It started a month ago when I scheduled Wally’s 5 year appointment. It was in the books, and for some odd reason husband Wally decided to let WV know that he had a doctor appointment in several weeks. “Do I have to get shots?” WV asked. “Maybe,” W4 replied. And the freak out commenced.
Every day for a week, WV started by asking, “Do I have to get shots today?” “No,” I replied. And every night, “Do I have to get shots tomorrow?” “Not yet,” I said. Until I got tired of it and told him he didn’t have to have shots for 50 hundred days so he didn’t need to worry about it. 50 hundred is his favorite big number, so he got what I was trying to say and stopped asking.
Then it was the day. WV happened to sit by me and we had an unplanned moment alone. He needed a semi-warning or he’d really freak out at the office and ruin Vivvi’s flu shot also, so I decided on a whim that now, a few hours pre-appointment, was my optimum warning time. “Wally, today we are going to the doctor,” I started.
“Do I need to get shots?” he cried.
“Yes, but can I tell you a few things?” I considered his little, logical brain and came up with this quick. “I don’t like shots either. Sometimes they hurt. But the good thing is, the hurt is over fast. Also, Vivvi might need a shot, so you should try to be brave for her.”
“But…” he started.
“Wait, one more thing.” I remembered something that was true, and that I knew he would boa constrict his little brain around. “Once when you were little—smaller than Vivvi—you got a shot and I thought you would cry and cry. But you didn’t! I was so surprised and amazed by you!”
I saw his wheels turning. “Okay, I’ll go. I want to go first, okay? Then I can show Vivvi.”
“Yes, thank you, Wally.”
We headed to the doctor later that afternoon. Wally was so sweet and quiet the whole appointment. He answered the doctor’s questions quietly. He stood on one leg when she asked if he could do that. She asked him to touch his toes, and he looked at her, then looked at me, and then stacked one set of toes on top of the other. “With your hands, Wal!” I added. “So cute!” the doctor mouthed to me.
Then she said he needed 5 boosters, and the nurse would be in soon. When she left, my heart started pounding. He started to get antsy. “Do I have to get my shots now?” he asked.
“Wally, listen to me. When you are getting the shots, you get to squeeze my hands. And the harder you squeeze, the more the hurt will go out of you and into me, do you understand?” I wanted to take it all away from him. I wanted it to be true.
“Okay,” he said with certainty, as the nurse walked in.
We got him up on the table, and he laid back. I leaned over him, and he squeezed as she did the first shot. He tried lifting his head to look past me at his legs where she was making fast work of things, but I blocked his way and put my face right down in front of his. “Wally, don’t look at that. Look at me.”
And then he did, and I saw it. I saw his eyes fill with pain. I saw him wince with each prick. I was sure the tears and the screams and the pleas were a moment away. I was ready to cry with him—I could feel it welling up, and I felt helpless and soft. And then in his eyes I saw that urge to cry out melt and something else replace it—pure, solid, real, 100 percent bravery. It was not a reflection of my feelings—I was a hopeless wreck. It was something that was all his own, that came from a place I didn’t know he had. Before I could cry about how awesome he was, it was done.
We were on to Vivvi, and Wally’s bravery did the trick. She was on the table, and then whined for a second before I said, “Vivv, just like Wally now. Squeeze my hands.” She laid back, copied her brother, winced, and her one shot was over. (Later, when we were getting in the car, she said, “That lady hurt me.” At that moment my heart again gave Wally full credit for his example.)
We were getting dressed, and I was showering them both with praise for how well they did. I was thinking about how I could hardly wait to call their dad and tell him how amazing they both were. And then the nurse peeked in.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t do one of Wally’s shots. He still has one more to go,” she said.
He looked at me and almost came undone. But I was inspired by his earlier valor. “Wally, you can do this. You just did four shots without crying! One more, and we will go home. Just give me the hardest squeeze yet.”
We got him back up on the table. He leaned back and was getting ready to squeeze when the nurse said, “Okay, I’m done.” Not a flinch from him—he hadn’t even felt it. As we left the office, I felt like a parade balloon—floating, with my kids holding down the strings. I understood the phrase “puffed up with pride.”
At different times every day I find myself frustrated with my kids. I wonder, “Why can’t they just act how I want them to act?” and “Why can’t I have more control?” They don’t match up to the expectations I have of them. They don’t reflect the ideal, perfect child who listens, who does as asked, and who would be so easy. But in moments like this, at the doctor’s office, I realize why it would be awful to get what I wish for. Sometimes our kids fall short of our expectations. But their freedom to be who they are also means they get to be so much more. When they get a chance to be their own humans, they get the chance to surprise us—to push past the limitations of what we think is possible. My imagination and expectations aren’t big enough to encompass the bravery I saw in Wally’s eyes. He was doing that for his little sister, and maybe he was even doing it for me. He left me wiping my eyes in awe and relief. In that moment, he was my hero.