My daughter has had over 300 shots in her lifetime.
I never really added it all up until I began writing this blog post and I was trying to remember how many times she’d been stuck with a needle. Her allergies restricted much of her life as a young child, so when she was in first grade, she started allergy shots: two shots every week for the first two years, and then less frequent but still regular injections after that.
So a few weeks ago when we were at the allergist, I was surprised when she became quite nervous at the thought of getting her blood drawn.
“A blood draw?” she said, her voice rising. “But I don’t want a blood draw!”
Her doctor put her hands on Claire’s shoulders and looked right at her. “This isn’t going to be bad, I promise,” she said. Claire looked right at her. My daughter’s eyes were brimming with tears, but she didn’t actually cry. I watched her take a few deep breaths and sit down. The doctor looked at me.
“Let’s do it,” I said. Then I turned to Claire. “It’s going to be fine,” I said. “Do you want me to sit with you while they do it?”
She nodded. The nurse came in and got all the supplies together. “Here we go,” the nurse said as she inserted the needle.
I felt Claire’s whole body tighten. “Don’t look,” I said.
But Claire’s eyes did not move from the needle. Instead, she started taking deep breaths and saying to herself, “It’s okay, Claire. You can do it, Claire.”
She kept repeating this mantra until the blood draw was over. “Good job, baby,” I said when the nurse was done.
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said.
I was impressed. She was clearly nervous about a new type of needle stick and she definitely did not want to do it. But she also knew how to talk herself through it. “It’s okay, Claire,” she had said. “You can do it, Claire.”
I thought back to the many times this past year that I’d repeated a similar mantra to myself.
At the financial planner for the first time: “It’s okay, Marjorie. You are smart and can figure this out. You can do this.”
At the door to my classroom on the year anniversary of Shawn’s death. “It’s okay, Marjorie. If you cry, then you cry. But you aren’t going to run away. You can do this.”
In the cab on the way to my first date after Shawn’s death. “It’s okay, Marjorie. Even if it’s terrible, it will be fine. You can do this.”
I didn’t tell myself, “it’s okay, Marjorie, you can do this,” when Shawn was in the hospital. I didn’t have any time to freak out. I just held the bucket when he was sick from chemo and I wiped the inside of his mouth as he woke from surgery. I wasn’t scared when I faced real horror. It was the small things afterwards when I froze – at the bank or at the kids’ school or at the dentist. When I had a moment to reflect, I thought, “I cannot do this.”
But I could, in fact. I just had to talk myself through it.
“It’s okay, Claire,” my daughter said to herself. “You can do it, Claire.”
It’s not that Claire is braver than any other kid – in fact, she was scared when faced with the prospect of a blood draw. Her eyes filled with tears. She wanted me next to her. But she figured out how to deal with this bump in the road. She did it by being her own cheerleader.
“You can do it, Claire.”
Sometimes she’ll have her mom next to her. But what Claire has figured out early in this life is how to make it through life’s needle sticks even if she doesn’t have me there. In fact, I am convinced that people survive the cancer diagnoses and the divorces and the other major tragedies because we are forced to practice beforehand with things that are hard, but not impossible.
Life’s needle sticks suck, but they end. And though there’s no way to prepare for anything like the death of a parent or a spouse, I am desperate to make sure my kids can weather these types of small adversities. Because losing their father was terrible, but it’s unlikely to be the last major hurdle they have in life.
The one thing I can almost guarantee is that there will be other sadness in their lives. They don’t get a pass on hardship because their dad died.
But they can build up that resilience. They can do what my daughter did at the doctor’s office.
“It’s okay, Claire. You can do it, Claire.”
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.