My oldest daughter had become a regular in the nurse’s office. First it was her back. It hurt so bad that she couldn’t run so she sat on the bench at recess and it hurt when she tried to sit on the floor with the other kids so she had to sit in a chair. She found a way to call me everyday. Her teacher finally suggested that she come home. She took a day to rest and use my heating pad. We got her checked out at the doctor and lightened the load in her backpack.
Then it was her tummy. It was every day for a week until one day it hurt the “worst that it’s ever hurt” and so I picked her up from school. The baby’s two month check-up was scheduled for that day and we had already pushed it back several times. We couldn’t reschedule so I brought the ailing child with me. Walking into the doctor’s office had a miraculous effect. It may have been the wafting aroma of alcohol swabs. It may have been the healing presence of a caring doctor. But my guess is that it was fake all along and she had pulled one over on me.
On Friday of the next week she was back in the nurse’s office. When the nurse called, I asked to speak to my child because I wanted her to know it was not okay to keep tricking me. We talked for awhile…”I looked in the mirror and my face is so pale…my tummy hurts the worst that it ever has…I feel like I’m going to throw up”. I had heard it all before and so I called her bluff. “Okay, but if you come home you will not be going with your friends to gymnastics tomorrow.” When she answered “okay” I knew she wasn’t messing around. I took her home and she actually was sick. She was sick in the toilet, she was sick on her bed, she was sick in a bowl and I felt horrible for second guessing her.
Then Monday rolled around and the little dude woke up with a tummy ache. He rolled around in the chair, he laid in the floor, he sipped his milk instead of chugging it. There did seem to be something wrong but nothing so drastic that I should keep him home from school. He is usually not a complainer so I told him, “Go to school and if your tummy still hurts later you can call me.” I didn’t expect to hear from him again. My husband dropped him off at 8:30, then at 9:25 my cell phone rang. I thought about the mistake I had made the Friday before with my 9-year-old and so I answered quickly. “Yeah, okay, I’ll come get him”.
I signed him out and he left the office dragging his backpack behind him. I started the car but waited for him to buckle up before I pulled out. “I was headed to Target to pick up some coffee. Do you just want to go home and lay down? I can get it later.”
“Target?…Well, I guess we could do that first and then we could go home…” He kept his voice nonchalant but the grin on his face gave me the first idea that maybe I had been fooled once again. My second clue came when we walked through the sliding glass doors. He skipped over to the rows of cheaply priced items at the front of the store and began to shout from ten steps away. “I’m gonna get this slime…I can pick something out for Mia when we go look at the toys.”
In that moment I knew he was faking it but I couldn’t make myself take him back to school.
Sometimes when a child says they have a tummy ache they are trying to tell you something else that they don’t have words to express. Then it’s my job as a mother to try to figure out what they are trying to say. “I have a tummy ache” could mean “I’m nervous…I’m bored…I’m scared…I’m tired…I don’t want to face this day…I am overwhelmed…I need to be with you…I need someone to listen…I want to feel like someone cares for me.” I felt like it had been days since I had even talked to my son and I think he felt it too. He had spent the night with a friend. I was taking care of an infant and his sick older sibling. We had church and small group and everyone needed clean laundry.
We got everything we needed at Target. The baby had started to cry so we checked out and headed out to the car. “Can we go home and play Minecraft? I’ll teach you how.” I chose to ignore the fact that he was skipping school to play video games and I just said “yes.” We built a house together. He knew all the right bricks to use and how to get my sheep into the pen we had made for them. He laughed at the cave I constructed just for storing my cake and laughed even harder when I called it my “cake hole.” When it started to rain, we hid in his tower watching the drops through the glass ceiling. We chased chickens and walked on top of the trees. He showed me an underwater castle and we played hide and seek.
When he got up the next morning he was fine. Whatever had been bothering him had passed…whether it was sickness of body, mind, or heart…it was better and he left for school without an argument. I thought back to the day that my daughter had gone to the doctor for her back. We got frozen yogurt and listened to Taylor Swift in the car. We went shopping and took selfies together. The day her tummy hurt she helped me take care of the baby and we laughed when the wind tried to blow our grocery cart away. We watched old 90s sitcoms and made cookies.
They will have to go to school every day for the next decade but how many more days do I have to play with them? Maybe next time I will give them time with me before they have to beg for it. But for one day I let them both get away with faking a tummy ache and I don’t regret a second of it.