Innocence and Dancing Ducks

It’s been some time since I’ve actually contributed to the blog, although there are copious pages of scribbling waiting to be converted into readable text in due course. But today, my little girl inspired me to write a story telling the world what happened to her this typical Tuesday.

Anya loves to dance … all the time

It was 4.45 when the Outlook reminder came up to tell us that Anya’s second MMR jab was due at 5pm. We’d forgotten of course, but luckily the surgery was only a 5 minutes’ drive away, so it was all still possible. As I looked at Clare’s face, I could tell she was not keen on taking her daughter to be stabbed in the arm twice, which is why I had been volunteered for almost all injections to date. It simply upset her too much.

I glanced at Anya who was sitting at the dining room table with grandma colouring in a thickly lined image with a large blue pen, oblivious to the discussion concerning her veins that was going on a few feet away. Realising that we only had minutes to spare and there was going to be no mind changing, I leapt into action.

“Anya!” I called, and she looked up immediately. Her three year old face, with traces of a chocolate treat supplied, clandestinely, by grandma earlier, burst into her loving smile as she saw me looking at her. Her blond, curly and slightly wild hair had fallen forward while she was looking down, the clips supporting it evidently lost on some adventure earlier in the day, so, without moving and without hesitation, she made that move that all children do when their hair falls into their face – pushing out the lower lip and blowing directly upwards. Her hair is momentarily moved from place, but returns again immediately to its former position, where, inexplicably, it no longer seems to be a problem.

“Do you want to come with daddy?” Before I’ve even finished the last syllable, she responds ‘yep’, drops her blue pen on the paper and jumps off her chair. In that moment she is the perfect form of innocence. She has no idea where she’s going or why, only that she’s going to get some alone time with her daddy. She walks up to me, and grabs my hand, and looks up with those beautiful, sparkly eyes. We have years ahead, she and I. One day those same eyes will be teenage eyes full of disgust, anger or momentary hatred, in some hormonally driven argument about boys, money, or not being allowed out, while she stomps about slamming doors and complaining that life isn’t fair. At least that’s how I imagine some of the teenage year moments will be based on my own experience. But right now she is mine. And she loves me. More than that, this little girl loves me entirely and unconditionally and trusts me to the end of the earth. It is an awesome responsibility. And one I am possibly about to abuse, just slightly.

After some protestations from her older brother who didn’t want to miss out on whatever his sister was doing, we jumped in the car and pulled away from the drive.

“Daddy” she said “How do you make signs?”

I explain about metal and poles and people painting things on those things and she seems fascinated and satisfied with the response. But then she asks the question “Daddy, where are we going?”

All sorts of responses form in my mind. I think of lying or changing the subject, but we always said we’d be honest so I feel I have no choice but to answer the question directly. Or at least reasonably so.

“We’re going to see the doctor who is going to give you some medicine” I explain calmly.

“Oh” comes the reply from Anya, who is wistfully looking out of the car window, apparently distracted by the blur of the passing scenery.

“But I’m OK daddy, I don’t need any medicine” she retorts after a short while, delivered with a serious, but unconcerned face.

“Well, this is medicine to make you better before you’re even ill” I offer by way of explanation.

“Oh” another thoughtful pause. “Daddy, how do you make houses?”

And I’m off again, explaining things in detail but at a level she finds interesting and understandable. This time I add as much information as I can, stopping for questions as I go, so that by the time I’ve finished we’ll be at the surgery. My timing is no less than perfect.

As we alight from the car, Anya’s hand finds her way back into mine. She skips across the car park in the warm sun without a care in the world. She tells me about the last time she was there and the little area where there’s toys and a tiny enclosed section to play in. I am astounded – the last time she was there she was barely two.

We sign in and she runs straight for the enclosure “See!” she shouts “I told you”. There’s no malice, no tone of ‘I was right and you were wrong’, just pure excitement of seeing it. The waiting room only holds three other people equally spaced in the symmetrically positioned rows of chairs, none of whom are at the ‘playing in an enclosure age’, but Anya is oblivious to them. The toys have, of course, been long since removed for fear of contamination, but the enclosure is still there and its dwarf wall becomes a source of amusement for both her and I, jumping over it, hiding beneath it, walking along it, all the while watching the red LED scrolling screen looking for her name.

With a sharp ‘beep’ it appears and I point it out to Anya, who is, naturally, excited. “Look Daddy, it’s an A for Anya!” and grabs my hand as I lead her off to the consultation room. The other three lost souls of the waiting room are still there and may yet be there still since they didn’t seem to show any sign of moving.

