never too old to need you
Sometimes interactions with my family make me feel as though my adulthood has been confirmed. Anything to do with alcohol, for instance. Sharing a bottle of Abita's "Bourbon Street" Imperial Stout with my dad. Sitting down at Hurricane's as my brother, the bartender, sets a napkin in front of me and makes beer recommendations. (Last night the recommendation was the stout from Arabi-based 40 Arpent, which was tasty all the way down the pint.)
Other interactions make me feel like a child again--some in a frustrating "will they never take me seriously?" way, but others with that "everything will be OK, Mom and Dad will take care of me" feeling that some people were fortunate enough to experience through their childhood. My parents weren't perfect--who is?--and once in a while they screwed up, or indulged in pettiness, or found me hard to like--it doesn't take an outright abusive or dysfunctional family history to look back and see moments like those--but on the whole I was a fortunate child who experienced that cared-for feeling more often than not.
Anyway, John and I went to my dad's pediatrics office and got our flu shots today.
Having a parent be my primary health care provider from shortly after I was born until the day I left home for college was, certainly, in some ways, a little weird. There came a time when it became unthinkable to ask Dad to diagnose certain ailments (mumblemumblepinwormsmumbleblush), and I resolved to make do with a hand-mirror and hard-won experience. I'm sure that time came as a relief to him, too; he never questioned my self-diagnosis, but just poured me a dose of the despised but effective medication.
Mostly, though, having Dad be my doctor was convenient. Too convenient, really. As a college student away from home for the first time and finding herself with a fever of 102.5 F on Friday night of a three-day weekend, I had to develop the skill of finding a doctor and making an appointment from scratch and in adverse conditions. And I still called home to wheedle a prescription out of Dad. "Yep, sounds like strep. Where do you want me to call it in?"
But again, I did get well trained in the art of self-diagnosis. If I told Dad, "I think I'm coming down with something. I should stay home from school tomorrow," he would not only quiz me about my symptoms but also test and verify. He didn't even get up from the living room chair. It was just, "OK, bring me my coat." The trepidation, the urge to plead and beg for mercy, the crawling dread of the inevitable that some children learned to feel upon hearing the words "Bring me my belt" or "You go out to the back yard and you bring me back a switch, and no wimpy one either," my brother and I learned to feel upon hearing the words, "Bring me my coat." In various pockets of that coat were the stethoscope, the otoscope, the tongue depressors, and the dreaded throat swabs. O the gagging! The ordeal! I learned early to recognize the symptoms of strep throat, and also to never, ever cry wolf.
The staff at Dad's office includes several nurses who remember me well as the patient who pitched terrible fits about impending needles well into my early teens. A year and a half of treatments and exams to do with childhood leukemia taught me nothing about accepting a shot without making a fuss. If anything, it made the tendency to scream worse. (Do not get me started on the increasingly traumatic experiences with installing an IV needle. Suffice to say that the last few times they simply had to gas me first.) But finally there came one afternoon during the summer that I worked a part-time data entry job at the old office, the one on Robert E. Lee Boulevard that Katrina totaled, when it was discovered that I was due an MMR booster.
I stood against the wall telling myself, You're too old to have a tantrum about this. I kept myself as still and calm as possible, breathing deeply and evenly, attempting to mentally remove all conscious awareness from the arm about to get stabbed. Those years marked the height of my interest in lucid dreams and out-of-body travel; I tried my damnedest to astrally project out of my left arm.
I was so proud of myself! I didn't let out a peep. My first time taking an injection like a grown-up, ever! And I continued being proud of myself as I slid down the wall into yet one more first time experience, that of falling down in a partial faint. (The nurse who'd administered the shot caught me as I sagged, and she made unkind remarks about how "the poor little baby needs her mommy." I remember hearing every word, and feeling her jeers unjust; hadn't I just taken that shot without begging or crying or attempting to flee for the first time in my goddamned life? Anyway, that's how I know it wasn't a complete faint: I remember every word.)
These days I try to get my flu shots regularly, not just to protect myself from the coming season's edition of influenza misery, not just to do my part for herd immunity, but also to continue proving to myself that I can take it like a grown-up. I may always need to prove this to myself. And though it may sound ridiculous at the age of 38 years and 8 months, it felt good today to also prove it to the nurses who knew me back when I couldn't take it at all.
Having proven my grown-up credentials beyond a shadow of a doubt in this manner, I suppose it wasn't too childish of me to have asked my Dad to set up our flu shots in the first place.
"It's OK. Mom and Dad will take care of me."
I suspect there's some joy in that for my parents, too: "It's OK. Our little girl still needs us."
She always will, you know.
Love y'all, Mom and Dad.