Reality-based Parenting

A reminiscent parable on reality-based parenting:

When my BS was six or seven his BFF Josh spent the night with us, something the two did 3-4 times a week at that point in their lives. I was in the living room and the boys were in BS’  bedroom, doing whatever makes boys giggle uncontrollably when parents aren’t around.

Suddenly the giggles stopped, and protracted silence told me I’d better investigate. I knocked on BS’ door.

“Yeah?” That was our secret, father-son bonding word for, “Enter,” so I did.

Tony was standing very still, he face slightly flushed, with a look between sheepish and tearful on his face.  Josh was standing by, manfully concealing most of his amusement.

“What’s going on?” I asked in my you-better-tell-me-straight-the-first-time voice. BS seemed about to decide on tears, but Josh happily informed me,

“Tony put a popcorn kernel in his ear and he can’t get it out.”

I did not ask why, having heard the answer a million times already:  “I dunno.”

I took BS to the kitchen where the light was brightest, Josh trailing after curiously, and appraised the situation.  There was, indeed, a kernel of unpopped popcorn lodged firmly in his ear canal.

Now here is where many parents depart from reality and things get unnecessarily dramatic.  The fact that I could see the kernel unaided by medical instruments meant that it was nowhere near the delicate membrane of his eardrum and he was in ABSOLUTELY NO DANGER of being deafened for life.

“Let’s see if I can get it out of there with a spoon handle,” I said, but all the spoon handles I had were too big. I pulled out my key-chain Swiss Army knife and BS asked in a quiet but apprehensive voice,

“What’re you gonna do with that, Daddy?”

“I’m going to cut your ear off, punch the kernel out from the inside, and then sew the ear back on,” I explained calmly, as if we were discussing a woodworking plan.

This is another point at which many parents depart from reality.  Harmless predicaments ARE funny; humor SHOULD be used to allay anxiety; and kids are NOT as dumb as you think they are.

“You are not!” he laughed, relaxing at last. Josh dropped all pretense of gravitas and doubled over laughing.

“IT’S  NOT FUNNY!” yelled BS indignantly. I seized the opportunity to transmit some Daddy Dharma.

“All comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else,” I said. “Remember when Josh slammed the door on his finger and you couldn’t stop laughing?”

Returning to the kernel, I used the nail file/screwdriver on my Swiss Army knife to attempt an extraction.  It wasn’t going to work, I quickly saw; the straight blade could not get under the kernel without depressing the surrounding flesh painfully.

“OK, everybody into the car,” I announced. “We’re going to the doctor.” It was after 9:00  p.m. but there was an all-hours urgent care center two miles away.

BS and Josh sat talking quietly while I completed paperwork. The girl behind the counter and I exchanged stifled laughter as I explained why we were there. She assured me a doctor would attend us momentarily. Soon we were taken to an exam room.

An energetic, bearded young man burst into the room smiling and asking what was up. I explained cogently while pointing at my BS:

“He has a popcorn kernel stuck in his left ear.”

The doctor nodded once and got down to business. After a quick look with one of those ear-lighting thingies doctors have, he opened a drawer; picked out a paper-wrapped instrument; and unzipped the sterile packaging to reveal a long, thin curette with a precisely popcorn-kernel sized cup on its end.

One deft flick of the doctor’s wrist and the kernel flew out, rattling in a corner. I did not deduct any points just because he failed to make the wastebasket.

“You get a lot of these cases,” I observed drily.

“No, this is my first popcorn kernel,” the doctor said amiably. “You wouldn’t believe what they put in there.”

The last place I’ll mention where many parents depart from reality is the aftermath of such a “crisis”… the “teaching moment,” as pedagogues call it.

It does absolutely no good to berate a child; ask how he could be so stupid; inform him of the $75 out-of-network co-payment you just incurred; ask him if he realizes what *could* have happened; or otherwise blow the damned thing out of proportion.

On our way home I asked BS if he had learned anything.

“Yeah… don’t put stuff in my ear.”

“Good,” I replied. “Let’s go see if Baskin-Robbins is still open.”

It wasn’t, so we went home and made more popcorn.

d. b. a. "David Hakala"