Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Yesterday my 13-month old son Wyatt bit me. Hard. It left an angry, purple, blood mark on my shoulder. He bit me because he was frustrated. He was frustrated because I wouldn’t let him chew on the wheel of the grocery cart. I wouldn’t let him chew on the wheel of the grocery cart because I had just run it through a big pile of dog poop on the street, and his exploring mouth and large tongue were honing in on it.
I almost dropped the little vampire. I have tiny, toothy skid marks down my right chest where he bounced down and finally came to rest on my raised knee. I screamed out of surprise and immediately placed Wyatt on the floor. When my husband came in he saw Wyatt lying on the ground and me standing there, indignant, with my hand on my shoulder. Wyatt was crying. I was close to it. And of course my husband naturally went to the child first. I would expect him to. I would want him to. But at the same time, I felt a little twinge of sadness that he did. Sometimes some of the changes of parenthood manage to avoid my sleep-deprived, little brain.
Wyatt’s bite hurt on a physical level, and it hurt even more on an emotional one. I was really surprised by it, and I had to take a step back. I couldn’t look at him for a while. It was the first really angry display I had witnessed from my son whose nickname was “The Buddha.” Since he was six-months old, he has been a very calm, very wise baby. He was patient with me – far more so than anyone else in my life has ever been. It feels to me that we have an understanding between us and that he trusts me to make the right decisions for him and his brother. Especially when it comes to chew toys.
I know that infants bite for a multitude of reasons one of them being that biting is a means of communication. Wyatt was pretty clear as to what he was communicating yesterday: frustration, dislike, anger and outrage. He was furious with me for not letting him do what babies do: chew on things that are gross, so his reaction was unexpected. Yes. I know. I was quick to react. I didn’t want Wyatt to ingest dog poop, or anything off the streets of New York City for that matter. I was too sudden. I probably scared him. And I was thoughtless. He got angry, and I got bit.
But I think what has disturbed me most about the situation is that it took me a while to get over it. I wouldn’t hold Wyatt up to my body for a few hours afterwards. I kept him on my knee when I had to hold him, and I did my best not to have to pick him up at all. I kept those teeth as far from me as I could, and I did so without wanting to tell my husband how I was feeling for fear of judgment because I was having a terrible time getting past it. I was that upset. Wyatt didn’t seem to notice my distance. He was happy and bubbling and back to being the mellow little Buddha Baby that I know and love.
Here’s the thing: a child’s job is to teach the parent as much as it is the parent’s job to teach the child. So the little Buddha is telling me some things. He’s telling me to let go. To forgive so that I can set myself free. I need to do it with him, and I need to do it in other areas of my life. Because if there is one thing I am really good at, it’s holding on to pain so that I can use it to protect myself. I do not forgive people with ease or grace.
Eventually I picked Wyatt up, held him close, and we had ourselves a good giggle. He brings out in me a love that is so powerful it supercedes my willful defenses and irrational fears. So maybe if I could start with Wyatt, I can keep going. I can forgive other people who have hurt me in one way or another. I have been trying to sit with this and practice this all day, and I am not very good at it. However, I am not going to give up. Eventually, I’ll figure it out, and I will become proficient at forgiveness. And I will always have a little scar on my right shoulder to wear as both a reminder and as a badge of courage on my journey of parenthood.