As I lay on my bed yesterday evening, my four-year-old suddenly bounced onto my rib-cage WWE style, and it struck me that parenting involves a fair amount of physical pain. And endurance. And sometimes bravery, while holding back tears. Today is just a regular day, but putting trousers on the wrestler involved being kicked; manhandling him into the car seat meant being pushed, and manoeuvring him to the dinner table ended with him sitting on my hand. The one with the broken finger. Did I mention the broken finger? That injury wasn’t down to the small boy – it was the fault of a rushing mother who was too busy one Monday morning to move either the laundry basket or the child who were blocking her way, and stepped over them instead.
The resulting fall broke a finger, though I didn’t know it at the time. I did go to A & E, but was told the wait would be four hours, so went to the chemist instead. The pharmacist said it was probably just sprained and I should tape it up myself – a homemade splint. So I did. And when it was still looking and feeling awful two months later, I went to have it seen to, and it turns out it’s an awkward fracture that would need surgery to fix and that the surgery would most likely be unsuccessful. So I have a really crooked finger from a badly healed fracture, because I tripped over a child and a laundry basket. This motherhood thing is a dangerous game.
Three days after the fall, my husband went away for the weekend, so I had to get back to driving and lifting and carrying and general sucking-it-up. I clearly remember changing the youngest, who was going through that kicking stage – constantly kicking as hard as he could during every nappy change. The pain of being kicked in a broken digit is something I’d have underestimated if I hadn’t experienced it in real life. Not up there with childbirth, and not exactly like a twelve-hour labour either, but three years later, the memory is painfully clear.
Another long phase within the violence of parenting is the scratching stage – when little nails are lethal talons no matter how often you cut them, because they grow six inches overnight every night. And little arms are flailing, like windmills on speed. An under-the-eye scratch is always a particularly stinging experience and takes longer to heal than say your average top of cheek scratch. If you’re lucky, you just get a lower neck/ décolletage region mark – sore but easy to hide. I’ve always wanted to say décolletage.
Then there’s every visible cut and bruise and spot that I’ve had in the last eight years; magnets to curious child fingers. “What’s that mum?” asks someone small, stabbing her finger at a particularly fiery, bulbous spot. “Does that hurt?” asks someone else, digging into a big purple bruise on my shin. A bruise that came about when I tripped over a puppy on a skateboard (toy, not real) that someone small left in the middle of the floor.
I’m wondering now if perhaps the physicality of childbirth is a preparation of sorts – getting us ready for a decade or so of being pushed and pulled and pummelled; of being brave and sucking it up. I say decade, because I presume there comes a time when they will no longer dive-bomb onto my head or bounce on my ribcage. And truthfully, there’s a chance I’ll miss it. A small, tiny, under-the-eye-scratch-sized chance.