Let me tell you a story.
First, I have to start off by giving props to all of my friends with babies and toddlers. And goodness, there's a lot of them. I keep up with a lot of people with the miracle of Facebook, and I love it. Without it, I would miss out on seeing so many miracles every day. Because I know so many people with little ones two and under, it seems that every few days I also hear a new mother lament about the pain her baby is going to go through in receiving a vaccination. Most moms are genuinely concerned about the pain their baby will suffer, the discomfort and possible side effects of fever or muscle soreness. And then there's the general mom-ness of not wanting your child to feel any pain. Hey, most parents feel that way. Who wants their kid to go around hurting...especially a tiny baby or a little toddler?
So here's my story:
Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who agreed to care for two children who had nowhere else to go. The first child was a preschooler, and lived with them for a few months before the second one came. The new parents were worried about doing everything right. They took the oldest child to the doctor, to therapists, to preschool, and tried to offer him everything a small boy could need.
A couple of months passed and it was Christmas time. The boy's sister arrived on Christmas Eve, a tiny toddler with a mop of curly hair and large doe eyes. The boy was thrilled to see his sister again. Both children were excited by the tree, receiving gifts and being with family. Their new mom and dad had received their paperwork by now and everything seemed to be in order. There was only one problem, the parents realized. Their newest little child hadn't had any vaccinations since birth. She had received one immunization--the one given immediately after birth--but none since then, and she was nearly two.
Two years behind in her immunizations.
This frightened the new parents tremendously. Their precious child was going to be attending child care, playing on playgrounds, and being exposed to all sorts of germs and viruses. They knew that the potential for catching one of these illnesses existed, and many of them could permanently damage or kill her. So they formulated a plan. Two days after Christmas, they would take the child to receive her first round of immunizations.
The mother somehow got nominated for this job. (To this day I'm not sure how that happened, but that's how the story goes). She took the little tot to the doctor's office and filled out the forms, giving the doctor copies of custody orders and the extremely blank-looking shot record. Fortunately, the doctor's office was very kind to the new mother and assured her they would be as gentle as they could with the child, and combine as many immunizations as they could so there were fewer sticks.
The mother breathed a sigh of relief. Fewer sticks. That was good! How many sticks, exactly, would the child need today? After all, the mother had only known this child for three days.
The nurse smiled gently. "We can do it in five today," she said.
Yes. Five needles in a toddler in one session.
The mother held the child close and tried to comfort her. The little girl cried with each poke. It was heartbreaking for this new mother, whose child hardly knew her and didn't trust her. Certainly, thought the mother, this experience wasn't building trust in their relationship. The nurse used her kindest voice and gave fun bandaids to the child, and by the time the five shots were over, the child was sniffling. So was the mother. The mother carried her new toddler out to the car, buckled her in, and drove her home. But she never forgot that day, and having to force her child to do something because it was in her best interest, even though in the short term it was painful.
I'm sure you've probably figured out that mother was me, and that child was my daughter. I would never try to tell a parent they aren't entitled to worry about their child's immunizations. But I learned early on that sucking it up and biting my upper lip in certain situations made a lot more sense than allowing me or my child to wallow in fear or pity. There would be plenty of opportunities in the future--and ones that were far more painful--for wallowing.
I don't know if this helps or hurts for parents who are struggling with these moments. I wish there had been a mom there when I first got my kids to tell me to let it go, that it wasn't worth worrying about. To help me put it in perspective. However, I'm still learning to do that...so maybe it's a lesson that continues throughout life.