My principal was gushing about his two year old yesterday, sharing all the bizarre & hilarious behavior that awaited him at home.
“We buy those all natural, safe wipes & she just loves to eat them. If she gets to the package first, she’s got one in her mouth & she’s running away because she doesn’t want me to take it from her.”
“Does she pout?” my coworker asked, both of us giggling at the mental image of a toddler making off with a wet wipe hanging from her mouth.
“Pout? She throws an all-out fit,” he assured us. “Throws herself on the ground & screams. Naturally! It was like as soon as she realized that she could stand up, she realized she could make herself fall down.”
He went on to tell us how she had learned to use this new talent for attention. When she was first walking, her fathers would always pick her up & kiss her when she fell. Now, he explained, smiling, if she comes over to them & they don’t give her attention, she pretends to walk away & stages a dramatic pratfall.
With everyone else gone for the night, our laughter bounced through the empty hallways, calling the custodian to the door of a far off classroom. We waved, said ‘good night’, moseyed.
On the way home, I thought about what I learned from my father about getting hurt. In a word: don’t. Any mishap – a fall, a bumped elbow, a dropped glass & the ensuing game of freeze & try to levitate – promised a scolding, & often the follow-up injury of a pinched ear or my upper arm squeezed in the vice of his hand. My mother tried to explain that he was only worried about me, that was why he yelled when I was hurt. He wanted me to be careful because he cared about me. I have my own opinions on this.
Once, when I was 3 or 4, I was walking around the backyard, singing to myself in a lovely, lonely moment. We were going to a party & I’d been wrangled into something ruffly: white tights, black Mary Janes, looking fly. I should have been in the backseat of the car with my coat, ready to go, hoping my presence would somehow spare me from being yelled at alongside my brothers for making us late (it wouldn’t have). It was cold, but I liked the feeling of the air on my arms. My father had left a razor blade on our picnic table, from a project he’d been working on. I picked it up, absently, singing long strings of mundane narration, probably singing about the blade, too. I didn’t realize I’d closed my hand around the blade until I saw the blood near my foot. I’d narrowly missed my shoes, & I remember being relieved I hadn’t messed up my stockings because my mother would be so mad. Carefully, holding my arms straight out in front of me like an Olympic diver on TV, I opened my hand over the grass, removed the blade with two fingertips. I looked into my cupped palm, watching the pool forming there. The cold licked at the cut, making me shiver. Then I squeezed my hand closed & ran gingerly to the garbage cans behind the house, dropping the blade into the empty one. That done, I stared at my hand & tried to figure out what to do. I would have to tell, I knew. I watched blood seeping between the seams of my fingers, & squeezed harder, trying to stop the bleeding like my mother, a nurse, had taught me. My palm pushed back with a surge of pain. I would have to tell, but I stayed for just another moment, a fistful of fire, a fistful of blood.