We called my little sister, Lily, “Boo-Boo” when she was a little kid because she was a total bruiser. Forever covered in Band-Aids and purple-brown bruises, she was banging herself up as she moved through the world, unphased.
When I was little, I was “Snuggle Bunny” because I so much loved being hugged, kissed, cradled, and soothed. I cried and cried if I stubbed my toe and milked the comfort and affection that came after.
I had always thought fondly back on this aspect of my personality as a child – I was so sweet, affectionate, and sensitive. And Lily was tough, obstinate, and brooding.
But we are now in the boo boo phase with Maya, and I am gaining a whole new perspective on the spectrum of dealing with life’s scrapes and scratches, bumps and bruises.
I know I may be looking a little too deeply into this as an indicator of who Maya will be as a person, but it seems like how one deals with setbacks, falling down, etc. shapes a lot of who they are. And I know she’s only three and this is normal for her age and development, and her attitude is nowhere near set in stone, but I do think that our narrative and response as parents is creating the vocabulary she will use when she has only her internal voice to comfort her after a fall.
When Sean and I were a new couple, we went to a Saturday in Saxapahaw: every weekend in the summer, the tiny but charming town has a festival on their town green with music, food trucks, activities for kids, etc. We were standing and talking to a friend that we had run into (Hi, Jill!) when a little boy came racing past us and totally wiped out on the hill in front of us. My first reaction, and that of many adults, is to coo, “Oh, honey! Are you okay?” but Sean shouted out, “Nice fall, buddy! Great catch! Great landing!” and the kid picked himself up, brushed himself off and smiled at us, clearly proud. It was right then I decided that Sean would be a great dad.
When Maya was born, we agreed that this was the attitude we would take for daily bumps and bruises. Kids fall down all the time, and barring serious injury, we didn’t want that to slow her down.
This worked for the first few years. Time and time again, at the playground, the mall, the house, she would run past, wipe out, and Sean and/or I would barely cease our adult conversation to throw out a quick, “nice catch, kiddo!” and she would pick herself up, brush off, and move on. I secretly basked in the surprise of surrounding adults who were shocked at her lack of tears and sniffling.
But the last few months, Maya has been THE BIGGEST BABY about boo-boos. I thought at first it was just a ploy to get more Band-Aids, but now it’s getting out of hand.
I think it started when Maya was fearlessly running down our sloped, paved driveway in her bare feet. I love that fearlessness. But as she neared the bottom, she accidentally dragged her feet a bit and scraped most of the skin off of her big toe. Ouch! Yuck!
Of course, Sean was out of town.
I took her over to my mother in law’s; I needed an extra set of hands to help hold her down while I poured hydrogen peroxide on the wound. Nana cuddled her and cooed while I tortured her with looking at and cleaning her toe. Then I ran to the store to get Band-Aids. The kid was a gory mess and an emotional wreck, so I got princess Band-Aids: a desperate mama trying to distract her baby from pain and fear (and I really think her fear was way worse than the pain – the toe was pretty gross looking.)
Ever since then, the tiniest scratch has been a 30 minute cry fest. I remember how much I loved and needed the hugs and kisses when I felt hurt or vulnerable as a child. So I have been giving the hugs and kisses (Let’s be honest, I am still “Snuggle Bunny” so I am getting my fix on the affection as well), but once she has used up the available parent’s comfort reserves: “Okay, Maya, you’re okay; it’s not that bad,” she moves on to tearfully saying, “I want Nana,” or “I want Daddy,” or “I want Gigi,” and then we have to Facetime with that person to draw out the cooing and soothing time.
I look back now, and wonder whether it was a mistake to show how freaked out I was by her scraped-off toe. If I had just said, “Oh, that looks bad, but it’s no big deal,” would I have avoided setting off this dramatic boo-boo streak?
We have reverted back to our rhetoric about Maya being “tough as nails” and asking her what to do when she falls down. She still replies, “Get back up.”
I am hoping this is a phase, but I guess I turned out just fine – I still like cuddling and snuggling a whole lot; my mom jokes that I had kids just so I could continue to get my fill of hugs and kisses. And and I love that, after Sean puts her to bed, Maya asks me to snuggle for just a few minutes. Last night she said, “I love to sleep in your neck” and that is the most wonderful thing ever.
But Maya has always been tougher than me – and I don’t want her to be afraid of life. I want her to be more of a go getter than I ever have been. More like my sister, who also turned out just fine – better than fine. She is no longer brooding, but she is tough and hard working. She goes after exactly what she wants and she puts her strength behind it – be it intellectual, creative, or physical. In fact, Cole and I are traveling to NYC this weekend to see Lily in the season’s last roller derby tournament. She is Lil’ Mighty – part of the Gotham City Roller Girls – something I would NEVER do, no matter how much I like roller skates.