One of the cool things about having kids is reliving my childhood memories. A simple Elliott or Ian smile can send me racing back to the magic of a Santa Clause moment or that very first roller coaster ride like it happened yesterday. And at my age, nothing other than the previous five minutes ever feels like it happened just yesterday.
One of the un-coolest things about having kids is they can just as quickly drag you kicking and screaming back to a nightmare you had assumed was long ago erased as a consolation prize of growing old.
It was my birthday. My seventh or eighth as best as I can recall. (When the boys drag me back to these nightmares they are never so kind as to provide details like dates and times). I was standing at the bus stop with a group kids when a dog approached us looking very intent on catching a ride to school with us. It wasn’t until the other children started easing away from the dog that I noticed he was an unusual looking dog.
He was a Pit Bull, I think. At least a hundred pounds, maybe closer to a thousand. I’ll admit, it even surprised me when my 40 pound frame managed to lift the dog up where I wanted him. As little as I like kissing dogs these days, almost as little as I like kissing the active end of a blow torch, I’m not sure why I wanted him positioned where I settled with him.
I noticed the other kids digging through their pockets looking for their iPhones to snap a picture and transmit what they were witnessing out on Facebook. Then I saw the disappointment sweep over them one by one as they realized they still lived in an age of 25 pound rotary dial telephones that were securely bolted to the walls in their kitchens or on desks in some hidden room in their house. And that social media gone viral was nothing more than a few extra guests for dinner. But all the same, I had their attention. And so I puckered up. Leaned over to kiss the behemoth. Then let out a squeal when the thankless monster clamped hold of my bottom lip like it was a long lost chew toy.
I’d like to say the next part of this story involved an ambulance ride or frantic calls for a lip donor. But the next thing I recall is sitting on an examination table at the doctor’s office where my grandmother was a nurse. And for a moment I felt better. I was about to embrace the sympathy of a grandmother dealing with the pain and suffering of her only grandson.
“Why on earth would you pick up a stray puppy? Don’t you know they can get a little wild with their licking?” she asked, making no attempt to hold back the laughter.
So much for sympathy.
Then, like something right out of a Stephen King novel, my grandmother came at me with a needle. She drove it through my bottom lip like she was spearing fish. The look on my face was like the one frozen on the face of a man the instant before he fully absorbs the impact of an oncoming tractor trailer. Only this needle was much larger than a tractor or any trailer I had ever seen. I let out a scream that took over the airwaves for three city blocks. I know this because a dozen people representing each of those blocks appeared out of the blue and helped my grandmother hold me down while she chanted something about numbing me. To this day I have never felt anything more opposite of numbing.
I left that day with my longest lasting memory of a first shot. And I had several stitches in my mouth as well. At least that’s what I was told. I’m still not sure my grandmother and the doctor didn’t forgo stitches and instead transplant the zipper from my pants along the dog created crater in my bottom lip. That’s more what it felt like when they pulled the stitches up several days later.
I had nearly forgotten this nightmare. Until last Friday.
I was on the runway headed to the gate at the Richmond Airport after returning home from a quick jaunt to Ohio. I fired up my cellphone to reconnect with the piece of the world that wisely lives with their feet on the ground. When the phone had power, it immediately sounded the annoying alert that tells me I have a text message. It was from Katie.
“On my way to the hospital with Ian, it said.
Nothing can send fear through you quicker than those words.
“He fell off the monkey bars at school and probably needs stitches, it concluded.
And there my nightmare started.
At reading the mere texting of stitches, I broke into a cold sweat. I also felt the urge to race to the hospital and rescue little Ian from the needle wielding nurse and her helpers who likely had him pinned to the ground while he screamed helplessly for his daddy. But I reluctantly left his rescue to Katie.
They arrived home shortly after I read that text. Ian looked remarkably un-abused. Almost proud.
“How did it go,” I asked.
“He did great,” Katie said, “not a single tear.”
Seems they used a numbing gel instead of a shot when they put the six stitches in his chin. If my grandmother was alive, I would have called her and asked her if she knew anything about this gel 40 years ago. I presume she did not.
I looked over at Ian, a bit surprised at his bravery. He looked at me with a smirk that couldn’t have been any more full of gloating, as if he had somehow witnessed my first experience with stitches.
Before Ian broke out his Superman costume, I decided to go another route.
“How did you bust your chin anyways,” I asked.
“Doing the sky drop.”
Having not heard of the sky drop, I had to ask: “what is the sky drop.”
“That’s when you grab hold of the monkey bars and then you let go right away and drop to the ground.”
“And why would you do that,” I asked, slowly and a bit sarcastically.
“Because no one else has done it.”
I shook my head at him and then turned to Katie and asked her when Ian would have to go back to get his stitches out.
He doesn’t. They dissolve.
They dissolve, I repeated.
I looked back at Ian, and there was that smirk again. Now almost taunting.
It was hard not to be grateful that Ian didn’t live out my nightmare, or that he probably won’t recall his own experience as a nightmare at all. But I also had to wonder, just for a second, if I wasn’t born in the wrong medical era.