One day Anni was twirling and singing one of her original compositions.
"It's my gift!" she declared.
Dizzy, she fell with spectacular gracelessness.
Laying on her back on the tile floor she began flapping her arms and legs
as if she were making a snow angel.
"Falling down is also a gift!" says she.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

empathy

*I began this a few days ago, and then read Amanda's moving post with the same title. I decided to leave the title as is, but it seems fitting to link to Amanda before even beginning* I'm going to say it again... my girl is tough. Over the weekend we went with Cliff to a festival at a nearby town. Of course, we went straight to the carnival rides and bought our little adrenaline junkie a bracelet for unlimited rides. Only 10 minutes into the fun, she slipped off one of the rides and fell to the ground (the ride wasn't moving yet, and it wasn't very far down, lest that last bit sounds too scary). She banged her tummy, head, lip, and chin, and was lying there in the dirt. Still, she bounced right up and announced, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" Then blood started spurting from her lip and chin, and she let herself cry as I scooped her up in my arms, dust from her clothes puffing up into the air as I rushed her over to the shade of a tree. I pressed the tail end of my white cotton shirt to her chin to staunch the blood flow, while Jörg searched for some wipes to clean her up and assess the damage. We checked her pupils, checked her tummy, and all appeared well. I sent Jörg to the car for our first-aid kit, as he was agitating for a trip to the E.R. I figured a few minutes away from the bloody situation might lend a bit of calm. Having gotten most of the dirt off, and the bleeding mainly stopped, Annika sat in the wagon waiting for Jörg to return with the band-aids and the antibacterial lotion, and she shared a package of mini-Oreos with her sister. I'm pretty sure that all first-aid kits should include a package of mini-Oreos. Jörg's impulse to take her to the E.R. was not completely unfounded. With her latest illness, her platelets had plummeted to 44,000 (normal is around 140-150,000). Annika's platelets tend to hover around 80-90,000 due to her enlarged spleen, so her count had halved with this infection. Platelets help the blood to clot, so there is always the worry of uncontrolled internal bleeding with any fall when platelets are low. Still, her doctors don't usually get concerned about the platelet count until they fall below 25,000 or so. And she really didn't fall that far. And she was munching Oreos in a pretty healthy fashion. So I convinced him to let her continue on with her fun, although he held her hand pretty tightly. Here she is, back in the saddle: And the resulting bruise (the stuff around the lips is the result of yet another expedition into the world of cosmetic entertainment, aka "lipstick"): A few weeks ago we had some friends over in our backyard for some sprinkler/pool action. There were 9 kids in the yard, most of them older, and Annika was in that state of excitement that defies description - a state something like vibration, with giggles. Actually, all the kids were having a great time with 6 super-soaker water shooters in action, a volcano sprinkler, and a fairly large wading pool strategically positioned at the bottom of our slide. One of the girls, though, was a bit exhausted, and therefore kept falling over. And had no patience for getting hit in the face with water. Finally, she got a little bonk on the head when she zigged left just as Annika zagged right with one of the super-soakers. It was clearly an accident, and also clearly not even a bump-inducing knock, but she collapsed into a fit of weeping. Her mom decided a nap was called for, while I was over trying to convince Annika to apologize. Now Anni has no problem apologizing for things she does on purpose or for which she clearly is at fault. But she has a real problem with apologizing for things that are completely accidental. I'm not sure if it feels too much like admitting guilt or she doesn't see the point or what. But the best she could finally manage was asking her if she was alright. To which the girl sobbed, "No! You hit me on the head!" And then Annika just gave up and went on with her life. And the girl went home for a much-needed nap. I went back to the table in the shade where I and another mom were watching the action. "She just doesn't get it," I sighed. "Really?" the other mom asked. "I think if it had actually been a hard hit, accident or no, she would have seen the point of apologizing. But she just doesn't understand that something like that would have been so upsetting, I think. Some of these social rules are kind of hard to get at four years old, aren't they?" "Yeah. That developing empathy. It really takes a while. She's still working on it?" "Well, no. She's got all sorts of empathy for some things." The truth is that Anni showed empathy (and sympathy) at an incredibly young age. And she's also a girl of action - never one just to feel bad, but not try to right the situation. My favorite example, of course, was her campaign to convince the docs at CMH to remove all NG-tubes from the babies on the floor. But what was going on here was something altogether different. An NG-tube, an I.V., anything involving whirring machines operated by techs in scrubs or injuries involving spurting blood - those are the kinds of things that get Annika feeling bad for her fellow children. She understands those things as bad and scary. A little bonk on the head, a splash in the face with water, a fall onto 3 inches of soft rubber mulch - those are the hurts that Annika can't quite understand as tear-worthy. And that's a whole new level of emotional development - understanding and feeling bad when people are tossing a fit about something that seems no big deal to you. Hey, I'm not sure I always manage that one. I mean, not really, although I think I usually make the appropriate noises and at least make an effort. Let's face it: emotional development is not like walking or 2-footed jumping, which you just sort of do one day (or not depending on your particular situation - so substitute in whatever milestone you wish). It's a lot more difficult, a lot more complicated, and likely still underway at age 4, 24, and even 54. There are plenty of days that I don't even understand exactly why I am feeling the way I do, when just listing the reasons I feel down don't seem to justify the depths of my down-ness. So expecting that kind of understanding of someone else seems a pretty high standard. Of course, I do seem to expect that on a regular basis of my husband, which I figure would rank pretty high on our list of marital stressors. And I suspect I am not alone (although I confess I may be projecting a bit reading Jessamyn's entry). So back to our backyard...It only took Annika 5 minutes or so to start asking if she could go check on her friend. "Is her head OK?" she asked. And I told her that she was mostly just tired, and was taking a little rest, but I was sure she would be fine later on. That answer didn't seem to satisfy her completely, and I confess that I was happy to see that little shadow pass over our sunny day. After all, we might not always be rational creatures and our hurts might not always be based on the best reasons, but they are hurts nonetheless. I like who this girl is becoming, but this stuff is not easy.

