Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Worst Birthday Ever

As a November baby, Bub faces certain disadvantages in life. He will never be the kid who gets to invite his whole class over for a pool party; he won’t even get to host a tobogganing party as my February birthday allowed me to do in eighth grade (tobogganing followed by hot chocolate and an air band competition – it was 1985 and my parents’ end-table doubled as a synthesizer for my rendition of Howard Jones’ "Things Can Only Get Better").

Nevertheless, Bub lucked out last year – November 12th was the last warm, sunny day of a very long fall season. I always have ambitions of throwing a really spectacular birthday party, complete with hand-crafted invitations and Thomas-the-Train-themed d├ęcor, but last year, as always, I ended up celebrating with immediate family members only and serving a Duncan Hines cake with Creamy Deluxe frosting. (No advertising dollars for me here, never fear – because my point is that Creamy Deluxe frosting sucks, and I’m a sucky mother for using it.) Bub got a wagon ride to the park and a few trips down the slide with his #1 Special Aunt, and then came home in a crummy mood (because toddlers are always in a crummy mood when you especially want them to have fun).

It was only after supper that we realized the reason for his miserable-ness: we set him down from his high chair, and when he tried to take a step forward his leg buckled underneath him. What ensued was a frantic attempt at recollection: When was the last time anyone saw the Bub walking? He had been fine before he left for the park, but he hadn’t actually put weight on his right foot since then – he’d come home in the wagon and moved straight into the high chair for dinner (his festive birthday dinner, which is always more exciting when you have, like, a broken ankle).

The upshot of all this analysis and instant-replay was our realization that Bub had probably wrenched his ankle while coming down the slide on my sister’s lap. Hubby had been pushing the Pie around in her stroller and hadn’t actually seen the incident – there had been some low-level whining and crying, nothing that sounded like a shriek of pain, but my sister is sometimes more exuberant than careful, so it’s possible that Bub’s foot may have been trapped between her leg and the side of the slide without her noticing.

A trip to the E.R. and an X-ray revealed no broken bones, but based on the Bub’s yelps of pain when his ankle was manipulated, the doctor thought he might have a crack in a part of the ankle that is difficult to see on the X-ray. So he came home with a half-cast and a lot of bandaging around his leg, unable to walk or crawl or tell us what hurts.

Aside from being the suckiest birthday ever (the Creamy Deluxe frosting really takes second place to the not-being-able-to-walk part, I think), what this incident represents for me now is how rapidly my demands of life can change. On an ordinary day, I have certain ideas of what I’m entitled to, of what I need to be satisfied that I’ve had a pretty decent day. On November 11th of last year, a good day might include the following:

  • No major meltdowns (for children or mother).
  • A good cup of coffee with my breakfast.
  • A half hour here and there to read a book (Robin Hobb’s The Tawny Man trilogy at that point, I think).
  • An episode or two of Smallville in the evening without more than three interruptions from a crying baby. (Lex Luthor! How did I forget him for my best TV-characters meme?)

(The list now might look a bit different: No major meltdowns. Time to read through my Bloglines. Time to write up a new post and get a few yummy comments.)

And then it was November 12 and suddenly my demands of life were different. There were no days, good or bad, there were only minutes: minutes when Bub was lying on his back, kicking his cast in the air and screaming, and minutes when Bub was not doing that. If he wasn’t miserable and in pain, I was happy – I asked no more.

If there’s an up-side to fracturing your ankle on your birthday, it’s that at least you have lots of new toys to play with when you’re immobilized and in pain. There was no-holds-barred access to apple juice and Baby Einstein; there was a new singing-and-talking bear to play with (that might otherwise have been de-batteried out of sheer parental irritation), and there was even a balloon pit set up in the corner where I could sit Bub down as if he were a six-month-old baby (a six-month-old baby who knows how to throw temper tantrums) and let him bang away at the balloons to his heart’s content.

