Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Who's Afraid of a Little Leaf?

By Blake Friis

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. When my 8-month-old son attempted to swallow a random object he found on our living room floor, I held him with a steady hand and spoke in a calm and deliberate cadence to my wife as she identified the object in the back of his throat as a leaf.

Of all the things to give new parents their very first choking scare, ours was a goddamn leaf, probably carried in on one of our shoes.

My wife’s second and third attempts to sweep the leaf out with her finger failed and Gabe vomited in a way I hadn’t seen from him, and haven’t since. At this point I could have won an Oscar for my portrayal as a calm and confident father. Inside, I was scared shitless and could hardly move, but the character I was playing – this “Dad” who is more believable in print – would never get rattled in front of his son.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation – your child chokes and the only useful ability you possess is bullshitting those around you in hopes your soothing disposition facilitates the appropriate action – I pray you are also married to a nurse. Summer was amazing; she persevered through the failed finger sweeps and heartbreaking vomit, grabbed a pen light, tongue depressor, sterilized tweezers and calmly removed the leaf in no time.

And scene.

The moment Summer pulled the leaf from Gabe’s mouth he flashed his giant, toothless open-mouth smile, as though seconds earlier he had not projectile vomited spaghetti-flavored baby food onto my chest as his body fought the foreign object stuck in his throat. 

I, on the other hand, dropped the tough guy act, sat down and cried.

It's all good, Daddy

Maybe it was the feeling of helplessness or the fear. Maybe it was all the news coverage of murdered children finally hitting me through a tangible example of what losing my own son might look like. These emotions hit me the second I realized Gabe was in danger. Holding it in and covering with false bravado in the moment, only seemed to elevate the degree to which it poured out after the fact.

So, why fake it?

Certain childhood memories impact actions in parenthood. Not in the sense they shape you and subconsciously impact your behavior, but in ways so profound you process the memory in real-time with your mind racing in the face of adversity. The most terrifying thing in childhood is identifying fear in a parent.

As my son began to choke, the best help I could offer was to conceal my fear and tell what I hoped would not turn out to be a total lie.

“It’s going to be okay.”

When the close call ended, along with my inclination to keep up the fa├žade, Summer was surprised by how rattled I became. She tried to pick me up by saying my demeanor helped her remain calm and she couldn’t have done it without me.

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. Hers immediately made me feel better about myself.

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