A long time ago, before we had Daniel, I read something in the New York Times wedding section that I never forgot. It was one of those years-later updates on a couple whose wedding had once upon a time been featured in the Times. This couple, who had been married maybe 10 or 15 years, said their philosophy in childrearing had been to treat each child as if it were the third child. Meaning, by the time parents get to their third child, they pretty much have seen it all, and they don't overreact to things that are normal parts of growing up. (They had some reason for saying the third child, not the second, but I can't remember.) Anyway, parents tend to be more relaxed, more zen, after they've had some life experience with kids, and this couple wanted to try to have that attitude with all their kids.
I've been thinking a lot about that this week, as Daniel becomes more and more independent and adventurous. He's pulling himself up onto everything. Everything. Things that are solid, things that slide when he puts his weight on them. The high chair. The coffee table. The dresser drawers. The bathtub. The TV stand. My knees. His crib. He just loves to stand, and he loves to pull himself up with one hand while he clutches a toy in his other hand. But he's wobbly, and he doesn't always succeed. On Monday, he fell against the coffee table and bonked his forehead, hard, just above the eyebrow. It started to swell up, and Steve and I started to panic. What do we do? Do we call the doctor? (We didn't. I pulled out the Dr. Sears Babies book and looked up "head injuries" in the index.) Do we put ice on it? (We tried, but he wasn't having it.) Do we just watch to see if it goes down? (We did, and it did.)
Then, on Tuesday, he fell against the high chair, which has a little screw toward the bottom, and busted his lip. He was bleeding hard as I carried him to the bathroom, and I think I was more scared than he was. I dabbed it up, all the while thinking, "Get air into the wound so he doesn't get tetanus." (I know, I know. There are shots for that, but he wasn't up to date on them. Besides, tetanus is really rare; only 26 cases were reported in the United States in 2005, and many of those are in elderly people. But when my child is bleeding at the lip, I begin to imagine the worst-case scenarios.) Then, when I talked myself down from the tetanus scare, I began to wonder if he needed stitches. I called Steve. I called the doctor, who said to watch it for an hour and see if it stopped bleeding. After a few minutes, it looked like the blood was starting to ease up. I put Daniel in the car to go meet Steve for a mid-afternoon coffee. Steve took one look at the cut and said, "Oh, that's nothing." Boys. I just don't get them sometimes.
So I've been thinking about the third-child philosophy. How would I be feeling, acting, now if Daniel were my third child and not my first, if I'd seen the blood and bruises plenty of times before? No sweat, I'm sure. Toddlers fall all the time. It's part of life. It's no fun, but they're tough, and they bounce back, and moms and dads just go with the flow. The next day, when we got to our Early Childhood and Family Education class, the teacher Deb saw Daniel's sore lip and heard about his mishap and just smiled. "Oh, he's becoming a toddler," she said. That's what I mean.