As I anxiously drove Abby down my least-favorite highway towards her doctor's office for the four-year physical last Friday, one of her favorite songs came on the radio. She recognized it from the first few lines, and though I love to hear her little voice piping out the lyrics from the far back seat, I turned it up anyway, knowing it's the way I like to hear the songs that I love best.
She knew every word:
You can be amazing,
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love.
Or, you can start speaking up...
Like me, by the second verse she had started to falter, but her soprano came out clear and strong even over the increased volume as the chorus began:
Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave with what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.
The spirit of the moment was temporarily forgotten as I hurriedly aligned the van in a parking space and got coats pulled on and buttoned for the long, windy walk through the cold, dark garage. Indeed, from that moment on we were constantly in motion, from the check-in desk to the nurses' station for weights and measurements, to the room in which we would be seen.
Abby was full of wonderment and questions, the nurses full of laughter, kindness and compliments on the recently-birthdayed girl in her adorable outfit and hot pink dress shoes from her awesome Aunt Ali. She removed them agreeably enough to have her weight measured (all 45 lbs of it) and height taken (just over 42 inches), but was quite insistent on putting them back on again for the short hallway walk to our exam room.
She was also quite cooperative as she had her blood pressure taken for the first time, awed as she was by the process.
Unfortunately, she was far less taken by the process of donning a paper gown, eyeing it suspiciously as I worked to get it unfolded and draped properly over her miniature shoulders.
As I set my phone down after snapping the above picture, I could see the tears of uncertainty begin to form in her eyes, and I had to jump in quickly with words of distraction and comfort. Before her quiet protests at the strangeness of the experience began to escalate into a familiar wail of defiance, I chose a fun-looking picture book and sat down to read it to her. We had just enough time to reach the end when her doctor came in the room.
Though she was responsive and polite, I could tell that Abby was a bit more apprehensive in the presence of her doctor than she had been with the nurses. Though she's seen him many times in her life, I suspect this is the first time she's really "seen" him at all. Even the little examinations of mouth and ear that she'd been through many times before clearly seemed new and strange to her, on this first appointment in which she was finally old enough to truly be aware.
The realization that she might see the experience through these new eyes was not a novel one for me. I had suspected for some time that this appointment would be different for her than any other, and as I observed her reactions to each part of the process, my suspicions were confirmed. And so it was that I approached the scheduled vaccinations with great trepidation. I remembered my own childhood, and the anxiety that I used to feel over the prospect of receiving them, and was determined to do whatever I could to help her combat those same feelings in the future.
As we waited on the nurse who would administrate the prepared syringes, I felt at a loss for words. How was I to describe to her how it might feel without actually scaring her? I started off by attempting a simple explanation of what the shots were for: to teach her body how to fight off very bad infections. Then I added the caveat that they would not feel very good to receive, but that the feeling would not last long, I would be there, and that everything would be okay.
Her little face was stoic and I could not tell if she had truly understood what I had told her, but I had to hope. Sadly, that hope did little to stem the flow of tears that threatened to burst from my face as I held her tightly in position, tiny legs trapped between my own, skinny arms pinned down by my tight embrace. I urged her to look away, look away, and even lost my hold a few times as I gently turned her head towards me.
In the end I accepted that she would learn what was most comfortable for her, and watched in utter shock as she accepted the first injection with nary an expression on her face, let alone a sound of protest. Next came the second shot, which earned the same lack of reaction. For once, I took my cues from her and felt the shudders still within me as my breaths began to resume in proper sequence. It was done, and she really was okay, and so was I.
I bought two cookies from the snack bar as we waited the recommended fifteen minutes within sight of the doctor's office, since they came in pairs. However, I tucked mine away, instead choosing to marvel at the sight of my big girl enjoying her well-earned treat after doing the unexpected.
I'd been worrying about this appointment for days for a myriad of reasons, many of which revolved around its timing in the middle of all of my last-minute party preparation. But in the end it gifted me with an amazing experience that buoyed me through a bit of the unavoidable stress, and gave me a new story to boast about in the midst of the revelry that came after.
Because that afternoon, in the chaos of my usual scatterbrained rushing and fussing and panicking, I got to see my Abby be brave.