I recently attended a baby shower where the guests were asked to write their favorite bit of parenting advice on a slip of paper.
My single suggestion filled the front and back of the little page.
As we were going around the room, taking turns reading what we’d written, I began to feel anxious about mine.
I was new to this group and not sure how my contribution might be met. These seemed like good people, but ones whose lives are planned out to a degree I’ve never known. They were scheduling play dates for children yet to emerge from the womb, and discussing which summer camp might afford the best connections for later in life. The parenting advice they were sharing was following that same sort of theme.
I became nervous as the round neared my turn. Compared to the rest, my advice was bizarre, yet it had been something that worked so well for all the children in my family. Since I’m lousy at improvising and nothing else was coming to mind, when it came around to me, I ended up reading from my page.
“Skip the Band-Aids when your little ones get hurt and are screaming,” I read, “Reach for your camera instead.”
This was followed by the awkward silence to end all awkward silences. If I’d been brave enough to look up, I imagine a stink-eye or two.
“I’m not talking about genuinely bad injuries,” I continued. “But those little bangs that cause kids to howl on and on, far beyond what’s really warranted.”
I explained to them how, years ago, when my nephew Zachary was 2 or 3, my mother was giving him a haircut when Zak jerked his head at just the wrong moment. Off came a chunk of his ear. It wasn’t a Van Gogh-sized piece. Just a small bit, about the size of a pea. But Zak began wailing the way you’d expect a kid that age to howl upon realizing a part of their body — regardless how small — was now lying in the palm of his or her grandmother’s hand.
As my mother reached for a tissue to dab the blood (a single drop) from Zak’s ear, she spotted her camera next to the Kleenex. This camera, a large and rather fancy piece of equipment, was seldom far from her reach. She grabbed it and began snapping pictures of Zachary’s ear.
As young as he was, Zak recognized this was not normal adult behavior. Puzzled, he quit crying.
“Hold this up,” Mom said, handing him the small piece of ear that she’d snipped. Zak complied.
Mom took one shot after another. There was something about her photo-documentation that made Zak weirdly proud of what he’d endured. He completely forgot his tears and began tipping his head and posing in the light so she could get the best shot.
She had the film developed the next day and Zak helped her place them in a brand new album, along with the remains of the ear.
This is how Mom’s “Boo-Boo Book” came to be. An album devoted to nothing but photographs of family injuries.
From that point on, getting a picture in the “Boo Boo Book” became a big deal with all the grandchildren. At some point, the book ceased to be limited to kids, as the children insisted all injuries — to children, adults, animals and vehicles — be duly photographed and saved.
Mom would even receive photographs via email of injuries that happened when she wasn’t around.
This past winter, when I was helping pack up my parent’s house, I found four entire albums filled with pictures of injuries. I’m not sure if that says more about the accident-prone content of our family gene pool or that we became super adept at distracting whiny kids with a camera.
Regardless, the art of distraction became my favorite parenting tool. Much like my mom, I realized it isn’t always too difficult to change a kid’s channel from one that’s piercingly loud to something more manageable.
When my daughter was little, she would occasionally be racing through the house and crash into a piece of furniture. To stop her from wailing, I’d punish the furniture with a scolding and order it to stay there and not move until I said it could go, or I’d deliberately run into the same thing myself and then fall to the floor and roll in mock pain in the most cartoonish way I could muster. The distraction would be just enough to get her to shift.
While it mostly worked, there were times that it didn’t. I remember once when we were visiting friends for the weekend. It was late and Celeste was fighting sleep when she tumbled off the bed, which set off an extra loud wail. None of my usual tricks worked even a little, and her volume was reaching a pitch that threatened to shatter glass.
Since there was no obvious injury, I carried her to the kitchen. At the time, she was obsessed with cats, so I poured some milk into a saucer, placed it on the floor, and then set her down beside it. She smiled through her tears, and then immediately began lapping the milk. By the time I had refilled the saucer a second time, the injury was completely forgotten. And she was doing cat-like figure-eights around my legs.
“Whatever possessed you to try that?” my friend asked.
That’s when I shared, for the first time, about Mom’s “Boo-Boo Book.”
And now added to it, about my saucer of milk.