Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. (James Baldwin)
When Tweety was two, I took her to the clinic for a measles and polio vaccination. That morning, her bath time was a lovely affair as we chatted and played.
We had psyched her up the previous night about her intended trip to the doctors’. That morning, she was an uncontrorable bundle of excitement. Awaking the whole household at dawn and demanding to be dressed in her Blulu (Blue) dress. This was her special favourite frock with lots of lace and no sleeves. Perfect for the occasion as we later discovered.
When we got to the clinic, her chatter still ringing in our ears, she suddenly went quiet. The clinic was packed with kids and parents. The sight of nurses in their prim perfectly pressed blue uniforms gave me that familiar flash of fear. The white, clean, shiny hospital floors and the sterile scents that assaulted my nostrils took me back to my clinic days. I could not envy the kids.
Tweety, looked around in bewilderment. She stood on my laps, while holding my neck for balance as I sat down. She needed a grander view. She probably had no idea that there were that many kids her age. She must have thought that the clinic was a special thing only for her- and not the other kids.
We were arranged in groups; bunches of sombre parents and excited toddlers. I peeped into Triage Room 1, the cubicle that our group was to have the injections administered. There was a shiny metallic bowl with cotton balls. Next to it was a fresh package of medical gloves, flanked by a bottle of purple sterilizing liquid. Back in my childhood, we called it spirit. The dreaded tiny needles were in light green seals. I felt my insides churn.
A key learning experience the nurses must have overlooked was how effective the mob psychology of toddlers can be.
As the nurses administered the oral vaccinations, the kids scampered to get a taste of the red sweet into their mouths. Tweety let go and jumped the queue when she realised that I was a tad too slow to get her to the front. When she got her due she went back to the queue for a second helping, as did her peers! We, the parents just laughed, with nervous trepidation as we anticipated the next phase-the injections.
That followed a little too soon for comfort. As if the first kid to be injected had rehearsed, and was being paid to incite the rest, on the first contact with the needle, the boy let out a blood curdling scream that stopped everyone on their tracks-more so the toddlers. We all watched open-mouthed as the mother and nurse tried vainly to calm him down. The kids who had let go of parents in pursuit of more interesting past times now scampered back in panic.
Tweety held onto my legs tightly and just kept murmuring “Pole toto”
The next toddler on the injection line up was even louder and her screams could be heard even long after she had left the room and into the car park! By the time the frustrated nurses were wrestling with the third patient the whole room and clinic was ringing with kids’ screams. Tweety got the cue. She started screaming and demanding to go back home.
“Now! She shrieked.
She held onto my legs and pushed them to move towards the door. She was next on the injection-and she turned into a drama queen. When she noticed we were going nowhere and that the nurse was calling for her, she let go of my legs and made a dash for the door. Luckily, another parent instinctively blocked her way and closed the door. Tweety lost it. She turned into a caged tiger as she bit, screamed and demanded to be let out. Other kids joined the melee and attempted to push open the door. Thankfully doors are pulled open and the toddlers were way too panicky to notice the difference.
Tweety noticed a window. Had I not jumped -and fallen -she would have thrown herself right out. It was a circus as our parenting skills were put to test. The babies were on strike. We were helpless. A few mothers were crying! Some fathers attempted threats “If you don’t stop that right now I will have your tooth pulled out…..”
I picked up Tweety and hugged her tightly. When her whimpering had subsided, we sat down for a short comforting chat.
“You know what Tweety; mommy is also going to get the injection.”
I delivered the white lie straight faced.
“No mommy, it hurts, don’t!
“Its ok babie, it does not hurt at all”
“I don’t want you to. Let’s go home now, please mom?”
“Look Tweety, mommy will be injected, and then you hug her. And she will hug you too. Then we can go eat ice cream!”
She only made a final concession when the nurse and I agreed that she would be last for the injection after all other kids had their share. It was a deal.
She still twitched and cried with the other kids as they were getting their injections. But she kept her part of the deal. She actually smiled sheepishly, then laughed in hysterical relieve when it was over and she realised that the pain was not that bad after all.
A few months after this, there was a child dedication service in the church. Tweety was on the list for the special occasion. As usual, we had told her about it the previous night. That Sunday morning, spruced up in her trademark Blulu dress, she was a picture of pure joy. When the parents and kids were called out to the pulpit for the prayer dedication, she kept running ahead of me and then pausing and impatiently asking me to hurry up.
We eventually lined up as she looked around. Then suddenly, she let go of my hand and started running back to the seats. I caught up with her and asked what the matter was. With a firm voice and fear in her eyes, she looked me straight in the eyes and asked