What surprised me the most was the intensity of my grief. We had been told (correctly) that he would be up and walking again within a week (a process that was speeded up considerably when hubby took him back to the E.R. in the middle of a particularly hideous night to have the horrible and unnecessary cast removed, exposing the largest blister I’ve ever seen on the heel of such a tiny, vulnerable little foot). It wasn’t a serious injury; it wasn’t a long recovery. But for those few days I grieved for the loss of my jaunty, walking little just-turned-two-year-old – the boy who could scamper into the kitchen to show me his stuffed giraffe, or dance a little jig of joy when his daddy walked in the door. Even when he was hurling balloons around with every sign of jubilation, I still ached and mourned for the power of those chubby legs, for the determination and gusto with which he had so recently rampaged around his little world.

I can’t imagine, anymore, what it must be like to face a more permanent injury. But for a few days last November I could imagine, and it made me realize how protective those limits are, the ones that wall our minds away from the things we can’t bear to think about.


Oh, The Joys said...

I will go to the Creamy Deluxe Annonymous meeting with you.

"Hi, I'm Sucky Mom and I use Creamy Deluxe."

Mary-LUE said...

You are a wise woman!

Suzanne said...

But, but, what other kind of frosting is there?

Oh, homemade?

I'm a sucky mom, too.

Minnehaha Mama said...

Maybe it's something about the two-year-old birthday. My now 4-yr-old was discharged from the hospital on his second birthday after spending three days there due to a scary bout of asthma. 2-yr-olds make horrible invalids.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, poor Bub! Poor birthday...

Your post resonated in particular with me...not to be a downer, but when Tessa had her craniofacial surgery (craniectomy is the right term, but how horrible does *that* sound) I thought I would never be able to get past mourning my bubbly, cooing six month old and I wondered if she would *ever* *ever* return. Of course she's back triplefold now but I know what you mean--it's a scary and world-altering experience.

Beck said...

Yeah, Creamy Deluxe Frosting is krep. When I'm making a cake for adults: homemade all the way. When it's for kids: Hello, Mr. Hines! My theory is they only eat the decorations anyhow, so why waste the effort?

Um. And shortly after his second birthday, my then-two-year-old fell down our steep staircase, and hit his head so hard that I thought he was dead. He regained conciousness, was judged to be okay at the emergency room and then had a series of seizures over the next couple of weeks.
He's okay now. But that was rough.

metro mama said...

It's incredible how much it pains you to see them hurting, isn't it?

Her Bad Mother said...

You know how deeply I understand this.

Here's to both of our robust November babies. And to Creamy Deluxe Frosting.

Julie Pippert said...

My youngest never sits still...so on Friday when all she wanted to do was collapse limply into my lap and stay there, I nearly called 9-1-1.

It is an awful sight and feeling when they are hampered by injury or illness.

I hope Bub recovered well and has a good birthday this year.

If you think November is bad, try having not one but two Christmas babies.

Cake mix and pre-made canned frosting? BAH! I labor for days and weeks deciding with the kids on a theme and design and then slave away at my order at the bakery. Oh yeah and then I have to go back and pick it up!

bubandpie said...

Who knew that the Creamy Deluxe frosting would be the idea from this post that resonated most strongly? ;)

I was thinking this afternoon that what I really need is one of those programs that would let me take an image of the Creamy Deluxe and then put a big black X over top of it.

My mom is not all that artsy-craftsy, but she makes the world's best icing (and then puts it on a really dry organic cake made with whole wheat flour and applesauce). My Creamy-Deluxe shame comes from the fact that I always saw the cake as simply a vehicle for the yummy, yummy icing.

Em said...

There is no doubt that your life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye - and old priorities get tossed aside. And seeing your child in pain is the very worst. I'll never forget G in hospital just before she turned one, with awful chicken pox (looking more like a small pox victim). It took her a month to get better - but I'm still recovering!

As for November birthdays, G is November 16, but now that we are back in Oz she gets a spring birthday with lots of sunshine :)

penelopeto said...

Nothing worse than not being able to make your child feel better. And I speak only from the experience of a cold and a double-eye infection. I cannot even imagine coping with anything more serious.

and don't worry about the frosting - it becomes a slippery slope when you go homemade; one day it's cake and icing, and the next thing you know you're sewing curtains and knitting washcloths. to go back? oh, the shame! I say stay good friends with duncan.

penelopeto said...

oops, I forgot to knock on wood.

*ratt, tatt*


Jenny said...

