few times; it seems to not be that big a deal--Deb can put in back in place after watching a YouTube video so we don't have to drop $1k at the ER (like we did the first time). Apparently, some children are susceptible to this type of thing, and it's no indicative of excessive force.

    1. Yeah--we know a lot of kids who have had this happen. Still, sucks to have a hurt kid and realize you didn't help when you should have.

  6. I sort of wish that my kid was born with a sturdy handle, something that comes right out of her torso so that I could just avoid all of her flailing limbs and their delicate joints.

    I remember when she was born, it kind of made me nervous to handle her, because she seemed so fragile and her arms and legs so skinny. Now that she jumps off things and wrestles with me she sometimes seems like a tank...until she doesn't.

    Truth is, I'm often creeped out by the fragility of my OWN body, much less hers. She doesn't really even have kneecaps yet! And the soft spot on her head? Still not totally disappeared. Don't even get me started on her fingers. Those things look like they could snap off like THAT *snaps fingers* *shudders*

    Addison hasn't broken or dislocated anything yet. Hmmm. That I KNOW of. Maybe I'm going to go examine her right now.

    1. Kids are weird. Sometimes they bash their heads on the sidewalk and just keep running. Other times they fall apart over a hair tangle.

  7. When I was seven I broke my arm playing soccer in our backyard. My parents didn't believe me and a week later when we were at the doctor for my sister, my mom said, "Oh this one is complaining her arm hurts." Yip. It was broken. Just a tiny fracture and since I had already gone a week the doctor said we could skip the cast. I was devastated - robbed of my cast and all the attention and kids scribbling their names on it. Parents!!! Oh yeah - my son broke his arm too and I didn't take him to the doctor till the next day... But I was totally going to!!! He just told me it was feeling better!

    1. No cast? What a ripoff! I hope your son got one.

      I broke my wrist being thrown (or "falling off," as some witnesses phrased it) from a horse when I was 11. Only got a soft cast. I felt so cheated.

  8. I did this to my son while pulling him up onto the bed and felt the elbow go. Even so, I made him take a nap before we went to the urgent care, just to make sure he was really hurt. There was no cps report. And the recovery time - 30 seconds max. Alas, the parental guilt lasts much longer.

  9. I'm calling the cops.

    Also: can I have Cobra's Joe-Joes if she doesn't want them?

    And also: I love this post. I had a similar experience with Mini-Pirate when she was little, but there's no way I'm gonna write about it.

  10. Cobra must have been in a bit of shock to NOT have been screaming and crying from the pain. With my two daughters, I've been lucky that nothing physically damaging has happened to them...emotionally, I'm sure they're going to be a wreck down the road. Oh, and it's interesting how wives seem to be approaching the need for a midlife crisis car a lot sooner these days. My wife is only in her 30's and has already outgrown the car she got just last year. We'll see how that plays out.


  11. When our daughter was 2 1/2, my parents were in town for the fourth of July and had a pool at their hotel. Baby Girl was over the moon to go swimming with Grandpa and didn't want to leave when it was time. She was holding hands with my husband and decided to drop to the floor unexpectedly in a fit. He didn't let go of her hand, and she got the Nursemaid's elbow. She kept saying "Daddy hurt me! Daddy hurt me!" and on the way to the ER I said "honey, you know Daddy didn't hurt you on purpose." To which she responded by changing her story to "Daddy hurt me on purpose!" The Doc listened to our story, popped it back in in two seconds and told us it was the most common injury he sees in children. There was no mention of CPS or anything.


  12. Andy --

    You're clearly too strong for your own good. You should let your upper body atrophy like mine, to a nice pectus excavatum, and then your girls will be safe.


  13. Hahahaha, aw. I nursemaided my elbow several times when I was a kid, and mom said after the first time, I barely even noticed it (other than being unable to move it), and didn't even mind it being popped in. I think it's one of those things that happens to most kids at one point or another. Especially because they somehow think that that flailing or my favorite - "going limp and falling to the floor" is an appropriate response to something they don't want to hear. They don't call CPS for nursemaids elbow, and sometimes even teach you how to pop it back into place.

  14. Hahahaha, aw. I nursemaided my elbow several times when I was a kid, and mom said after the first time, I barely even noticed it (other than being unable to move it), and didn't even mind it being popped in. I think it's one of those things that happens to most kids at one point or another. Especially because they somehow think that that flailing or my favorite - "going limp and falling to the floor" is an appropriate response to something they don't want to hear. They don't call CPS for nursemaids elbow, and sometimes even teach you how to pop it back into place.


Don't hold back.


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