Leaning over, I notice my 4 year old's right eye is pink, which confirms an earlier suspicion.
Before I even know I'm going to, I say, Oh, baby, you have an eye infection. I'll have to put in drops.
Why did I say that out loud?
He starts howling. No no no drops, NOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo (breath in) OOOOOOOOOOoooo...
Arms flailing, he pulls his t-shirt up to cover his head, armorizing this barrier by crossing his arms across his forehead and eyes. The howl continues.
Babe, you're upset. Let's have a conversation about this.
No. No way. No way Mom. I don't want a conversation. I don't want a conversation and then the drops. No drops. No conversation. No way. No. No. No.
He's sobbing and hiccuping. A few more rounds of the same, and he starts to quiet, but continues rocking with his arms over his t-shirt covered head.
Do you need a hug?
He lowers his arms and his head emerges from the shirt. I pull him gently onto my lap, consciously making my arms the safest place in the world. He sags against me, his head bowed. I slow and exaggerate my breathing, and he unconsciously begins to slow his breaths. Then he kind of convulses once; a beat passes, and his hands are starting to wave as he's working himself up again. He throws his head from side to side, screaming No, No, pulling out of my arms.
He runs behind a chair and pulls the throw from the chair-back over his head. I stay where I am. I breathe once. twice. slower. three. . . four. . . five. I survey the situation. What is the status of this battle?
I have no doubt that we will put the drops in. What I am evaluating is timing. Is it better to see this through to the bitter end, so as not to waste the patience and vehemence we've already spent? Or, to let it go for now and try again later?
Experience tells me that, later, he will have renewed his energy and he will go through the exact same level of response to his dislike of the drops. Then he will have done it twice before we're forced to force him. So, it seems to me the better thing for him would be to see it through now, but only under one condition: my state of mind must allow me to do so without becoming upset. If I get angry or impatient, he will dissolve into hysterics.
I check in on myself. I actually feel pretty calm. I try to identify all the emotions I'm feeling, and weigh them. I'm sad that he's so upset. I also wish that we were done with this battle. I push on that wish and find I don't feel resentful about it. Good.
I wish that he didn't have to have the drops. I push on that - will I give in and wait until tomorrow in order to save him now? No. Okay.
I wish that he would accept the inevitability and cooperate to make it easier for me. That wish feels a little dangerous to me, like a package left at a bus station that could be a time bomb or old cheese. When a wish feels like that, I know from experience that success requires actively deciding to let that wish go.
Can I let it go? Can I stop wishing for cooperation and just make it as comfortable and loving as possible if I don't manage to convince him?
Yes I can. Phew!
I probe a little deeper. Do I feel any anger with him for not coming around to cooperation? No, he's right, it hurts and this is a natural reaction. Do I feel impatient with him for not being developmentally mature enough to accept that the drops are needed? I am relieved to find no impatience. He's behaving exactly as he ought to for his capabilities. I'm often unreasonably impatient, so I'm happily surprised.
I feel resigned to knowing I will do my best explaining why, and he will respond how he needs to. Then I will hold him in my arms as gently as I can while my husband drops drops into his eye.
Okay then, I think I can stay calm. I feel almost giddy with relief - so many times I reach and reach to feel calm when I really don't, but I think this is real. I can just move through what needs to happen with him, and I don't need any particular kind of participation from him. I will do what is needed to keep him safe and whole, in as respectful and loving a way as I can. He will respond as he is able, and I think I can love and support him through it. Cool.
So one more try to see if he decides to come with me, if not willingly, at least of his own volition.
I move the chair he's behind so that I can join him, but I don't touch the blanket he's hiding under. I sit on the floor, my head resting on the side of the chair, and regard him. I focus on my regard for him as a person, my love for him, and my compassion for how hard this is for him.
NO. NO. I don't WANT a CONVERSATION! No conversation!
You don't want to understand why I need to put the drops in your eyes?
No! I don't want to understand! There's no understanding! I want to talk at you, I want you to LISTEN! No drops. Not now. Not EVER. Never. No drops at all. Zero. Stop. None. No conversation!
You're telling me very clearly that you don't want the drops.
He comes out from under the blanket. I get a few more rounds of "No, no drops" and variations on that them. I don't say anything. I wait until he seems to be petering out again, and again I offer a hug. He slouches and slithers himself almost reluctantly into my arms, but melts against me while he cries his heart out. I pet his head. After a minute or two, I say,
Your body is working hard to fight the germs in your eye.
He doesn't say anything, but a slight shift in his body tells me I got a little interest.
But the germs are STRONG! The germs are HURTING your eye!
He shifts around so his back is against my chest. I'm about to explain about the drops helping his eyes, when he turns suddenly to me with the air of a desperate man begging for help.
Maybe we can use something to help fight the germs, like some strong drops that don't hurt.
I can feel my face crumple, my eyes moisten.
I wish we could, I say, but he's slumped down in a heap of sobbing on my lap even before the words are half spoken.
I wish there were drops that could help and don't hurt you, but I've never found drops like those.
Maybe we could go to the doctor. I want to go to the doctor, he says with the defiance of one who thinks he's found a legitimate loophole.
We can't go to the doctor right now, they're closed. And his drops might hurt too.
Oh, oh, I don't LIKE it! I don't LIKE it! It hurts and I don't like it to hurt!
You don't have to like it, sweetie. It just is. You can dislike it while we put in the drops because we need to keep you safe, and your eye needs help.
I WON'T be brave for the drops! I won't be brave!
You don't need to be brave, sweetie. I'll hold you carefully so that daddy can put in the drops and you don't need to worry about holding still.
His protests rise and fall, but his spirit is that of the defeated. I realize this is the best I can hope for, and delaying any further just becomes a session in torture for all of us. He understands the reason, even accepts the reason, though he doesn't like the outcome. I've done my duty to him as a fellow human. He doesn't need to cooperate, we just need to get this done.
He struggles when I pick him up, but I work hard to maintain the balance between gentle and losing control of his person. I opt for gentle when pushed, releasing him and then picking him up again. We make our way to the sofa this way, where I gently pull him on top of me, talking softly in a patter stream of comforting sounds. I wrap my legs around his legs with as little pressure as I can, and my arms around his arms so his hands are not free. I twist my wrists so my hands cup his cheeks, holding his head only tight enough to keep him in position for the drops.
It's over fairly quickly, and his struggles are not full-strength. They seem, if anything, automatic - a fight reflex of the body, not supported or hindered by a spirit that reluctantly agrees with the cure. I feel like he understands on some level that I'm supporting him in the hold, rather than just restricting and forcing him.
After the drops, he stays in my arms, not struggling while I stroke his head. He's still complaining that he doesn't like it.
Shhh. It's done. We're done.
No more drops. Never again, mom.
I can't promise that, sweetie.
He starts struggling away from me, and I keep my hands on him but don't restrict his movement.
Sweetie, we'll see tomorrow, okay? We'll see. Maybe your eye will heal now while you sleep.
Okay, he mutters dejectedly.
I check in with myself. I didn't get supper and my stomach is a bit upset; also, I'm exhausted.
Do you want to watch TV for ten minutes? I ask.
Well, that lightens his mood.