"the name for God in the lips and hearts of children"

Yesterday afternoon I held my son down for several moments as a nurse injected his legs four times with needles: vaccines to protect him – and other children – from nasty infectious diseases. It was an overt betrayal, the type I’ve rarely participated in against my children. Nels cried and yelled: “OK, OK, OK! I’m done! That’s enough!” I could see his suffering, smell his hot little head, hear his panic; I was with him while he was crystallized in pain and fear.

I am a Big Girl as a mama now and don’t always feel the sting of tears when my children are hurt or maligned; not because I don’t ache for them but because I want to be present for them during these moments, not distracted by my mixed emotions. In these moments holding Nels I was thinking, though, about how many of our decisions as parents are, well, arbitrary. We hope for and thrive off the support and likeminded choices of our peer group, our families, our heroes, and if or when this kind of herd mentality is nonexistent, we can suffer very much indeed.

Vaccinations, for me, represent this truth – the fact we are, in the final analysis, alone in our choices as parents. In the case of inoculations there are so many wildly disparate, vociferous opinions, backed with empirical evidence, science or pseudo-science on both sides. I am helpless now, in the doctor’s examination room, my husband and I having made our decision based on what information we trust, and our choices being played out in such a stark way – our child howling and crying.

This afternoon my son removed his four bandages on his own in the bathroom – one bloody, presumably from his first shot where his wiry body convulsed and threw the nurse half across the room (I felt a kind of twisted maternal satisfaction at her grunt of “Jesus Christ!” or some other expletive, surprised by his strength). Bloody bandage cast aside, Nels has moved on. He is either safer or less safe based on our decision (although he obviously did not have a negative reaction from the vaccines) and in any case, remains completely trusting in me for the care of his person.

A gift, an amazing responsibility, a truth that plays out daily.

Suse, Self-Portrait

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