When you have little kids you use a lot of band-aids. There’s just something about these sticky bits of plastic and gauze that children find enchanting. When my daughter Hannah was two or three, the offer of a band-aid could stop her tears as if by magic. It didn’t matter if she really needed one, or if the wound was mostly emotional. Slapping a band-aid on to whatever spot she decided was hurting soothed it.
My son Jacob loves band-aids. He’ll keep them on forever-and-a-day, until the skin underneath is pale and pruney with the sweat that’s being held in. Once a band-aid gets really dirty and grubby Jon and I will try to urge him to take it off, but he always declines. Once he even came to me, tattling. “Daddy wants to take off my band-aid,” he said, “but it’s precious to me.”
Sometimes we run into a band-aid catch-22. This happens when my son requests a band-aid in a place that’s covered by fine little hairs, like his neck. If we decline the band-aid, he is inconsolable, and sometimes even applies one himself. If we allow the band-aid, then when it has to come off he is inconsolable, as the little hairs all get pulled out by their roots. It doesn’t matter if we rip it all off in one go, or remove it as slowly as possible. Either way, there are tears. And then, once the band-aid is off, he asks for another because he was hurt by removing the first one. Then we enter a never-ending cycle of neck band-aids, until we hide the box from him.
My daughter Hannah has mostly outgrown her fixation with band-aids. These days, she tends to only opt for them if she’s genuinely hurt, and possibly bleeding. Even then, she has a tendency to remove them herself after only a day (or even less), so that she can see how her wound is healing. All of this stands in stark contrast to my first experience with Hannah and band-aids, which provided one of my earliest parenting lessons.
When Hannah was released from the NICU at six days old, she had a band-aid on her heel. It was a remnant of the heel-pricks she was receiving at the hospital to check her bilirubin levels. As I took off her little sleeper to change her diaper, it caught my eye. My first impulse was to just leave it until it fell off or she picked it off. Very shortly, however, I realized that neither of those things would happen. Hannah was still five weeks shy of her due date. She wasn’t about to pick off a band-aid, especially one that was hidden inside a sleeper most of the time. She also wasn’t walking or doing much of everything, so the likelihood that her band-aid would fall off by itself anytime soon was small.
For some reason, looking at that tiny band-aid on my daughter’s heel was a revelation to me. It drove home to me how completely and utterly dependent my baby was on me, for every little thing. She couldn’t apply or remove band-aids, or move around of her own accord, or do pretty much anything. It was all up to me. And so, I picked off that band-aid, and then held my crying baby, apologizing to her and shedding my own tears at the enormity of the responsibility that I had assumed.
Children love band-aids. And, in many ways, their childhood can be measured in all those band-aids they wear. Each and every cut and scrape, real and imagined, wears a band-aid like a badge of honour. It’s one more time that my child has fallen and gotten back up. One more wound kissed and dressed. One more example of how my children depend on me, even still. And so, I buy the biggest box I can, and remember all the band-aids that have come before, even as I dread hearing the piercing cry that tells me yet another one is needed. The cry that is up to me to soothe, because that’s what I signed up for, whether I knew it or not.
PS – I realize that band-aid is a brand name. But, since I’ve never said ‘adhesive bandage’ in my life, I’m going right ahead and using it. I am not being sponsored by Johnson & Johnson or anything like that.