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Beaten and Misunderstood

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Do your child's self-inflicted injuries make you look like Mrs. Bad Mommy?

girl with black eye

Brett Berk: I was talking to a mom friend the other day, and (like I do) I asked after her daughters Erica, 10, and Anna, 6. "They're great," she told me. "Enjoying the winter. Though Erica is walking around with a huge black eye right now." Making light of childhood physical abuse, like I do, I asked what the girl had done to merit such a beating, and what kinds of excuses my friend had invented to cover for this. "You tell people she walked into a doorknob? Or fell off her bed?"

As it turned out, the girl had sustained her injuries at her own hand. Or rather, at her own knee. Never known for her grace or coordination (but always known for her resolute effort and dedication to her craft), when Erica was practicing a complicated flip move in a recent gymnastics class, she'd "forgotten" to extend her legs on landing, and so instead of ending the tumble upright and on her feet, she'd finished it seated on the small of her back. And the force of her impact had pushed her knee into her eye socket.

Also known for the sensitive skin that lines her orbital bones, the girl was prone to what I tenderly call "pink raccoon face" whenever she got upset -- big, puffy, rosy circles that ringed her eyes after a cry -- so my friend simply figured that her daughters had been arguing in the car when her husband brought them home that afternoon. It wasn't until later that the swelling started.

"Poor kid," I said. "Did you at least get to put some raw steak on her face? That always works so well in the cartoons."

"Poor kid?" my friend said. "Poor me! I can't even LOOK at her angrily in public without people staring me down. I told her sternly that she couldn't get some candy at the supermarket yesterday, and I swear, three people grabbed their phones to call Bureau of Child Welfare!"

My friend is as prone to anecdotal enhancement as I am, so I knew she was slightly exaggerating. But it got me thinking about being misinterpreted as parents. Of course, there are some cases -- like that of the lady who dragged her kid around the cell phone store by a leash -- where no excuse will cover your obvious fail. But my guess is that most of you have experienced at least one incident wherein something your child got into or up to reflected back on you as a parent in a negative and unintentional way.

My prurient interest in conflict, miscommunication, and disaster makes me want to hear them. So, tell away!



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24 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jesie January 20, 2010, 9:51 AM

My little sister was so accident-prone as a child, during one visit to the doctor’s office, my mom was asked to leave her alone with the doctor and a nurse. So of course, under questioning, my sister told them that mom hit her.

I’m not quite sure how it all got resolved, but I think the fact that this was my mom’s third child at this particular pediatrican’s practice helped them see through the ruse. Thank god we didn’t end up with protective services at the house!

Christina January 20, 2010, 10:23 AM

Not only are my twin boys (2 1/2 years) at the age where they are constantly damaging themselves, they are multi-ethnic and have what are known as “Mongolian” spots on their backs. I have been questioned more than once by caregivers about the “bruising” on their backs. On the one hand, it makes me cringe that anyone would think I would harm my boys, on the other hand I’m grateful the boys’ caregivers take their duties seriously.

Jennifer January 20, 2010, 2:10 PM

my daughter was learning how to walk, of course she fell constantly. During one of her falls she banged her head on the bed rail. After calling the drs office and making sure we didn’t need to bring her in, she had a lovely black eye for a couple of weeks (she bruises just like i do very easily). We had to explain to everyone that saw her (friends, family, and workers) what happened. It really made me grateful that people took concern seeing my child with a black eye, but terrified me at the same time!

Sara  January 20, 2010, 2:16 PM

My daughters are the same way. At 2 1/2 one decided to dance on the toilet seat. Not with the lid down. Busted her eye on the vanity when she fell. She also not even a week later busted the other side of her face on a toy dancing on a stool. She just told everyone she was a ballerina and needed to practice better. Oh the looks i received from some people. Let me tell you that was not a good month. lol

Mic January 21, 2010, 12:13 PM

I have a friend & her youngest has a birthmark under his eye. It looks like he has a black eye. She gets so sick of the looks & the questions. LOL!

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