July 31, 2017
By Judy McSpadden
Most moms grimace when recalling trips to the pediatrician for their kids’ early vaccinations.
When my son, Grant, turned two, I knew we were in for some pain and drama at the 2-year appointment – four shots, two Baby Tylenol, and lots of tears. My friends had warned me, and I dreaded it.
Holding hands, we walked down the hall of the base hospital. I steeled myself for the upcoming ordeal, and he jabbered on about this and that. We counted floor tiles, waved to elderly volunteers, and I tried to keep my voice light so I wouldn’t worry him.
“I wonder if he had any idea how he modeled strength and courage for my little boy that day. I would like to have thanked him.”
We turned at the “Immunizations” sign, and we made our way to the front desk. That’s when Grant spied a nurse walking by with a syringe in her hand. I knew he’d seen her because he abruptly stopped talking and somberly turned his head toward me. Lifting his little chin, he caught and held my eye.
“Mommy,” he said with the weight of the whole world in his voice. “I don’t want that today. I do not want a shot.”
What was I to say? I wouldn’t want a shot either — not today or any day. Shots hurt. I imagined responses I could come up with. “Oh, it won’t hurt a bit, Sweetie!” was one, but that was a flat-out lie. He’d never trust me after that.
“C’mon, tough guy, be a big boy” sounded motivating, like a football coach, but it sounded insensitive too; who knew what guilt he’d experience if he cried after that?
Stroking his hair, I just offered random utterances. “I’m right here, Buddy,” I said. “You’ll be OK,” I said.
But Grant wasn’t listening. He had tuned me out. His gaze had shifted to a stocky sergeant, about 5’11,” who had walked to the front of the clinic. Dressed in camo gear, the sergeant was obviously processing through the hospital in preparation for a deployment. While the receptionist was initialing his checklist, a female medical technician was giving him instructions.
The sergeant slowly rolled up his left sleeve and faced in Grant’s direction. In fact, staring directly at Grant, he anchored his feet in a stride akin to a sailor on a rocking ship. The med tech swabbed his arm with a cotton pad.
While the tech injected the serum, the sergeant stood fast, expressionless and still as a stone. Likewise, Grant watched, sitting motionless in my lap. When the tech finished, she walked to the sergeant’s other side. He’d already begun rolling up his right sleeve. The tech repeated the procedure. The sergeant rolled down his sleeve, said thank you, and walked out.
“Your turn, Sweetie!” The tech’s voice was strident as she turned toward Grant, all smiles, while disposing of the old syringes and changing her gloves.
Oh Geez, here goes. I was preparing for anything – for chasing him around the clinic, apologizing to other patients in case he yelled and screamed.
But Grant didn’t scream; he didn’t even move. He just sat in my lap, head down — still as a stone.
“You ready?” I murmured.
“I’m ready,” he replied resolutely.
The tech walked to our chair, got to her knees, and wiped his arm. One shot…two shots…three shots (My gosh, does it ever end?)…four. Done.
Grant gave a single twitch, then a slight whimper.
“Very good, big fella!” the tech said all smiles again. “Do you want a sticker?”
“No thank you,” he said. “I’m ready to go please.” He was trying hard to keep his voice from trembling.
“I’m so proud of you, Grant,” I whispered, bowing my head over his hunched shoulders. “You’re so strong and brave.”
I’ve often thought of that sergeant when taking my kids to the clinic over the years. I wonder how he managed on is deployment. I wonder if he had any idea how he modeled strength and courage for my little boy that day. I would like to have thanked him.
We never know who’s going to impact our children in their lives. Sometimes it’s a person we know well, and other times, it’s a stranger. That sergeant exhibited sturdy calmness to a child that day. He communicated other qualities too, virtues of the service member that the young — and the old, for that matter — can’t always articulate. But they do admire those qualities, and I admire them too. I still do.