When you become a parent for the first time, there are certain supplies you know you'll need. Crib, stroller, car seat, pacifier, Vodka. Then, there are those supplies no one tells you to stock up on. You have to learn as you go and hopefully not inflict too much damage on your child along the way. I think this is why most people have more than one kid. The second baby is a do-over, a chance to finally get it right after that first practice round. Luckily for my almost dozens of readers, I'm here to share one essential parenting tool you won't be able to live without. You can't register for it at Babies R Us or pick one up on eBay or Craig's List. It takes practice and nerves of steel.
I'm talking about the poker face.
I never had a good poker face until Prima reached the toddler years. Until then, I'd managed with inferior strategies like making up a reason to turn my back on her so she couldn't see my face or just quickly leaving the room with my head buried in my hands. As Prima got older, it became clear I needed to improve my game before she developed severe emotional scars.
The first incident happened when Prima was about two years old. She walked up to me, lifted her shirt over her adorable toddler belly, and said, "Mommy, what's this?"
Faced with my first parasite-feeding-off-my-child's-blood challenge, I panicked.
Apparently, to a small child a parent's look of shock translates to this:
Prima completely freaked out. Removing a tick from a child's belly is hard enough when the child is calm. Trying to perform such a delicate operation when the child is crying, thrashing around, and screaming, "Get it off me! Get it off me!" is pretty much impossible. No amount of reassurance or calming from me could counter the effects of that initial moment of shock and horror. The tick eventually came off and I vowed to hide my emotions behind an impervious poker face in the future.
Unfortunately, I didn't do so well with that vow. One morning, Prima played happily in her room while I got ready for the day in the bathroom down the hall. I heard her little feet come tapping down the hardwood floors but, being busy with my mascara, didn't actually look down at her as she came to stand in the bathroom doorway. She said, "Mommy, I think I need a tissue." I turned to her and saw something like this:
Blood. Lots of blood, smeared and splattered over my only child. The sight of her gory face caught me off guard, and I did it again. My poker face failed me, and the expression on my face instantly conveyed this message to Prima:
Once again, our house filled with drama. Who would have thought a little nosebleed could inspire so much fear? However, I'd finally learned my lesson. My poker face would never fail me again. No matter what emergency presented itself, I remained an immovable rock of stoicism and rationality. Nothing could shake my poker face.
Until Secondo was born. For the first three years of his life, he suffered from a serious deficiency of the self-preservation desire. Sometimes my poker face could withstand the onslaught of his death wish, but all too often it failed me. Luckily, Secondo seemed impervious to the effects of parental shock, fear, and horror. Even the time he grabbed a garter snake which then wrapped itself around his leg and bit him, didn't phase him in the least.
Even though Mommy and Daddy stood there staring with looks of complete panic on our faces, he didn't get upset. When I screamed and my husband dramatically ripped the snake off Secondo's leg and threw it across the yard (yes yes, poor snake, but sheesh people it had it's teeth in my child's leg!), Secondo didn't bat an eyelash. When the blood started trickling down his leg from the puncture wounds inflicted by the garter snake's needle-like teeth, Secondo only shrugged.
Apparently, Secondo did not interpret the Shocked Mommy face in the same way Prima did. To him, a look of panic somehow translated to:
So, in order to avoid encouraging my second child to kill himself before his fourth birthday, I once again had to practice keeping my poker face on at all times. Or at least, until he outgrew his suicidal tendencies.
Then Terzo came along, and I totally gave up on the poker face. Who has time for worrying about emotional scars? Anyway, it's kind of funny when a kid freaks out and thinks he's going to die because he swallowed a Lego or landed on his head on some cement.