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“Daddy, It’s My Body”
Kid requires consent for cleaning of scraped elbow
Kina, like many small children, tends to get a lot of scrapes and bruises in the course of navigating the world at top speed. I’ve grown accustomed to discovering abrasions when I give her a hug after school, or seeing a wine-red contusion on her shin after a day in the playground. In the moment, these injuries are naturally a giant drama, but the pain passes after a while and we move on.
This is a metaphor for life.
At Futura’s birthday party on Saturday, Kina took a spill while chasing after some boys, and another parent escorted her back to me with a concerned look and a full first-aid kit. Kina sobbed on my shoulder as I asked her to tell me where she’d gotten hurt, pointing at the most likely points of impact. Head? No. Knees? No. Stinky feet? No (chuckle, sob.) Elbow? Nodding head.
Not too bad, really. I’ve seen far worse, but as the kids and parents crowded around to check in, Kina wept more and more. Pity stings. I accepted a lime-green bandage and antiseptic wipe from Kina’s parent friend and quietly escorted her to the other side of the park, where we sat together and took deep breaths. As the attention waned and Kina calmed down, I told her I could put the band-aid on.
“Don’t wipe it,” she said.
“You know I have to. It’s dirty, Kina.”
“I don’t want you to!” she begged.
“I’ll be so, so fast. I’ll grab your hand and squeeze, and you won’t even feel it.”
She fell silent.
“I’ll count to three, okay?” I asked, as I reached out to hold her little hand tightly in mine, squeezing rhythmically. “One? Two?”
I quickly swiped the cloth over her scrape. Kina recoiled and sobbed anew, as I pressed the bandage gently onto her elbow. We held hands and walked back to the party, where the cake was being served. Kina clung to my leg as we stood on the fringes, until I managed to get her to walk into the fray with the promise of cake. Within minutes, she was back in action. No drama, no tears. Done. Until—hours later—bathtime.
Kina’s most dedicated quirk related to injury is that she refuses to place the entirety of even a slightly injured limb into the bath, contorting herself with backbreaking rigor to avoid moistening the merest inch of a scratched arm or leg. I have literally washed this child standing up in four inches of water to accommodate her fear of wet wounds. It is customary, but I am not the kind of person who tolerates custom for long.
So, last night, upon returning from the park, as Kina lowered herself gingerly into the bath, she raised her left arm into the air and held it aloft as she pumped a tiny bit of soap into her right hand and drew a slick line around her scraped left elbow.
“You cannot go inside this line, Daddy,” she said.
I didn’t answer, looking at her elbow and realizing there was still just a bit of dirt I needed to sort out. I tabled the matter and began washing the rest of her body—having already agreed to take up the bathing duties for the night, given her temporary disability. But when I got to her left arm, Kina grew wary, eyeing me for even the slightest signal that I’d stray south of her bicep.
And then I did.
Zip, zap—soap, rinse, and done. She yelped and then kicked me square in the chest (which I had anticipated). Here is where she’d normally berate me for Flagrant Acts of Boo-Boo Cleansing, but in this case, she took a more reasoned approach:
“Daddy,” she said, staring me straight in the eye, “it’s my body.”
Reader, I was thrown.
Though we have been raising this child to know and articulate her boundaries (at times with liquid soap) for the last six years, it’s one hundred percent the case that part of me still thinks of Kina as an extension of myself. Every day, when we snuggle on the couch, I remember placing my little curled-up newborn on my naked chest, breathing together. I have hugged her ferociously. I have caught her vomit as if it were my own. I have wiped her butt. I have done this because I feel like she is me.
Reader, she is not.
I know that she’s growing up. I know that she is not me, and that I’m the only person in the world who feels secretly that she and I share a (metaphysical? physical?) body. I know that she will grow up to feel completely distinct from Laurea and me. I know this, because we feel ourselves so distinctly as adults; we forget that we are children. I know that she feels that way, today, because she has told me so.
I want Kina to feel completely confident insisting on consent, because the world is a loaded weapon. I want her to feel that same confidence in her boundaries whether it’s a stranger, a partner, or me on the other side of that boundary. I want her to expect from others what she knows she can expect from me.
And so it’s left to me to reckon with that boundary, and to pause as I consider what exactly it is that I have crossed. Yes, we need to wash our wounds, but no—I do not have to be the person who washes that wound. Yes, it will be fast, but no—it does not have to be on my terms. Yes, she is of me, but no—she is not me.
And so, tonight, when she came home with two tiny scrapes on her knees, I asked her to try something out. “Dip them in,” I said, “when you’re ready, and count to ten,” and then I stepped back. It took a few tries, but she eventually submerged her knees and counted—not just to ten, but to one hundred. As she did, her look of steely determination gave way to a mischievous grin. The pain’s not that bad, after all, when you get to decide how to encounter it.
This is a metaphor for life.