My two sons, aged 9 and 10, are currently in “conditioning” for tackle football, to prepare them for their first ever season. They get yelled at, run around like maniacs and bash each other with giant pads. So, like our house every other night.
Apparently to play football even at junior level, kids need to get physicals, probably so that if any injuries do occur, everyone is exempt from being sued and can go on their merry ways as your child lies on the ground, bleeding from the mouth.
Perhaps it is clear that I am not completely “pro” this endeavor, but do not want to be the “bad guy” parent who says, “No, I want my children to live, I do not want them engaging in baby NFL, when the adult NFL is currently paying out billions for head injuries. I read CNN, people.” Despite being a Jewish mother, I agreed.
Happily, in the almost two weeks my kids have been “conditioning” they have left the field and gotten into the car with the demeanor of those who have sat and meditated at a Buddhist retreat for the day. They are calm, amenable and don’t hit each other. They are downright Zen, except on the subject of food, in which they have a healthy interest. They want to know when they’re getting it, what it is, did I cook it, and can I hurry up and get home so they can have some. As a Jewish mother whose few pleasures in life involve watching my children eat, I approve.
We finally totter along to the pediatrician’s, once the appointment rolls around. This being Malibu, the receptionist looks like she should be playing a receptionist on television, and the nurse looks like only eight years ago she was on the cover of Vogue. The doctor is the same kindly man they’ve seen once or twice, not the kids’ first pediatrician whom they are comfortable with, but he does have his dog lying around in his office, which vastly improves his status in their eyes.
Everything is going swimmingly, I have separated my sons into two rooms so they are not constantly fighting (they haven’t been to football yet today) and am in with the ten-year old, who is being very professional while having his blood pressure taken and vitals tested. Until the doctor puts on his rubber gloves and announces, “Okay, now take down your pants please, so we can do a hernia exam.”
My jaw drops. Really? You’re going to touch my shy kid’s balls, without warning? Even before the screaming starts, I know it’s going to be bad…
Right on cue, my child starts wailing “No, noooooooo….” As if we have suggested that he has to have his penis removed so he can play football. “Noooooooo,” as always he turns on me, “You tricked me….”
“I didn’t know,” I answer weakly, with my standard disclaimer for all things, “I didn’t grow up in this country…”
At this point, his brother starts to jiggle the locked door from the outside, trying to get in and check on his brother, as despite the hitting, name-calling and fighting, apparently he cares.
“I’m not doing it…” says my older kid, to which I reply, “Okay, well you’re not playing football then.” Because I’m a bad parent.
I back up and try cajoling, empathizing, and finally leave the room before I start to yell. The receptionist and the nurse look up at me for explanation, “He thinks the doctor is interested in his junk,” I quip in my usual low-key style. They giggle. “His baby junk,” I add, because I am a bad parent, to whom nothing is sacred.
Then I get the brilliant idea to get his dad on the phone, go back in and leave my phone in there so together they can sort it out. My ex-husband was a shy kid, he will probably get it, and they have some kind of special bond, meanwhile we start the physical on the younger, larger kid.
Once I explain to the younger one, Jocky McJockerson, what is going on, he is willing to drop his laundry right there in the waiting room. You see, my younger son is the junior frat boy, always ready to do anything for a laugh, and interested only in anything that has a ball involved. (Ball? Get it? he would add, even though he is nine.) I can’t wait until he gets a girl pregnant five years from now.
All is going well with Jocky, he’s down to drop trou, until we mention to the doctor about his nightly stomach aches, and the doctor suggests we finally test him for a gluten allergy. “How will you test me?” asks my kid, all wide green eyes.
“Is it a blood test?” I ask, trying to sound nonchalant.
“With a needle??” asks my kid, in horror.
“It’s not really a needle… it’s…” but the doctor has run out of lies, and my kid has now started his own wailing, that can be heard not only through the waiting room, but throughout the building. “Noooooo…” he screams, once again, looking at me accusingly, because when you have kids, everything on G-d’s earth is your fault.
The doctor takes out the needle and of course, because I tell my son not to look at it, he does, and screams louder. By now he is writhing and thrashing around and nothing I say can make him stop. “Honey, your dad gives blood every few months with a much bigger needle for an hour,” and “Sweetie, he’s only putting in the tip…” which is the line he will use on the girl in a few years.
Finally I leave the room, and the nurse comes in to physically hold my kid down. She must have been an athlete as well as a model, because she is doing a great job with my giant, strong child. I am in the lobby wishing for Xanax, as my other kid wanders in, having spoken to his dad. “I’m going to do it,” he says determinedly about the hernia exam. “What’s wrong with him?” he asks, hearing his brother, as if he himself weren’t, only moments ago, shrieking like a burning witch.
I pop back into the room where my younger son is still writhing like he’s having an exorcism, and turn his head away so he doesn’t look at the needle in his arm. I stroke his face and try to say soothing things. He stops crying abruptly. “It doesn’t hurt mommy, did they put something on there so it wouldn’t hurt?”
“No honey, we told you…” I trail off. He didn’t listen to me when I told him not to look at the needle, or when I demonstrated that it would be just a pinch, or when I tell him not to talk back, so why should he listen to me now? I just stroke his face and try to look like I don’t hate my life.
The doctor tells my son to cough, and as he does, removes the needle. My son is elated. Soon, both boys’ baby ball exams have been completed, and they emerge into the parking lot like men who have endured a rite of passage, as some African boys endure scarification.