We walk into the room and close the door. It’s a room I know well having taken the babies there from birth for various injections and routine examinations. Large, modern, bright, with reclining examination table, desk, computer, wash basin and a clutter of nik naks and toys. Anya spots these immediately, but for the first time I can sense she is a little apprehensive and she stays sitting on my lap. Before we can say much at all, the nurse, a lady in her late forties, slim, wearing a heavily freckled face and a stern, but somehow kindly disposition, launches into her well practised summary of what ‘things’ are about to be pumped into my little girl’s veins. She covers risks, timescales, side effects and the next steps, all in what appeared to be one very long breath. Whilst doing so, she writes the date and time in Anya’s little red medical book and begins to take wrappers off syringes. I feel she may have done this before. Thank God.

She asks me if we’re ready to proceed and I say ‘yes’. Anys is still on my lap, silent, and holding my hands.

As if starting a soliloquy on a stage, the nurse adopts what must be her special voice for the children and launches into a well-rehearsed routine.

“Now Anya, we’re going to give some medicine which we need to do without your top on! So Daddy will help you take it off and then you can sit on Daddy’s lap facing him, OK?”

Anya finds this amusing, but does what she’s told. In a moment, she is on my lap, facing me with her bare arms on my shoulders as instructed. She’s looking me in the eyes and smiling and blowing her hair upwards every now and again. I really should have gotten a hair clip before we left.

“OK Anya, look at my duck – can you see what he’s doing?” says the nurse in her best put-on children voice.

She brings over a large toy, a brightly coloured duck laying back in a basket, and presses a hidden button on his ‘wing’. Immediately, the duck starts to sing and dance to some music that’s playing through a distorted speaker. The duck is cunningly placed so that Anya has to look over her left shoulder to watch it. Before the duck has even got through the first bar, the nurse is at Anya’s right arm, telling her gently to keep looking at the duck.

Fortunately, Anya thinks the duck is positively hysterical. She starts to giggle, then laugh and then starts to encourage me to look and laugh as well. But I can’t relax, because as she is laughing I can see the needle approach her arm and I brace, as if it were me on the receiving end. I watch the needle go in, the plunger go down, and wait for the reaction – her brother jumped and then cried briefly as the pain subsided – but Anya, well, doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t appear to notice it. After a second, she stops laughing, looks round for a moment with a confused face, and looks back to find the duck.

The nurse, apparently confused as me, then grabs the duck and places it on her other side, all within no more than three seconds of the other injection completing. Somehow, she already has the other syringe ready. She is good. Really good.

Anya is still giggling at the duck, but she seems slightly confused and distracted. Something’s not quite right here, but she can’t put her finger on it.

The second injection goes in, the plunger goes down, Anya looks round briefly, then looks back at the duck which is now bumping up and down in its basket. It’s quite impressive actually and I think about getting one. For me.

“Well done!” says the nurse in her best children’s voice “you’re the bravest girl today, would you like a chocolate?”

Anya, quite frankly, is more annoyed about the sudden disappearance of the dancing duck which has been whisked away and silenced in a single movement, but can’t say no to a couple of chocolate drops and happily takes them with an especially sweet “thank you” as she does so. She is suddenly quiet, and a bit bemused. The tiny holes in her arms are bleeding slightly and the nurse wipes them.

“Would you like a plaster on them?” she asks. Anya nods. I’m still not sure she’s realised to any degree what’s just happened, but she’s as sure as hell that something just happened. The nurse places tiny plaster on the tiny wounds and replaces Anya’s top. She is quiet now, thoughtfully chewing her chocolate drops.

We’re ushered out of the room and I realise this is the last time I shall see the nurse who has administered all the injections to my children. The next injection is ten years hence and delivered by the school. It’s another step of growing up completed and I am sad for that, but glad I don’t have to take them again.

Anya grabs my hand again, firmly and lovingly as before. It seems I am forgiven for abusing her trust in me, but she does seem quieter. She is almost thoughtful, slightly confused even, as we exit into the sunshine where just a few minutes earlier she had been skipping by my side.

We walk, side by side, back to the car. As we chat, and I explain that she will get a treat on the way home for being so good. I am more and more relieved that the process is over and she appears to be completely oblivious to the whole thing. My little girl has come through unscathed and I am daddy of the year.

We will go home and speak no more about it.

After a minute of uncharacteristic silence in the car, I look in the rear view mirror and catch her trying to look at her shoulders, twisting her body as she does so.

“Daddy” she says quietly, almost whispering, with a slightly quivering lip and the beginnings of tears forming in her little eyes “my arms hurt.”

I sigh. Perhaps, after all, we WILL speak more about it.

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