brave girlJanuary 26, 2011
We’ve long told Mara — mostly in medical contexts, I admit — that being brave means doing the right thing even when you don’t want to do it. This means that even though being in a doctor’s office sends her into a meltdown with hysterical crying and sometimes hyperventilating, she knows what she’s supposed to do and we trust her to be able to do as much as she can. In general, this has been working and we celebrate her for being brave as she does get a little better at managing each time we see the doctor.
Last night was her little test procedure, which didn’t work out at all as we’d been told it would. Instead of a female doctor, we got a male doctor from exactly the demographic that scares Mara even on top of doctors frightening Mara. She was completely freaked out, screaming and shaking. I had to hold her for the whole examination while Lee cowered in her chair. It wasn’t pleasant for any of us, and I don’t think we even particularly enjoyed the celebratory ice cream after. Mara was snifflingly satisfied when she was able to say “All done!” and we did indeed remind her how brave she was to go through with it. She didn’t sleep too well, a lot of talking in her dreams, and was extra cuddly when she woke up, but it’s done, all done.
Lee has often told Mara, “Mommy and I never want to hurt you!” I’m really opposed to that because, well, I don’t want Mara to throw it back in my face when I’m using tweezers to dig a splinter out of her hand or what have you. I mean, I don’t want her to think that we want to hurt her and I don’t believe she does, but I also don’t want to promise we can keep her from harm (which is what Lee wants to do, and I understand why, though I’ve made her tone her statements down to the one I quoted) when we know that there are lots of things in the world that are painful and unpleasant and many of them do have to be lived through.
Mara’s already had a lot of pain in her life, but I don’t think our job is to keep her from more pain. When she hated baths, we still made her keep taking baths until finally one day she realized she could have fun in them. Now she’s cool with the bath thing, but washing hair is still a huge challenge, one that also comes with my restraining her while she has what seems to be a panic attack. And yet she still has her hair washed every two weeks, and like with our regular doctor visits, it gets a little easier every time.
Our differences of opinion are not anything I’m going to argue with Lee about at this point, but I’m thinking about them now. We make a big deal about Mara being brave because it lets her reframe her experience in a way that marks her successes and not her failures. We don’t say, “Sheesh, kid, you screamed so loudly they could hear you in the lobby!” even when that’s true. Instead we say, “Hey, you were scared and you cried but you got through it and I’m proud you did!” and I particularly don’t care if that would make Amy Chua weep. Still, we need to be thinking about how we’re framing our own experiences as parents and how that influences what we do.
It’s hard to be brave when our little girl is hurting, but we can do the right thing even when we don’t want to. And since yesterday’s doctor didn’t find any evidence that anything’s wrong, we can hope and push for no repeats of this test or at least not under the same circumstances. It could have been worse, but while we can’t keep Mara from pain or unpleasantness, we can definitely advocate to make things better for her. We’re all still learning. Maybe that never stops.