Emily Parnell — Teach them to take care of the pain, and about healing

04/22/2014 11:22 AM

04/22/2014 11:23 AM

Inspiration for today’s column came to me, as with many other columns, after I had turned in for the evening. It was in the dark of my room, in the quiet of a sleeping household, where I sprawled on the floor writhing in pain, that I thought, “I should write about this.”

I’ve been trying to write about my attempts to be use more positive language with my children, Cooper and Sylvia. So far, I’m 0 for 2, as I have only come up with reasons to not use positive language. Last week, I ranted about insincere compliments designed to obscure criticism. And this week? Read on…

My husband was gone, enjoying a much-deserved night out. The kids were worn out and went to bed with nary a complaint. I was nearly asleep when my eyes popped open. I’d left pizza sitting out on the counter. Grumbling, I heaved myself out of bed and headed to put it away. But I didn’t get far.

Trudging through my dark bedroom, my right big toe caught the hem of my left pajama-pant leg. They’re roomy, comfy, flannel jammies that I love to wear. But they’re a bit too long – long enough that they hooked over my right toe. My right leg got the message too soon, and continued forward, as my toe bent outward, stuck in the other pant leg. I flew forward, landing on my hands and knees, wondering if I’d possibly ripped my big toe completely off.

It hurt. Every bit of my toe – and up into my foot – felt crushed, mangled and bruised. I hugged my knee to my chest, waiting for it to feel better. But it didn’t. As it throbbed, my face grew clammy, and I felt weak. Faint. Nauseated.

The voice in my head scolded me. This is what you get. This is revenge for the last time Cooper stubbed his toe. When you told him to walk it off … that he was fine … to be more careful ….

I scooted on my rear end into the bathroom, fearing I would throw up.

I thought to myself that if Cooper showed up in the doorway and said, “Get up … you need to walk around … try blowing on it … you’re fine …,” I might just flip my lid.

I remember him howling as he hopped around, protecting a freshly stubbed toe. He wanted empathy – and let me know it, saying, “Do you have any idea how bad this hurts? You should stub your toe and see how it feels.”


I couldn’t see a clock from the bathroom floor where I sat, convalescing and moaning, so I don’t know how long it was before I gingerly got to my feet, then hobbled to the kitchen to put away the pizza. It might have been 10 minutes or so. I will tell you, at no time during that 10 minutes would words trying to minimize my situation have been well-received. Offers of help? Maybe. A pack of ice? Sure. Prescription pain meds? Absolutely. But nobody needed to tell me to look at the bright side.

Sometimes we want to tell our kids that everything will be fine. We know from experience that it will. Friendships mend, embarrassments fade, and stubbed toes eventually stop throbbing. But telling them it’s all OK does nothing. As our school nurse said, they need information to learn how to read the situation and understand what’s to come. I learned this a couple years ago when my daughter was unreasonably hysterical about a light scratch on her forehead. Eventually, it came to light that she thought it was permanent – that she would always have a long, skinny scratch on her face. Apparently, I’d not taught her about healing.

What do we need to do? We need to lay it on the table, and tell it straight. And all the while, we need to teach them about healing. That it takes time – that we need to take care of the pain – but that someday it will be better.


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