Tuesday, March 08, 2005

It’s Different For Girls

I don’t know. Maybe it’s that he’s a hellraiser, and so simply more prone to accident; maybe it’s that he’s a second child, and so we’ve already been through this once and we’re a bit less high-strung about it: but when Sam injures himself, as he is prone to, it has the feel more of misadventure than of catastrophe. Claire took her share of lumps, yeah, but (and I freely admit that this may be selective parental memory at work) I don’t recall her wipeouts as so consistently spectacular as his.

Last night, for instance, the boy (who is nearly three) had got hold of a thick, heavy cardboard tube—not a flimsy wrapping-paper core, but a poster-mailing tube, the sort of thing in which an architect might carry his blueprints. Dense, almost chipboard, two-and-a-half, three feet long, about two inches across. He was clomping around the kitchen in faintly piratical fashion, using the tube as a spyglass, and walked more-or-less full speed into a wall.

That is: the leading end of the tube hit the wall, driving the other end into Sam’s face at more or less his full walking speed. His cheek was bruised, as was the ridge of his eye socket, just below the eyebrow. Could’ve been a lot worse.

Could’ve been very bad indeed, actually—which is what makes it such a great story. The actual resultant discomfort may be relatively minor, but the narrative hook—grotesque injury narrowly averted!—gives the incident significance. He may only injure himself superficially, but he does it with such panache.

Maybe that’s it. Or, y’know, maybe it’s that he’s a boy, and slapstick is an inherently male thing. (Oh, the ladies may enjoy watching the Stooges, but they’re not in there breaking axe-handles over each other’s noggins themselves. Thank God.) Case in point: there’s no greater bonding moment between father and son than the first time your boy gets his nuts crunched.

The other night Sam came tearing around the corner into the office. Manuals for the new computer setup lay scattered on the floor—slick paper on carpet. His left foot landed on one, his right foot on another, and they slid in opposite directions. With a look of utter surprise, he executed a perfect split, like a cheerleader’s—only much, much too fast. Then he keeled over frontwards, landing flat on his face.

I scooped him up to comfort him (fighting, I must admit, the urge to laugh), but as I patted his back, I noticed that he wasn’t crying. In fact, he wasn’t even breathing as such—just making a series of glottal, fishlike gasps. After what seemed a very, very long time, he finally let go with an aggrieved bellow—but it seemed oddly strangled. It wasn’t the face-plant that was paining him. When he was able to form words again, Sam—whose understanding of anatomy is yet inexact—hollered (except that it was more of a really loud whimper) “I HURT MY BUTT!”

And then, God forgive me, I really did laugh.
Today, my son, you are a man.
God help you.

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