My Best Shot
Last week, my ninth and youngest child received his "eighteen-months-old" round of immunization shots. That used to be a really big day for each of my children because it meant NO MORE SHOTS until they turned 5 and entered school (yipee!). This time, however, I actually forgot about it. So much so, that I didn't even make the appointment. I remembered 2 months late, so he was actually 20 months old.
This absent-mindedness took me by surprise. For a minute, I felt like a really bad mommy. What if he had contracted a fatal childhood disease during those two months? It would have been all my fault. I shuttered. It was only later that day that I realized on a deeper level what this experience actually signified for me.
While there in the doctor's office, waiting for the nurse to enter with her fateful needle, my mind raced back in time to my eldest son's immunizations. The first time there at the clinic in Berkeley, I was so terrified, I couldn't speak. I was immobile. Fear clutched my heart. My heart raced, my hands were clammy. I wondered if I were really doing the right thing. I knew he'd never understand the sudden, unprovoked pain. I knew he'd see my face in that painful moment. I knew he'd blame me and I couldn't explain how it was all done in love for his sake. I wanted to scoop my son out of the clutches of nurse Dakia (she had super long fingernails that curved around themselves, I'm not sure how she even wielded that needle, but she was very good at it), and run from the building screaming, "Mommy will save you!"
Everything happened in slow motion. I tried to look away and still brace him. I tried to prepare him for the inevitable, but I knew I could not. He had no idea what it would feel like until it happened, and then, he would never understand why it had happened. It broke my naive mommy heart.
When the deed was done, I was crying along with my son. I held him, we rocked and shook with tears, together. It seemed as if he cried for days afterwords. Anytime I looked at him, he seemed to communicate, "Traitor! Why???" (I was perhaps reading into this a little, since he was only two months old). I could not find peace.
After that, I made my husband take him to the clinic. I just didn't have the fortitude to watch my precious, blameless son be pricked and poked unwittingly. I cried at home just thinking about it. I felt so close to my Heavenly Father as I pondered His feelings for His Only Begotten Son, the spotless Lamb who was bruised, broken, torn for us.
My irrationality continued. Take choking for example. As a new mother, I freaked out whenever I perceived that the baby was choking. I would panic, kinda scream for John, then I'd overreact and grab the baby and start whacking him for dear life. Finally I'd throw the poor thing over my knees and do "baby heimlich" as I had been instructed in CPR certification class.
As time has gone on, however, I have learned many things (parenthood is a great classroom!).
For one thing, I have learned that most of the time, babies are not actually choking. If I give them 30 seconds, they can usually swallow or spit out the questionable food/item. It works itself out. Sometimes, mild effort on my part is needed, but I can do this quite calmly now. In fact, when children yell that there has been an emergency somewhere in my house, I usually ask, "Is there blood?" instead of moving obstacles with herculean strength and hurtling tall buildings to get there. Believe it or not, this attitude shift is progress for me.
I see that I have now gained perspective. I have learned that children need to be left alone sometimes to work out their own problems. They become stronger and wiser as they do. And I am less crazy (but only slightly).
Also I have learned that pain is sometimes necessary for growth. Sometimes even undeserved pain is necessary.
Recently I tuned into an NPR piece speaking of faith and science. The guests were two self-proclaimed atheists. They were married to each other, each were also scientists. They were highly intelligent, kindly people. When asked why they were atheists, the woman said something that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. She said that when she was seventeen, her mother died of cancer. She decided then that there must not be a God. She decided that no loving parent type being could ever do that to their child. She reasoned, quite naturally, that no Father would take a sweet mother away from her three young children. This experience was too painful. Because of something so painful, something so beyond her understanding or control had happened in her life, her faith in God died too.
In that moment, I didn't hear an intelligent, reasonable scientist. I heard a scared, scarred little girl. I wanted to scoop her up and say "I'll heal you!" I wanted to share with her the amazing plan of salvation. I wanted to explain and testify of the all powerful Atonement. I wanted to hold her and let her cry on my shoulder. I wanted to tell her that God is real, that he is really her Father and that He knows and loves her. I wanted to tell her that her mother's suffering and death were of great meaning. I wanted to tell her that as her Father, God was always watching out for her and was sending her experiences and opportunities for great joy, peace and happiness if she would just trust Him and learn to ride the tidal wives that sometimes come into our lives. I then understood why I had forgotten to make the appointment. It was because, over these last eighteen years, I have learned this lesson. Shots have become not such a big deal to me anymore, because I understand why they are necessary and I understand that, like mortality, the pain is only temporary. Children emerge from the doctor's office a little stronger and a little more prepared (immune) against future attempts by the destroying angel. Instead of dreading that appointment, I hadn't even thought of it.
I further realized that day how much influence we have on our young children. They look to us to know how to respond to the world around them. Perhaps my other children have reacted so badly to shots, because I reacted so badly!! Now that I am so changed, my 20 month old hardly even flinched! I still had to hold him down and look reassuringly into his confused eyes. But this time, I smiled a real smile. He cried, but I hopped him up to standing, gave him a hug and kiss, told him it was over and it was all good! He looked at me, cocked his head, as if he really believed me! That was it. No more crying, nothing. We smiled together. I have never left the doctor's office without the shot-ee screaming. Not until that day last week. Wow. We've all changed a lot.
Now I realize, when the Lord sends trials my way, He is really saying, "I love you!" "I'm doing this for your growth and strength, for your good, even if you don't understand now." I trust Him, Who is mighty to save. Now, instead of fighting and flinching, I try more often to see it from my Father's perspective. I hope that when this life is over, I can honestly say, "I gave it my best shot!"