Max’s first allergist had a nickname for him: “Mad Max.” I have to admit it was rather fitting. I suppose I should have been embarrassed by how much of his time there Max spent howling at the top of his lungs. I guess on some level I was. I remember some shushing and attempts at soothing and distraction, but in my heart of hearts I couldn’t blame him.
He was around six months when he became a patient there and was about 3 when we moved away. If you’ve ever had skin allergy testing, you know the whole process is tantamount to toddler torture. They make you undress, usually in a cold room, rub cold stuff all over your back and then want you to lie still while they poke you. Then to add insult to injury, they stand around while you get itchier and itchier. If you’re lucky, they wheel in a t.v. and pop in a Barney d.v.d. to drown out your complaints. If you don’t sit still they have mom and/or dad (in our case it was a definite two-parent job) hold you down and maybe blow on the itchiest spots. Then they tell you it’s for your own good. Pretty darn confusing to the 2-and-under set.
Yet, with the 2-and-under set, the only strategy you really have is grin and get through it as best you can. As Max got older and mastered some level of delayed gratification, we moved on to bribery. I could dress it up and call it something else, but it was pretty much quid pro quo. I will be the first to admit I have reneged on a lot of my before I was a parent proclamations. “I will never co-sleep with my baby.” That lasted a few weeks. “I will make homemade gourmet baby food and serve only the freshest most organic whole foods.” I really appreciate all the Gerber commercials where they almost make you feel like theirs is better. That was what I told myself while spooning it to the little ones. “I will never show TV to a child under 2.” I actually am much better about not showing it to a child over 7, who can read, then one under 2. Better late than never, I guess.
Still, not bribing, not paying for grades or chores, is one pre-pregnancy resolution that we have pretty much kept. Trying their best at those is just expected behavior. Occasionally, we’ve been known to incentivize really stubborn problems. I had no qualms offering a prize bag for potty training, for instance. In fact, I gave treats to the trainer and the sibling just so everyone would be extra excited for any good performance. That’s how much I wanted to be done with diapers. Lately, I offered Claire a special doll if she did extra handwriting practice after school every day. Her other grades were starting to suffer and the teacher was concerned. It seemed like it was time to really tackle it. Plus, I have been waiting a long time for her to discover dolls. I was excited that she was excited. Win, win, I thought. I did end up regretting that one almost immediately though. Every day was a negotiation of whether that was “enough” practice. The grandmas apparently have been waiting to buy her dolls too. Now we have dolls out the door. And yet I have not a single reservation about bribing for medical procedures.
At one point we even had a whole system. Something like an i.v. for a sedated M.R.I. was worthy of ribs and root beer at Max’s favorite restaurant. Allergy testing could get a pack of Pokemon cards for Max and a new bottle of wine for mom and dad. (Probably not a fair economic distribution, but oh well for him.) Shots were worth a slush for the victim, er patient, and a diet Coke with diet cherry for mom. But the one medical procedure both children dreaded more than anything were eye drops at the ophthalmologist. I don’t fully understand why but they hated them with a passion. Max got more upset about those than lumbar punctures. Maybe they worked each other up, but I do believe the fear from both of them was genuine. For cooperating and not squirming or crying (and embarrassing mom), I offered a Webkinz, the little stuffed animals that come with a code to their own room online, and a hour each of screen time. It was amazing how their attitudes turned around.
As with most overly complicated systems, the unexpected proved its undoing. When we promised the ribs and root beer after the sedated M.R.I. we kind of forgot about that directive that you’re not supposed to eat anything greasy or heavy after you’ve been sedated. “Ribs?” the anesthesia nurse asked with raised brow. “Well, if you promised, you’re going to have to let him. Really, in my experience, if they are going to throw up, they will throw up anything.” Those are not the words you want to hear before heading off to a kind-of-expensive-treat lunch. He was fine, but I kept my vomit bag handy. He did look a little queasy. Then just last week at the eye doctor, the eye doctor determined they were old enough he could look in the back of their eyes without the eye drops. You would think they would be happy, right? If I needed proof that we were overcompensating, that was it. They were disappointed. Weird kids, I’m sure the eye doctor thought. There went the Webkinz, but I did offer the consolation price of slushes. (See photo).