My little neighbor V. was riding M. Peevie's bike today. She crashed and hurt herself, and M. Peevie came running to our house--not to her house--to tell me. So I hurried out to pick up the pieces of someone else's child.
V.'s grandpa (the youngest grandpa in the history of grandpas, and way younger than I) was also strolling toward her. V. was sitting on the sidewalk a few houses down, crying and holding her wounds.
"Don't cry!" Young Gramps called, still three houses away. "You gotta be tough!"
"Gramps!" I scolded as I caught up to him.
"What?" he said. "Girls have to be tough, too!"
"Yeah," I replied, "But tough does NOT mean that you can't cry."
When we got to poor little V., her upper lip and mouth were bleeding and she had bruises and scrapes on one hand and one knee. She held her hand gingerly, as though it hurt to move it. She was crying and shaking as she told us, "I fell and hit my mouth! It hurts! My hand hurts, too!"
"Don't cry!" V's sister parroted in her three-year-old voice. "Be tough!"
I shot a "see what you did?" look at Young Gramps, who shook his head and said with a regretful laugh, "I'm sorry. I didn't know she was really hurt." Which isn't even the point.
I sat down next to V. and wrapped my arms around her. "I'm sorry, baby girl," I said. "I know it hurts." We walked her to my house and laid her down on the couch. (When we walked home from the crash site, I asked him, "Do you want me to bring her into your house, or mine?" he said he didn't have anything to take care of her at his, so mine would be better.) I wiped her tears, got her cold, wet washcloths for her scrapes, and put some ice on her hand and her puffing-up lip. Meanwhile, Young Gramps went home and, um, I don't know--watched TV?
V. laid pathetically on the couch, and I checked on her every few minutes. Kids usually get over feeling bad about a bike spill within 10 or 15 minutes, but V. was still hurting an hour later. I went next door to tell Young Gramps that if she were my child, I'd be calling the doctor about her front teeth, which V. said had gotten knocked loose, and her hand. I don't know what happened. Maybe I'll find out in a couple of days.*
I don't want to come down hard on Young Gramps. Perhaps his upbringing taught him that taking care of a crying, wounded child was the job of a woman--even a neighbor woman who's not even related. And maybe by taking V. into my own home, I was just reinforcing that stereotype and enabling his behavior.
I wish it were him picking up his granddaughter and carrying her to his house and washing off her bloody scrapes. But it wasn't. He didn't even bend down to brush her hair off her face, to look in her eyes, to check out her contusions while she was huddled in a heap on the sidewalk. I couldn't just stand there and let her cry when what she clearly needed was a little bit of sympathetic nurturing and practical field nursing.
And he didn't ask to be a grandpa in his 20s--he barely had a chance to develop parenting skills with his one child, let alone grandparenting skills for his step-daughter's children. But still. It was kind of messed up. Eventually, about two hours after the fall, Gramps loaded her into the car to take her home to her mom.
I felt sorry for sweet-natured V. I took care of her, and did my best to help her feel better. But when you're 7 and you're hurt--who do you want to wipe your tears? You want your mom or your dad. It's just not the same when the washcloths and the bandaids are applied in someone else's house, by someone else's mom.
This story doesn't really have a point. It just made me feel sad for V.
*Update: V.'s teeth are OK, but her wrist was sprained. She came over today with scrapes on her face, but the swelling in her lip had gone down. She was wearing an ace-bandage wrap on her wrist.