checking up and tuning in

My sons turned 9 months and 4 years old at about the same time, so scheduling their checkups with the pediatrician on the same afternoon seemed to make perfect sense. At least it did when I was on the phone with the receptionist. But ever since I had a second child, I have made a habit of second-guessing my choices.

“Mommy, do shots hurt?” My four-year-old asked on the drive across town to the doctor’s office.

“Yes, they do. But not for long. When I was in the hospital having your brother I got lots of shots,” I explained.

“And you didn’t even cry?”

“No, I didn’t.  But it’s okay if you cry. Just remember it won’t hurt for long. Mommy will be right there with you.”

My mind flashed back to four years earlier, when my big boy was an infant.  My fingers ran circles around the palm of his hand as I talked to the doctor, going down the list of new mom questions. I recalled my son’s very first “shot visit” and how I pressed my lips near his ear, gave him tiny kisses and whispered, “It’s okay.”

Later the doctor remarked, “You’re very in tune with your son.”

Shot visits always make me nervous. There’s so much controversy about whether vaccines can be harmful, and although my husband and I did our research and made the choice to immunize, the concern is always in the back of my mind. I wish I could protect my sons from every hurt, every pain. I wish there were absolute answers, tips proven to work on each and every child, and advice that applied to each and every parent.

If such a thing exists, I haven’t found it. As a mom, I’m required to make judgment calls, and many times I rely on my gut feeling, a sixth sense that can wave a wild red flag or fill me with a sense of peace. And while I may be in tune with my children, there are plenty of times our signals get crossed. Each day, I have to remember to trust, and forgive, myself.

Once inside the pediatrician’s office, my son decided that the baby should go first. I held my big, healthy boy as the nurse gave him the injection. I watched a happy smile turn to heartbroken tears. I bounced him on my hip for a few seconds until he started laughing, revealing his two bottom teeth. Drool oozed down his chin.

I sat the baby in the stroller and hopped up on the table behind my son. I wrapped my arms around him. I pressed my lips near his ear, gave him tiny kisses and whispered, “It’s okay.”

On the ride home, I marveled at his reflection in my rear view mirror. As I watched him suck on a lollipop and listened to his baby brother cackle “da da da,” I felt a sense of peace. I had said, “It’s okay,” and I knew, this time, it really was.