From the mouths of babes: new medical terms

One expects a certain amount of nighttime tumult from an infant, but a three-year-old can supply you with a considerable amount of sleep deprivation as well. The difference is that the older child should be able to explain his trouble to you. He should be able to, but he can’t.

Your three-year-old is half asleep when he presents you with his nighttime calamity. He knows he’s out of bed and crying, but he can’t really explain why. He can’t choose words very well in his semi-slumber. Also, he doesn’t have the first clue as to why he is crying.

Yes, he may know that he wants a drink of water. But when it comes down to why he is crying about it, he is just as much in the dark as you are. Maybe it’s that things always seem more dramatic with the lights out. Why do you groan so much more about having to get him a drink at 3 a.m. than at 3 p.m.?

It’s not worth asking him why he’s crying. The only thing he can tell you is that he doesn’t know. But since he is crying, and half asleep, it comes out in that spine-jabbing whine, “I-I-I-I do-o-o-on’t kno-o-o-ow.” Save yourself the cringe and just give the kid his water. You can investigate why it was a life-or-death situation at first light.

There are nights, sad to say, when you must try to communicate with the child. The other night, my son came to ask for water because his mouth hurt. I assumed he meant that his mouth was dry so I helped him get a drink. I was already mentally back in bed, when he started crying and said his mouth still hurt.

I asked him why his mouth hurt. He said he’d hurt it with his spoon when he had eaten some yogurt.

Aside: Imagine the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene where Captain Kirk clenches his fists, looks up, and yells, “Khaaaaaan!” Only, it’s me clenching my fists, looking at the bathroom ceiling, and yelling, “Yooooo-guuuuurt!” Yogurt seems to be on course to become the bane of my existence. That night, the problem yogurt was not the one the boy begged me to buy and then wouldn’t eat, it was the one that both vexes and addicts his mother.

“Yooooo-guuuuurt!” (Paramount Pictures)

“I want you to get it out of my mouth,” he said between sobs.

“Get what out of your mouth?”

“It.”

“Is there something in your mouth that doesn’t belong there?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“The hurt.”

“What do you expect me to do about that?”

“Get it out.”

I got my flashlight. I really just wanted to dump him back into bed, but the delinquent parent headlines were already nagging me:

Yogurt Shard Lodges In Toddler’s Throat After Parent Ignores Child’s Plea

Doctors Forced to Amputate Yogurt Boy’s Uvula

Officials Say Yogurt Tragedy Completely Avoidable

I mean, what if there really were something lodged in his mouth – something that didn’t seem worth mentioning to me when I’d brushed his teeth and put him to bed many hours ago?

I shined my light. His mouth was pink and perfect. Nothing was in there that shouldn’t have been, except a bright light at 3 a.m.

“Can you get it out?” he sobbed.

“There’s nothing in there. What do you want me to get out?”

“Now that I’ve extracted the offending yogurt shard, we can begin to patch up this child’s tonsils. Nurse, bring me my hurt-stain remover.” (Image: James Wallace Pondelicek)

“The hurt-stain.”

I can only assume that hurt-stain is a concept manufactured by a sleepy and distressed preschool consciousness. If you know what it is, please tell me. And then let me know if it should be hyphenated; I like to represent these ideas accurately.

I may not know exactly what a hurt-stain is, but I do know what it means to me. It means it’s time for everybody to get back into bed and sleep off whatever ails them.

The next day, when people at work commented that I looked very tired, I told them I just had a little hurt-stain on my eyelids. They said no more about it.

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Conversations with my wife: Yogurt Cups

Following my son’s lead, my wife recently discovered a taste for yogurt. The difference is that she didn’t suddenly dislike it as soon as we bought it and brought it home. My wife found a different problem with her yogurt. The little single-serving plastic containers that are tapered at the opening vex her to no end.

WIFE: I love this yogurt, but this container is making me so angry. I can’t get to all the yogurt inside. Seriously, how do you get all the yogurt out?

ME: Maybe you need a smaller spoon.

WIFE: If my spoon were any smaller, I wouldn’t be able to taste the yogurt on it. Look at all that yogurt hiding under the lip. Why do these things need a lip anyway? It’s not like they have a real top on them. It’s just a stupid piece of aluminum foil.

ME: Maybe the lip is there to compensate for the lack of a real top.

