I am four people away from getting my single Friday night margarita when I see my husband frantically waving me out of line at our favorite taco joint. I had been deep in conversation with a dad behind me who was giving me his opinion of the public middle school our son is slated to attend. This is my obsession of late, which is why I didn’t notice my husband leave the line.
I apologized to the man and walked over to my husband. “We have to leave. Jude has a splinter in his butt.”
There are words you learn to expect when you’re a parent.
“The dog rolled in cat poop.”
“Why can’t I pee outside? Animals do.”
“Iris punched me in my head.”
“If we get enough snow, can I jump off the roof?”
“Before you walk into my room, let me explain what happened.”
“I peed/pooped my pants/the bed/at camp.”
“You’re old for a mom, aren’t you?”
Splinter in the butt was a new one, and I will confess, my first reaction was not one of sympathy, even as I looked at my son who was fighting back tears. It was a pity party for me because my husband was finally recovering from the flu (yes, he got a flu shot) and I had been a single mother for most of the week at my brand new job. My pitying sing-song went something like, ‘All I wanted was a stupid margarita and fish taco. Yet another week in which mom gets nothing for herself.’
My husband tells me he has taken an initial splinter peek in the bathroom and it’s bad. We are immediately moving and winding our way back along the 45 minute long snaking line, taco hungry customers probably grateful to be four people closer to the order counter.
Away from the crowd, my son explains he was sitting on one of the benches with another boy, playing each other in video games on their phones, when he scooted down the bench.
And that was it. The perfect angle for a waiting spike of wood to take a dive into my boy’s left cheek.
“I can’t sit in the car! I can’t do it.” The tears are flowing freely now as he limps across the parking lot.
“Try to sit on one cheek,” my husband offers.
He winces from the back seat as we discuss what to do on the drive home. “How bad is it?” I ask. “Can I get it out?”
“I don’t know. It’s a big black spot that looks all the way in.”
The ER at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta looms. A kids’ ER on a Friday night. The opposite of a margarita and a taco.
We go into breaking news parent mode. We decide we will put him on the bed and use my husband’s professional lights so I have the best possible lighting. I decide I will use my tweezers and a tiny tipped knife.
When my son hears the word ‘knife’ from the back seat, he yells out, “Knife? What are you going to do with a knife? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH A KNIFE?”
This is when I fake it. I explain how I will get the splinter out and not hurt him and make things okay. This is the ultimate in adulting, pretending you know what to do, even in splinter-in-the-butt scenarios.
The situation does not improve 10 minutes later when we are setting up production lights and I place the tweezers and knife on the bed.
“Mom. MOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” He is wild eyed, looking at me like I’m about to shoot up heroin.
I begin to explain that I’m not going to stab him with the knife, but that I will use it to whittle the splinter out. He doesn’t like that explanation. At all.
We get him on the bed and he is saying, “Wait, I need to calm myself down, I need to calm myself down, I NEED TO CALM MYSELF DOWN,” yelling now.
Holding his hand, my husband gently pushes his head onto the bed and that’s when I get my first glimpse of the splinter. Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t. Be cool, woman. Be cool.
It’s big and there’s a tiny part sticking out of the skin. I gently grasp it with the tweezers and lightly pull. The wood snaps off and my son screams, unleashing the mother of all curse words, the one that got Ralphie’s mouth washed out with soap in ‘The Christmas Story.’
We let it slide, not even acknowledging the word. This situation has earned him a free pass in the ‘F’ department.
I go right back in, this time having to go below the surface of the skin with the tweezers. The waiting room of the ER is coming into sharper focus and I decide I will go down swinging.
I maneuver the tweezers around the teeny tiny tip of the splinter. My son is shrieking now as I begin to pull, trying to be steady and straight. The image of me as a little girl pulling earthworms from the warm dirt of my parents’ garden pops into my head. It is that delicious, sickly sensation, the reluctant exiting of something that would rather stay buried in the moist earth, or in this case, my son’s rear end.
Then it’s out.
The screams immediately cease and he lifts his tear streaked face from the bed. “Oh thank you, Mommy! Thank you!” He suddenly sounds like a gracious child actor out of a Sound of Music style movie, minus the British accent.
I check to make sure I got all of it and then he is off the bed, restoring his dignity with the pulling up of his basketball shorts. He races from the room, the incident already behind him.
I show my husband the splinter. “Jesus.” I nod. It’s the biggest splinter I’ve ever pulled out of anyone.
My son hugs me until bedtime. “How did you do it, Mommy?” At one point he says, “You know how to do everything.”
I don’t point out the truth, that dealing with life’s splinters is a crap shoot that just happened to go our way this time.
Margaritas be damned, I wound up being a Friday night hero.
That is happening less and less as my kids grow up.
I’ll toast to that.