"Empathy is the most radical of human emotions." - G Steinem

December 15, 2010

Anyone who tells you that all children naturally have empathy is lying.

E frequently injures me. Perhaps it is because he is a bouncy boy and I am a short-sighted adult with slow reflexes, but whatever the reason, its not at all unusual for his head to connect with my nose or face in such a way as to cause me searing, searing pain. While I was working at my former place of employment, my facial injuries were so frequent that one of the project managers became convinced that I was being abused. E has broken about four pairs of my glasses, and I'm pretty sure that at least once he's caused permanent damage to my nose.

Now, we can add, I think, a damaged front upper tooth to the list.

E was bouncing on the bed, as we've asked him not to do a million times. And this time, somehow, as I was putting my hands on his shoulders to get the bouncing to stop, his head connected with my front teeth and nose during an upward bounce. Everything went white. Searing pain. I became aware that I was leaning over his bureau, making this sort of half groaning, half strangled bleating noise, as I tried not to scream. And I became aware of another sound as well. I could hear E laughing. As hurt as I was, and as mad at him as I was for inflicting yet another facial injury on me, the thing that made me maddest was the laughing.

I shouted at him. "E, you really hurt me!" He laughed harder. I took a moment and composed myself, and tried as much as I could to get firm and steely with him. "Its time to get ready for bed" I said.


"Did you just tell me no?"

"Yes" He started laughing again.

I have to say this pushed me over the edge, into the land of "as angry as I have ever been." I informed him that he'd just lost all his bedtime stories, which led to a little fake crying that quickly turned into giggling. I told him again to get ready for bed, and he continued to be basically completely defiant. I changed his clothes, since he'd made it quite clear that he wasn't getting into his PJs voluntarily, and marched him into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Finally, in the bathroom, he figured out that something was, in fact, wrong -- that maybe I was mad -- but he decided to try and make me smile by pushing on my mouth, which was absolutely the wrong thing for him to do.

"Don't touch my face."

"But I want to make you smile."

"Don't touch my face, E, it hurts when you do that. From where you hit me with your head."

I sent him back to his room, and got him settled in the bed. Then, I sat down on the edge of the bed to try and talk with him, as it became increasingly clear that he had no idea why I was suddenly so mad at him. Our conversation started off ok, but quickly degenerated into him giggling and giggling as I tried to explain to him that he'd hurt my face very badly.

"E, what is so funny?"

"Mamma, you talk funny."

And with that I said good night, warned him not to get out of bed, and came downstairs. My front tooth is still throbbing, and I suspect its actually been damaged and will require a dentist visit. But even more, I'm in quite a lot of pain at the thought of seeing him laugh and laugh and laugh at me as I was in agonizing pain. I know, rationally, that he won't grow up to be a serial killer, but there are nights like tonight when I really fear he will.


jenne.heise said...

Much sympathy.

I've been there several times with Beekman (he still pulls hair, for instance). The books say you should not tough it out when something like this happens, but cry and carry on so they know they've hurt you... but it hasn't helped yet. And I, too, ask myself if he's permanently lacking in empathy.

Of course now in retrospect, reading your story, I remember that Miss B. and in fact most of the kiddoes that I love went through this stage and got over it to become decent and deeply empathetic individuals.... but somehow I worry that Beekman won't.

Amber said...

Some kids have more empathy than others. R is a little too empathetic - yes, there is such a thing and it's a problem when they are school age (with rules made just for you...). Z has... less. Not none, but we have to talk a lot about how things feel to other people. If this had happened and Z laughed (which she might have), after I was done being mad (because I would be - pain does that) we'd talk about how it felt and how it would hurt if that had happened to her.

We've done that for 3 years or so and it seems to help - when I started to worry. It helps R with over-reacting, too. We talk about these things lots - whenever she reacting "inappropriately" or even just if I notice something and ask "how would it feel if..." I noticed she's developed the skills and uses them - when she's not tired/cranky/sick/etc.

A co-worker with an 8-year-old with reactions similar to E's. They go to counseling to work on developing it because by that age it can be a problem and there are ways to help