When my two boys were very young, we were frequent flyers at the ER.
If we could have accrued points for our visits, we'd have achieved Medallion status and gotten all the great perks, like priority first-class seating in the waiting room and free drinks. Sadly, the hospital never once offered free Bloody Marys, even at those times when I could use one most.
After the fourth ER visit in a three-month period, I cowered in the corner of the exam room. "I hope all these repeated visits won't prompt a call from Children's Services," I told the doctor, with a nervous laugh.
He reached into my older son's nose with what appeared to be needle-nosed pliers. I watched as he pulled out a tiny wad of clothes dryer-hardened Kleenex, which Son #1 had apparently relocated from his pants pocket into the nether regions of his nostrils.
"I wouldn't worry too much about Children's Services," he said. "I haven't seen an abusive parent yet who shoves balled-up pieces of tissue up their child's nose."
Son #1 had his share of ER trips for sure. But Son #2 was an ornery, hyperactive youngster, particularly prone to accidents and mishaps. His younger years presented a unique set of parental challenges. (Son #1 surpassed those challenges in his teenage years.)
Fortunately, we of the Stanfa lineage are a tough bunch. As my dad was fond of saying, "When it gets too rough for everyone else, it's just about right for us."
Yet no one in the family was tougher and more resilient, in times of medical crisis, than Son #2.
Many of his injuries were endured with little or no complaint. He barely whimpered about his two fractured wrists, so I refused to feel too guilty for waiting weeks after both incidents to finally haul him off to see a doctor.
But some occasions demanded immediate attention. Like the time he was a toddler and I found him belting down a bottle of cough syrup.
We headed off to our second home, where the ER nurse handed us a tall glass of some charcoal-flavored antidote. "It tastes God-awful, so we can never get any child to drink it, but let's see if we manage to get just a sip or two down him."
I sighed and handed my two-year-old the witches brew.
He took one sip. He swallowed. He peered down at the cup. And he then proceeded to chug, hardly bothering to breathe between gulps. When he finished the entire contents, he handed the cup back to me. Awaiting a refill.
The nurse watched, bug-eyed. "In all my years here, I have never--not once--seen a child drink the whole thing."
A stomach of steel. Yes, I was raising Iron Man.
I didn't comprehend the strength of his super powers until years later, when we learned his too-small palate couldn't accommodate a normal full set of teeth. Consequently, the orthodontist recommended that he have several pulled. We headed off to the dentist--a man aptly named Dr. Moeller.
Dr. Moeller reached toward his young patient, with the first in a planned series of novacaine shots.
Son #2 clamped his hand over his mouth, releasing it just long enough to shout. "No shots! I don't need any shots! Just pull the teeth."
Dr. Moeller tried to reason with him: The novacaine would numb his mouth. The extractions would be far more painful without it than with it. He'd never pulled a tooth before, in all his years as a dentist, without numbing the patient's mouth first.
His pleas were to no avail. Young Iron Man shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "No shots. Just pull them out."
Finally, Dr. Moeller nodded. "OK. I'll start to pull on the first tooth, and you let me know when to stop. Then we'll talk again about some novacaine."
He winked at me. I nodded back. We both knew how this was sure to play out.
Dr. Moeller reached back into the boy's mouth, this time with dental forceps. I watched him take hold of the tooth. No reaction.
He jiggled it. Nothing.
He began to pull. I cringed and turned my face away, holding my hands over my sensitive maternal ears to block out my child's inevitable scream of agony.
Not a sound.
I looked back to see the dentist holding a tooth, roots and all, within his forceps. He shook his head in disbelief, and we both glanced back at the boy in the chair.
"See? Easy," said Son #2.
Within minutes, the dentist had pulled the other three teeth. Iron Man lay silently until the dentist announced he was finished. Then he opened his eyes and grinned.
"See? Easy," he repeated, as blood dripped from the corners of his smile.
Within an hour of returning home, young Iron Man was requesting macaroni and cheese for dinner. I managed to appease him with a glass of chocolate milk.
I needed a drink that night too. Something with a much bigger kick.
But somehow, I couldn't face a Bloody Mary.
Did parenthood provide you with a card-carrying ER membership? Are you a wimp or are you Iron Man?