I consistently forget the steep learning curves with which children must contend. I sometimes assume my kids understand language, humor, and medical science at a college level; it should be easy for them to follow our lead at a fast clip. As someone who has gratuitously contemplated my childhood, I should have more empathy on hand for the challenges my children face. I'm hyper-cognizant of how I felt and thought as a kid, but I sometimes forget to extend that same level of awareness to my interactions with my kids.
When I was six, I became convinced I would become pregnant. I had spent two days at my older sister, Kathy's, house after she had a baby and had stumbled upon a hippy birthing book that probably no one should read, let alone a kid in first grade. I flipped through the book with horror. I saw grainy pictures of actual baby heads coming out of vaginas (which I assumed, at the time, was the same hole that pee came out of, so that was a whole other level of terror), and naked woman with a large belly having her breasts massaged by a naked man in a bathtub. The women didn't look too happy about it. I almost passed out, and then I cried. I knew I'd be in that bathtub sooner than I thought.
When I confided my fear to another older sister, Mary, her eyes went wide.
"Why would you think you were pregnant?" she hissed. "What happened to you? You gotta tell me."
Completely unaware that something had to happen for a girl to become pregnant, I blinked as a response.
"Lizzy," she begged. "Why are you saying this?"
"Cause I read a book and I don't want to have a baby in my body," I said.
"Oh," Mary said, relieved. She was able to breathe, again. "It's gonna be a long, long time before that happens. You have to have sex to become pregnant."
"What's sex?" I asked.
"Don't worry about all that right now," she said.
Since I didn't know what sex was, I became deeply paranoid that I might be having it without me even knowing it, like catching a cold. I continued to worry about becoming pregnant well into my 20's, which was when I got pregnant. Then I figured out how it all happens.
After that pregnancy, Darla was born. And then Jude. When I was younger, I thought the hardest part of having a baby was how you'd eventually have to push it out your urethra. That part is a nightmare and just the worst experience in the world, but having the kids out in the world is the hardest. There are so many opportunities to make mistakes and ruin their lives. Like, for instance, how I sometimes take for granted the information my kids are capable of grasping.
Darla is pronated with collapsed arches, so I brought her to the podiatrist to find out what we could do to help her. The doctor and I discussed various options for shoe inserts while Darla sat on the brown medical exam table, her bare feet with the long toenails I forgot to cut before the visit resting on a crinkly bit of white paper covered in blue, dancing bears. When the doctor and I landed on the best option for Darla, I asked whether we could get her fitted for them that day.
"Well," the doctor said. "We can't really do that today. It's such a messy process, and we're not set up for it. We'll schedule that for the next visit."
The doctor left, and I saw that Darla was sitting stiffly on the exam table.
"Please don't make me do that," she whined, her voice on the verge of hysterics as she climbed off the chair. She was in such a panic that she struggled to put her shoes back on when she sat on the floor of the doctor's office.
"Why not?" I asked. "It's not a big deal. All they do is put a plaster cast on your foot to make a replica of it, so they know how to make the inserts."
"How do they get it off your foot?" she asked.
"Well, I guess they either leave enough room to slip it off or else cut it off," I said as I helped her off the floor and put my purse over my shoulder.
"Please don't make me do that," she whispered. I ushered her out of the doctor's office unsure of why she didn't want to fix her gait.
As we drove home, I called Greg to give him an update on the appointment. Before I could tell him anything, Darla gave her summary.
"The doctor's going to cut off a part of my foot," Darla yelled. I looked at her in the rearview mirror to see if she was laughing, because I thought that was funny. She was as serious as I'd ever seen her. Her brow, partially covered by a mess of blonde hair that had come out of her ponytail while playing on the schoolyard that afternoon, was furrowed and tears welled up in her eyes.
At that moment, Darla's reality was that her mom was super nonchalant, and even a bit flippant, about her forthcoming amputation. Her head must have been swimming as she tried to wrap her head around what lay ahead of her and how to make herself as casual about it as I was. Her reasoning makes sense when you consider that her grandpa had three of his toes amputated when he was three years old, which is a story she had heard only the week before on a trip to San Diego.
"Oh no," I said. "Darla, have you just been sitting there thinking about how you were going to lose part of your foot?"
"Yeah," she said. "I thought that was what you meant. And the doctor said it would be messy and I thought he was talking about blood being messy."
"I promise you," I said as I looked at her in the rearview mirror. "If ever a doctor's going to do something serious that will hurt, I'll give you a heads up."
As I looked at her expression, I could tell she didn't believe me, and she still thought there was a high likelihood that she would have surprise surgery next time she went to the doctor. I know this because I, also, was still convinced that I'd get pregnant when I was six even after my sister told me I wouldn't. Darla and I both know that adults are all just liars who will tell us what we want to hear so we'd leave them alone and they can never be trusted.