8 Comments:

Blogger Jessica said...

Great post, Moreena - and I love all the pictures.

7/07/2005 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

Lovely story, Moreena.

7/07/2005 10:32 AM  
Blogger liz said...

Beautiful.

7/07/2005 10:54 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

Thanks! I needed that lesson, and I'm 27!

Love the pictures, too.

7/07/2005 4:04 PM  
Blogger Running2Ks said...

Aw. My 4 1/2 year old hates saying sorry for accidents too. And, btw, that Angelina Jolie lip thing was a real fashion statement. This kid of yours is unique and darling. I'm glad to have found your blog, and I'll be linking to you now.

7/08/2005 9:12 AM  
Blogger trisha said...

I just love you, Moreena!

7/08/2005 11:34 AM  
Blogger Amanda M said...

I love Anni stories! Have to say that in terms of emotional development I try really hard to sympathize with the little things in other's everyday lives because I know that my perspective is so incredibly warped by liver disease, hospital stays etc. that I'm apt to react the wrong way, but it doesn't always work out.

I'm resigned to having a permanently warped sense of perspective, so I have utmost sympathy for Anni in not "understanding and feeling bad when people are tossing a fit about something that seems no big deal to you." For example, my coworker had a mouse run over her toe at work (it's a very old nonprofit building) while I was in a meeting in the front of the office. She stifled her shriek until my meeting ended and our guests left, and then was upset and slightly hysterical, and I was no help at all - I laughed until I cried. And then I realized she really was pretty upset, but I couldn't help it - in the scale of things it was funny. Ah well....Anni and I can both keep on trying ;)

7/09/2005 12:58 AM  
Blogger Rowan said...

It is hard to know what changes we'll find in kiddos who've been through a lot. People always ask me why Kajsa is such a happy child. (They honestly seem dismayed -- as though a kid with kidney disease should have some continuously bereaved expression.) I just tell them, when you know what really bad is, its easy to truly appreciate the good.

Kajsa's still a bit young for me to have seen any influence upon her scope of what's worthy of crying and or empathy (for others), but she does seem to take lot of her own little bang ups in stride.

Thank you for the stories. It gives me another mom's perspective on what sometimes can feel like uncharted waters.

7/09/2005 12:37 PM  

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