WIFE: Look at me, scraping around the sides of this thing. It makes me feel poor, like I’m some hungry beggar who found an open yogurt container alongside the road. And here I am, digging for scraps. This is pitiful.

ME: I think you missed a little bit, down in that dark corner.

WIFE: Oh my gosh, digging around this container is making me so hungry. I need to go get another one.

ME: I think you’ve just discovered the answer to why they make you work so hard for it.

WIFE: How many of these do I have to go through before I feel like I’ve gotten my 60 cents worth of yogurt?

ME: You should write the company and tell them they owe you a coupon for free yogurt to make up for all of it you couldn’t dig out of the cup.

WIFE: Good idea. You write the letter. I’ll mail it when you’re done.

ME: Why can’t you write the letter?

WIFE: Can’t you see how busy I am here?

Don’t go through our recycle bin looking for yogurt scraps. All you’ll find is the clean bones of tortured yogurt cups who paid the price for their reticence.

Killing me softly with yogurt

As a rule, I avoid the ladies (and occasional gentlemen) who hand out samples in the grocery store. My wife likes to see what they have to offer, but I don’t even like to make eye contact with them.

One summer during college, I worked in a grocery store, often behind the bottle return counter. This was before anyone invented machines to take back all those gross, sticky bottles. Instead, they got handed to me. I had to touch every one of them in order to sort them into the proper bins. With that kind of baggage, is it any wonder that I find the idea of eating anything in the grocery store abhorrent?

The days of my youthful exuberance, before working the bottle return counter made me cold and cynical . . . and bald. (My neck is no longer bent under the weight of that hair.)

So, no, I don’t want to try a sample. It’s probably some unholy combination anyway; hence the need to force it upon unwitting passersby. Even if it could defy the odds and appear somewhat appetizing, I have my grocery store demons to keep my teeth clenched together.

I was appalled, therefore, shopping with my son, to find a sample lady beaming at us expectantly from the end of our aisle. This meant I would have to sacrifice another little piece of my soul in declining the generous offer of a kindly stranger.

Worse was the betrayal I felt at realizing that my boy was pulling me toward the trap, eager to see what treats this woman was offering out of her gingerbread house. I hate it when he acts like his mother’s boy and his mother is nowhere near to deal with the consequences.

Overcome with a rare spell of patience, I concluded that it was not right to make the boy carry the burden of my supermarket baggage. I allowed him to lead me to the sample cart, where his instincts were proven to be uncanny. The lady was doling out cups filled with flavored yogurt made especially for kids.

Through what witchcraft this lady wordlessly reeled him to her, I cannot say. I let him taste a sample, but I stayed very near his side. As sweet and gentle as she appeared, she was still a grocery store sample lady.

My son ate the entire sample. He said he liked it. I was skeptical. This boy eating yogurt? It didn’t seem right. I asked him if he were sure he liked it. He nodded. He really liked it. We should buy some for home.

A scientific breakthrough of enormous potential: flavored yogurt developed especially to appeal to kids.

I asked the proud lady where this magical, child-friendly yogurt was to be found. She pointed toward the opposite corner of the store. Excellent. This would give me a chance to remove the boy from her sphere of influence and question him privately about the yogurt. When the truth came out, we could exit the store yogurt-free, and without Yogurt-Mesmer knowing our deception.

She read my duplicitous soul through my eyes. A knowing smile lit her face. “I happen to have one more four-pack right here,” she said, materializing the item from the amorphous folds of her robe. (Robe, apron, what’s the difference?) My son’s eyes grew bright. Mine darkened. Defeated, I took the package and put it into our cart.

Later that day, when my son asked for a snack, I opened one of his cups of yogurt for him. He took the first spoonful willingly enough, but made an unhappy face at tasting it. The second spoonful took more effort. It was the last. “This stuff is disgusting!” the boy declared. He’s never taken another bite of the concoction. He runs away whenever I mention opening another cup of it for him.

Wasted potential: flavored yogurt developed especially to appeal to kids, meet garbage disposal, developed especially to erase evidence of Daddy’s gullibility.

That’s how modern witchcraft works, my friends. No longer does it lure children into candy houses where they are fattened up as dinner entrees. Now it lures them to the sample cart, where Daddy’s money is sucked down the rabbit hole of the retail machine. It’s good to see that even fairy tales are keeping up with the times.