It happened late one winter’s day as I was busy lighting the Conara. My daughter came up to me and said proudly, “Got a gum nut up ‘a nose Mum.”
Rather than go into an immediate state of panic I told myself it was probably just part of imaginary play. “Let me have a look,” I calmly replied, dropping my bundle of sticks. It turned out that my daughter did indeed have a gum nut firmly wedged up her tiny nostril. A multitude of thoughts began running through my head. At least she told me. Amazing, a gum nut is an exact fit for a toddler’s nostril. Never turn your back on a toddler. How am I going to get the damned thing out?
In my infinite wisdom I decided that gum nut extraction is a simple exercise. I proceeded to stick my finger up her nose and tried to flick it out. But as it turned out a gum nut up the nose makes a very firm fit inside a young nostril. I then tried getting her to blow her nose, but instead my daughter sniffed and the gum nut became more firmly wedged up there.
Finally, I tried the tweezers but to my horror drew a little blood. It was then I began to panic, while my daughter decided this wasn’t a fun game after all and began to cry. It was four o’clock. The medical centre closed at five. I decided now was the time to make the call. When the receptionist answered I got straight to the point. “My daughter has a gum nut stuck up her nose. Can you fit us in?”
The curt reply was, “I guess we’ll have to.”
My daughter was very pleased to be going for a visit to the doctor’s, her crying quickly abating as soon as I mentioned the word ‘doctor.’ When I entered the medical centre, the receptionist exclaimed, “Is this the pea?”
“Gum nut actually,” I replied, trying to hide my embarrassment and fear with an equally witty retort, at which point a teenage boy cracked up in rapturous laughter and exclaimed to his father, “She’s got a gum nut stuck up her nose.”
Once seated in the waiting area I tried desperately to concentrate on reading my daughter a story – as though bringing your child to the doctor’s to have a gum nut extracted is the most common thing in the world.
This proved an unsuccessful tactic as every few minutes she would cry out, “Have gum nut up ‘a nose.”
Where’s that doctor? I quickly sent a text message to my husband, ‘At doctor. K has gum nut stuck up nose.’ Of course, this resulted in the phone ringing within nanoseconds and I immediately regretted sending the SMS as I had to loudly explain what had happened.
The doctor called us in after a painful 20 minute wait (for me, not her – my daughter was quite content to play with a gum nut up her nose). He stood looking at us as though we were completely mad until eventually I just blurted out, “She has a gum nut stuck up her nostril.” He raised his eyebrows, told me to seat my daughter on the table and disappeared into another room without another word.
A few minutes later the doctor reappeared with a long, silver implement that had a small ball on one end. He asked me to lay my daughter down and without warning shone a bright light in her eyes. With a daughter who screams, “Too sunny, bright” at the slightest hint of light, she abruptly began screaming, having not even seen the extraction instrument yet.
The screams brought in a calm nurse and the doctor instructed the nurse and I to hold my daughter down – tightly. It seemed a cruel technique – like chopping off an arm without anaesthetic and telling someone to bite down on a piece of wood. Okay, it wasn’t that bad but to my daughter it certainly was and I admit I was pathetically teary over the whole ordeal. The doctor shoved the instrument up my daughter’s nostril and a few seconds later out it came.
He then announced, “I’ve had a few of those.” I don’t know whether he meant gum nuts up the nose, screaming children, or squeamish parents.
Over my daughter’s screams the doctor asked if she was too young for jellybeans. I shook my head, not caring if she had a whole box of them. The nurse then appeared holding out her own jar of jellybeans to my daughter. The nurse then sat at the computer and asked the doctor if there was an item number for ‘gum nut up the nose’. He didn’t even crack a smile.
Meanwhile, my daughter was still sobbing and clutching onto me like a barnacle to a rock. I was only half joking when I said on the way out that I hoped this trauma would deter her from sticking things up there again. We passed by reception hurriedly – my daughter with four jellybeans held tightly and protectively in her little hands, and me to an awaiting glass of red wine.
My biggest surprise from the whole ordeal was that after the gum nut incident my daughter continuously asked me, “Could we go to a doctor?” If only adults were as resilient, or as easily won over by four sticky jellybeans. Needless to say, she has NEVER stuck a gum nut up her nose again. Whenever she finds one in the backyard she religiously says, “Not put gum nut up ‘a nose Mum,” to which I reply, “No, it hurts.”
“The days are long but the years are short.”*
How true these wise words are. How well they encapsulate that, simultaneously, a day alone with children can feel as if it will never end, or as if you are marooned in Motherland with only a glimpse of your former life on the horizon – and then you look up into the eyes of your child and suddenly they are a grumpy teen staring petulantly back at you. This is how our lives are lived, in the daily minutiae that transforms into years and even decades.
* A quote from ‘Becoming a mother’ this edition’s book review