I totally know this feeling. When Hailey had nursemaids elbow I felt like I'd lost my bubbly little tot forever.

We're so spoiled, you know?

Christina said...

It is scary to think how fast something can happen to change our entire outlook on things.

Cordy is sick, and really not herself, and she was actually worrying me today because she wasn't acting normal at all. I'm hoping a good night's sleep will get her better.

(And I hope what others have said about second birthdays isn't true, since hers is this Thursday!)

nomotherearth said...

Wow, I'm kind of dreading the 2nd birthday now! I know what you mean about sucky birthday scheduling -- both The Boy's and my birthdays are right after Christmas, and everyone says "ohh, I spent too much on Christmas, and I'm tired of parties, so let's just do something low key, ok?" Yeesh. For once, I would like a "high key" birthday! (yes, I have issues.)
It's terrible seeing your child in pain, huh? The Boy had double hernia surgery at 2.5mths. Apparently, quite a common problem for boys. Out of the blue, he would start screaming in pain and we were supposed to push the hernia back up through some tiny hole. Nuh-huh! Not me. We had a lot of trips to the hospital till they finally moved up the surgery date. I was in denial that he was sedated and on a operating table.

Kristen said...

We so take for granted our kids' health and well-being...poor guy, though, being out of commission and in pain on his birthday!!

Girl con Queso said...

Great post. I'm imagining what that must feel like, and it makes my stomach hurt.

For a number of years I worked at a children's hospital. I interacted with numerous very sick children. Attended many intense surgeries. And I felt for the kids and the families. Really. Or at least I thought I did. But now that I have a child, I realize I didn't really FEEL for them. And now, I'd have a really hard time just trying to get through one day there. When they say having a child changes you, um, they're really not even scratching the surface.

kittenpie said...

Huh, Pumpkinpie got a Dora DVD when she was sick if you imagine!

And yes, our neighbour's boy got a broken leg at about the same age. I can't imagine dealing with a toddler in that state! The frustration and lack of understanding... *shudder* Sorry you had to deal with that!

lildb said...

cake is cake. and I don't think there's such a thing as sucky frosting.

I heart cake and frosting.

p.s. I think November is a very cozy month for a birthday. Mine is December 2, so I always reveled in the knowledge that it was imminent, all through cozy November.


Lady M said...

Poor kiddo - to have such a rough birthday! It is so hard to see your child suffer. Q had the flu badly last winter and I winced every time he took a shruddering breath. And that was only flu! Having a baby hospitalized would be horrible.

Store-bought frosting is fine. It's frosting - sweet and sticky, how bad can it get? For our last party, I bought scary frosting in an aerosol can (like cheese whiz) and made frosting flowers all over the cake. Disgusting, I know, but everyone ate it up and had seconds.

Mary-LUE said...

Okay... At the risk of becoming a complete commenting freak... the first time I read this post, I was struck by your absorption and application of a great life lesson.

After reading some of the comments about how hard it is to watch your child suffer, I was reminded of Colin's chicken pox episode. He was two years old, running a fever, just lying on the couch in misery. I asked him if I could get him anything. I'm thinking juice or something. He croaks out at me, "Sizzlin' Smoke Barbecue." This was the latest toy. A barbecue that made sizzling noises and had a real smoke effect.

Of course, my rational response to this request was to yell to my husband, "Go to Toys R Us and buy that barbecue!" Paul questioned the necessity but I'm sure my retort of "Just. Go. Get. The. Barbecue!" put him into 'Yes ma'am' mode!

Since then, I'm not quite so quick to purchase $50 shrapnel when the kids are down and out, but their being sick or hurt still makes me want to do that. ;)

bubandpie said...

lildb - I knew that slam on cake would bring you out of hiding! (Not that you were hiding, but rather living your life instead of just lurking on my blog all the time, but you know what I mean.)

Mary-lue - LOL. That's a great anecdote. I would have done the same thing.

sunshine scribe said...

Um ... am I a suckier mom because I like Creamy Deluxe frosting ... well all frosting really.

And I am a proud November baby myself. One who has had one birthday with a black eye from a volleyball incident in gym class when I was 11 and one birthday that I spent in ER because of a reaction to a medication. Hmmm...maybe you should start celebrating his b-day in March.