Elsie is holding her belly and laughing—a big belly laugh—at an episode of Shaun the Sheep that she has seen many times before. And seeing that, all is forgiven.
We are home from our trip to the health centre, where I took her for her three-and-a-half-year-assessment. She starts three-year-old kinder at Easter and needs to have been assessed by then, even though she’s not yet three-and-a-half. Still, I drove in to town confident of a ‘pass’; it was only this morning that she said, after looking unsuccessfully in a bag for a toy she was chasing, ‘Oh, I’m afraid it’s not in here.’
What I didn’t count on was the fear and crying that accompanied our entry into the nurse’s office, an office where there has only been pleasant experiences, a corner full of toys, mobiles hanging from the ceiling above the scales and colourful couches. There has been no pain in this room (although the health centre nurse is also the one who administers the monthly immunisations at the Town Hall so I can see some cause for concern on a small child’s part), but the sobbing today bordered on hysterical.
‘You remember how stressful it was for her to be intubated?’ I asked Anthony when I arrived home this evening, ‘Well, that was nothing compared to being weighed and measured.’
I was torn today between reprimanding a three-year-old who I thought was being just plain naughty and uncooperative, and wanting to bundle her up in my arms and protect her from any health worker who may be heading her way, armed with a drip, vaccination, eye test wire, ventilation tube, or in this case, soft, plastic measuring tape.
Was the reaction today due to her medical history and the physical pain and discomfort that were the only sensations she knew for so much of her early life? Or was it the reaction of a toddler—okay, so I deleted ‘difficult’ and put ‘normal’, but then deleted that too. Who am I, mother of one toddler, to say or know what’s normal, and what’s difficult, for that matter? Difficult because I had to hold her, kicking and screaming while the health centre nurse gently wrapped the measuring tape around her head, because I held her clinging to my side on the digital scales, then placed her sobbing on the floor out of arm’s reach to weigh myself so we could subtract my weight from our combined weight, and because then I tried to stand her upright under the pulldown tape to measure her height against the wall while she cried and clung to my crouched form.
She requests to weigh herself on digital scales at Nanna’s every time we visit. She stands straight and proud against the wall at home when Anthony wants to place a texta mark on the door frame to record her height.
I tried all of the tricks I knew. At the start I was friendly and fun, trying to entice her into the room—I knew at that point that it wasn’t going to go well—with delightful realisations that the doll’s pram was indeed here, just like we’d wondered. Then I moved onto firmer I’m-the-boss-type methods. From there, I tried lures of chocolate frogs at the park after the weigh and measure, or at least just after the ‘pirate game’ then (an eye test with a patch to cover one eye before recognising different shapes or letters from a distance).
The health nurse asked if Elsie wanted to come back another time. ‘Yes,’ Elsie sobbed. ‘No!’ I blurted. Surely I’ll have the same trouble next time? In hindsight, we probably should have come back, even if it was just half an hour later.
During a pause in Elsie’s string of ‘I don’t want to’s, the nurse asked Elsie what she did want to do. I hadn’t thought of that. Should I have thought of that?
After the struggling and crying on Elsie’s part and my feelings of ‘Is THIS approach right? She’s a health nurse; she knows how a good parent would handle this situation?’ we left. I told Elsie when we got outside that there was no chocolate frog after that carry-on. But I felt we still had to go to the playground as yesterday I promised that’s what we’d do.
At the playground I pushed Maeve on the swing and tried to be nice to Elsie. She was oblivious and played beautifully an imaginary game about the bear and the whale pictured on a (The Bear & The Whale) postcard out of my handbag on the ground. From there we went to the library (the next venue we had discussed yesterday and looked forward to). Maeve cried. ‘This isn’t working,’ I said accusingly at Elsie. ‘Maeve needs to be in bed. Let’s go.’ Elsie followed me out without an objection or comment and skipped her way happily to the car.
What’s the right thing to do in that situation?
Would it be wrong to have walked straight into the Botanical Hotel across the road and asked for something strong? As a double. No ice.
Maeve went straight to bed when we got home and Elsie is eating sausage rolls. She’s asking me to pretend to be Nanna and serve the sausage rolls ‘café-style’ like Nanna does with a menu, seating and lots of fuss. And that insecure doubting part of my motherhood asks, ‘Does she want you to be Nanna because the café game is fun, or because she, too, doesn’t want you to be you today? ’
Forgiven. And almost forgotten. I look at her now and laugh also; at the holding of the belly, the sound of her laugh, and the ear-to-ear-grin as she looks at me and then back at the hilarious scene on TV.