Yesterday I had to take my beloved boy Ezra (6) to get some follow-up blood work at the doctor office to investigate more thoroughly some of the numbers that had returned from the tests we had gotten the week prior. Nothing dramatically troubling at this point, just some slight abnormalities worthy of investigation.
Well, needless to say, getting blood drawn from his arm is not my boy’s favorite way to spend a free morning with his Mama. But Ezra is a pretty fearless soul by nature, and so he was buoyant and open-minded until the actual moment came, sitting on my lap in the lab, with the rubber tourniquet tight around his upper arm, while we removed the bandaids that had numbing cream under them, in support of inviting as painless a procedure as possible.
We watched as the nurse kindly and gently prepared the needle and vials in front of us, and then suddenly I felt Ezra tightening and tensing his body against mine, everything in his body instantly transforming into “No!”
The nurse opened the needle and I held his arm steady. And then he suddenly strongly twisted his arm out of the range, making the vein inaccessible, and began resisting, loudly, saying: “I’m not ready, I’m not ready! I don’t like the needle! Is it going to hurt? What will it feel like? Can I feel how sharp it is? Can we do it later? I don’t want to do this Mom!” I could feel my own body and heart getting tense in the face of his resistance.
The nurse undid the tourniquet around his little arm, put the needle away, and for about 5 minutes we talked to him kindly about how it was going to be over fast, and that the sting would only last a second, and remember how last week, it really wasn’t that bad? I also told him it wasn’t a choice; that we needed to get a blood test, in service of his health, and that when we were done we would go get some kind of delicious treat. (Ok?! Please, please already?!)
I could feel the tension in my voice. It was hard for me to be soft with him, even though of course I knew it made sense~ he’s a little boy, exceptionally present inside his body, and he doesn’t want to get pricked by that scary needle!
We started the whole procedure again, the nurse opened the needle again, and once again right at the last minute he started squirming his arm out of place again, yelling loudly: “No! I don’t want it! I won’t let you! Will it hurt?? I don’t want it!!” He was so strong that we really couldn’t do it safely without his participation.
Now I felt outright frazzled and frustrated, my poor nerves fried, fresh wrinkles surfacing on my face, and I could tell the nurse was losing patience. She had other things to do. I apologized to her, picked up Ezra swiftly and took him all the way outside the building, where I kneeled down in front of him. His face looked very small and bewildered and his usually bright eyes were dark with concern.
I was very tough with him and said something like: “Listen, My love. I know you’re scared, and I totally get that you don’t like this, but sometimes in life we have to do scary things that we don’t like. Dr. Tory says we need to get this test, and we trust her, so we are going to do it. I’m sorry about this, and I also need you to make this easier. We have other things we need to do in our day, and so does the nurse. I will hold you close, we will take some deep breaths together, let the nurse take your blood, and then it will be over, ok? Please? Please can you be brave?” He nodded meekly in compliance, and we went back inside.
We sat there waiting for what felt like forever for the nurse to return to us. While we waited, my little precious son sitting on my lap, his small spine pressed into my heart, I contemplated what made me feel so frustrated and impatient with his fear around this small, but still invasive medical procedure. I could feel now the shame of my impatience, mixed with the grumpiness of my stress, and I was burning in the combination.
I flashed on myself as a child, and the many intensely invasive procedures I had suffered through even before my 2nd birthday, spinal taps and such, and then continuously throughout my childhood; my childhood path having been a very medically complicated one.
By the time I was Ezra’s age I was jacked up on asthma meds, getting allergy shots every week, painful injections that stung and ached as the substance filled my small arm muscle. I wore leg braces to help alleviate the nerve damage in my legs left by Meningitis. In some real way I had become detached from my body by then; it wasn’t a big deal for me. I had suffered so much worse, pain-wise, and had witnessed so many very sick and dying children, what was the routine shot or blood test? Not much of anything to complain about, clearly.
I reflected with sadness, seeing how because of my own medical ordeals and detachment from my body as a child, it is challenging for me now to truly empathize with my little ones about how understandably scary and invasive and unnatural it feels to be pricked by a needle, to have our blood drawn from our flesh and taken away from us in little vials to be tested.
When the nurse returned, Ezra resisted slightly for only a moment, I held his arm steady, whispering soothing words in his ear, and it was quickly over. He was immediately sheepish, admitting: “It really didn’t hurt at all! I couldn’t even feel it actually at all, Mom. It was easy. I forgot about how it was easy.” I still felt tense, triggered by the unnecessary stress of the process, and activated around my dis-compassionate impatience with his fear.
As we walked out to the car, we held hands, quietly trying to diffuse the tension together. Ezra said, with deep sincerity: “I’m sorry I made such a drama about that mom. I’m sorry I was resisting.” My heart felt tight, and I said, still tensely: “I hear you my love. You were just scared and that makes sense. I’m still feeling tense about it, but I’m trying to open. I wish I could have been more patient with you.”
We got into the car, and as we started to drive I looked into the rear view mirror where I could see him in his car seat with his head hung low. I asked: “What is it baby?” He said, so sadly: “I’m feeling like your stupidest boy.” Oh god. This broke my heart completely, and I made eye contact with him in the mirror, gushing: “What?! You are my most beloved boy!”
He said: “I made such a big deal about that blood test and it was really fine.” I said: “Yes~ that’s great to see. But now you can forgive yourself. It’s ok that you were scared. I get it, I forgive you, and I love you.” And then I added: “I feel so badly that I couldn’t be more patient and loving with you when you were scared. I was frustrated and got sharp with you.” He nodded, and then said graciously: “It’s ok Mama.” I said: “Thank you, Love. Yes, I am open to forgiving myself. Can you forgive yourself, too?” He smiled at me in the mirror wholeheartedly, and said: “Yes.”
And so we moved on into the next moment of our day, him babbling joyously about the clouds shaped like dragons and skateboarding and Luke Skywalker. And I considered once again how life and relationship is really an ongoing experience of opening, closing, wounding, repairing, mistaking and forgiving. Right? We just keep showing up with all good intentions and deep limitations, our sometimes pathetic “best”, to then be humbled by our clear seeing, our remorse and truth telling, our self-compassion and loving forgiveness.
What else can we do? Love. Hurt. Feel the broken heart. Tell the truth. Stretch. Forgive. Open. Love. Begin again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.