Inadvertent lessons

I was lying in bed with my son last night. Just he and I while I tried to get him to sleep. We were following the rituals of going to bed, when he perhaps grew tired of the book I held in my hands or maybe of my voice droning on. That quick, he changed gears. He became playful again in the span of an eye blink (this happens sometimes) a second wind will blow in and he's good to go for another hour of what should be normal sleeping time, re-energized as anything, while my own body slows itself to a sure halt. I was so tired that I let him jump around the bed and roll up and down in a manic fit of face-flushed frenzy. He was smiling and laughing and bouncing on the mattress and it was just too much effort to open my mouth and say, no, settle down, let's try and go to sleep again shall we? I just let him be for the next five minutes and towards the end of that, he took the thin book we had been reading and inadvertently smashed the edge point of it into my left eye, into the soft fleshy part underneath the lower lashes. It. hurt. like. the. dickens. With my hands I covered my face and I cried out softly.

As aware as I was of the pain, I still felt when he burrowed under the sheets and started mumbling muffled sounding oh no's. It was obvious he knew he'd hurt me but I wanted to make sure he understood with what. So I called him out and I pointed to the edge of the book and showed him what had caused my pain. This edge, I said, this corner is what caused mami her ouch. Be careful jan (a pet name)! You have to be careful with things like this! He looked at the book and his little fingers slid slowly over the contours of the hard corner and before I knew what he was about, he had smashed his little hand onto his own eye.

I was so stunned by his action that I failed to stop him that first time but I grabbed him when he went for a second try, and in the moment it took for me to mentally try to sort out the why of his action he broke free from me again, pointed the offending book edge and brought it to his own eye to self-inflict the pain he had caused me.

I grabbed the book and I threw it away. I hugged him tightly to me and rocked him while I kept up a litany of no no jan, no no, don't do that, don't do that to yourself, mami is okay, I promise, I promise. I pulled him back to see if he had done himself any harm and when I discovered he hadn't, I tried to show him my own eye so that he could see for himself what I was trying to say but he was having none of it and though he bent in again to kiss my eye, that action must not have felt like enough of an amends to him because, he left the room to get his father and when he came back with my husband in tow, he pointed at my eye while he told his father what he had done. A confused explanation of mami and her ojo (eye), of my ouch and more oh no's, burst forth from him. More kisses came my way and in the midst of such contrition, I told M what had occurred. Like me, he too, tried to calm our son down. It's okay jan, it's okay, see? maman's alright. To bring the point home, my husband also kissed my eye. Look jan see? mami's ouch is gone, babi kissed it too, see? When all was said and done, I was swimming in kisses like my eyes were swimming in tears. It had hurt me more than I could have imagined to witness what he'd tried to do to himself rather than what he did to me.

Later I recounted once more for my husband what our son's actions had made me feel. Why? I asked him, why would he try to hurt himself? He loves you M replied. He loves his mami and he couldn't stand having hurt you so he hurt himself in punishment. But we don't punish this way I said, and when we discipline we don't do it like this, never like this. Where would he learn such a thing? I felt disturbed by the whole episode. It's okay jan, my husband said. I don't know where he got the idea either. But nothing bad came of it. Just forget it.

Later yet that night, I looked upon my sleeping boy and placed a small kiss on his soft cheek, then a smaller one upon a velvety eyelid. I kissed him like I was giving him absolution for something he did not do. I wonder, in the future, what my son might feel compelled to castigate himself for and I pray that nothing I ever say again or do could cause him a desire to hurt himself because of me. Sometimes, it is so very hard to be a parent. Some days, certain things, are so incomprehensibly unclear. I am still digesting what his empathy last night taught me. When I sort this out, I will tell you what I have learned.


  1. That's such a fascinating stage.
    Why did he do it? Who knows. Babies kick lots before they walk; maybe he's done something equivalent before he can empathize. It's no small leap for a child to figure out what someone else is feeling.
    Engaging writing, by the way.

  2. I'm not sure how old your son is but I'd guess toddler age? I recently read a NYT article called The Caveman in the Crib which basically explains that the wee ones have little comprehension of long winded speeches and negotiations and they learn by doing and repeating and chanting and such. Your son's reaction makes a lot sense within this context.

  3. Interesting. Thanks for sharing the song from Zazie, J'envoie Valser. Very nice - I don't know if you remember Kate Bush but that's what her voice reminds me of. I am jealous of your reading list. With my ADD these days magazine articles with pictures are the best I can do. Does the Hockney work get into his synesthesia. I blogged about that once. One of the subjects that captures my imagination. See you are not the only one blessed or is it cursed with the roaming thoughts. Best,

  4. Ron, Cce and Vie Chaotique: Thanks for leaving comments on this post.

    Ron: Your observation made me see the episode I described in a different light. My first reaction was that as a mother, I was seriously going wrong somewhere if my child reacted like this. But it took your words and those of a friend I'd told after I posted to see that it might be just as you say. He was doing cause and effect on himself. I feel better about the whole thing but it felt terrible at the moment.

    Cce: Yes, I actually had read the article. My sister had sent it to me. I discovered Dr. Karp after my son was past the whole early sleeping ordeal so he came into my life too late unfortunately. Thanks for putting me onto him anyway. As to what happened with my kid, I'll try and remember about the short sentence thing next time.

    Vie Chaotique: Glad you liked her. She's got a little something nice going for her and she fit my mood today. I do not know who Kate Bush is but I imagine the many can sound like Zazie and that Zazie can sound like many. She's good though not precisely unique. You wrote about Hockney's Synesthesia? I'll look for it. I too find the subject fascinating. The book makes no mention of this gift though of course, as with ALL of Hockney's work, the whole concept just floats right out at you from his art. All those colors and ways of perceiving. I add myself to the long list of people who have already labeled him a genius. He is one of my favorite artists. Don't envy my reading list. I still have a lot I need to get to. These past two weeks I've slowed down for a variety of reasons. Need to pick up the pace again. We are blessed not cursed you and I.

  5. I agree with M, it seems your young son saw that you were hurt and perhaps was trying to sympathize by 'sharing' your pain. What is clear is the lovely relationship you share with your son.

  6. I can imagine how this made you feel. I am glad that you feel better about it now. I think it is normal for little ones to parrot what they see. It is how they learn. It is sweet how much he loves you.


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