I am working at my computer at my new desk downstairs and the kids are playing behind me. Up until a few weeks prior, I had been working on the couch in the TV room, computer on my lap, back aching. When I worked there, the kids were constantly within an arm’s reach. They were always quiet—at the threat of death-by-no-dessert—but I wanted a space that could be my own, where little kid skin wasn’t always within one foot of touching my skin. So we set up this new desk downstairs. And now my kids’ favorite spot, which was once the TV room where I sat, has changed to downstairs where I sit.

At least they continue to be good at quiet time play. Occasionally, though, when the situation is serious or they are annoying the love out of each other, they interrupt with a question or a fight or to say something like, “Mom look, I’m working on my inner peace.”


On this day, my son Wally says, “Mom, look at this.” I finish up what I’m doing and turn. I see this.


The straight up one-fingered salute from my 6 year old. My first thought is Wind Back Wednesday. Lately, we’ve been watching our favorite childhood movies with the kids. The Sandlot was a recent favorite, in which they hurl hilarious insults like, “If my dog was as ugly as you I’d shave his butt and tell him to walk backwards,” and “You bob for apples in the toilet and you like it.” But they also include a great deal of “shit” and “Pee-drinking crap-face.” We were lucky because we only watched it once, so those insults shot straight over their heads like a home run from the Great Bambino. But Wally is entering first grade and getting to the age where he will be hearing more, well, shit. Our neighbor friends have a daughter the same age. She recently overheard the daughter in the backyard telling an older neighbor boy that she knows the S-word: Stupid. He swiftly set her straight.

So when I see my innocent little fella—whose current worst insult for his sister is, “You’re not looking pretty anymore!”—is flipping me off, I think corruption! Corruption by excellent 90s movies! “What are you showing me?” I ask.

“These!” he says. And then he shows me perhaps the worst millimeter-sized sight a parent can see. Splinters. Five of them—four below his middle finger nail, and one, inexplicably, lodged inside the top of his middle finger under his nail.

I immediately flash back to my own childhood, where a wooden deck was the torturer of our toes. I remember my dad being the getter of the splinters. He would numb it with ice first so we’d feel it less—but I assure you, we still felt it plenty. I remember needles digging, digging as we screamed on the ground with our feet in his lap.

I think about how I am home alone with two half-sized beings, one packed full of splinters. “We will take care of those tonight,” I say. I finish the thought in my head. When your dad is home to share the burden of your screams.

It turns out, I shouldn’t have waited. My husband takes the first shot at getting the splinter. He picks a little, Wally screams as if he has just now realized that death exists and is upon him, and when he screams my husband cannot move on. His eyes are too full of tears. After a few minutes of this nonsense, I grab those needles and dig away.

While I work with a tweezer, a needle, and no mercy, I silently laugh at what my son is screaming. Things like, “I don’t want to be doing this tonight!” and “I don’t want to live here!” and “You’re not looking pretty anymore!”

Hours later, I look back on that scene and question everything. Between Teary McPete and myself we had successfully removed 4 out of 5 splinters and cried 100 tears, none of them from my own eyes. Okay, to be fair, the husband did not actually cry any of said tears, but he did feel a great deal and could not be the causer of his son’s pain. When I compare myself to my husband during the great splinter removal of 2016, I feel cold. Why didn’t I cry—or feel anything resembling empathy? That I can be amused at my son’s outbursts while he suffers—is something wrong with me? Is my heart that hard?

I consider the current state of things. One splinter remains—that stubborn under-the-nail splinter. I can’t stand the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow still with one splinter. Frustration—at least I feel that.

In the morning, I decide this splinter calls for professional help. I call the doctor.

At the doctor’s office, where Wally is always at his most brave, his eyes grow wide when they pull out a massive needle-nosed tweezer. I look at the doctor. She is tall with thick glasses that look perfect for seeing under-the-nail slivers. Wally closes his eyes and uses his other hand to squeeze mine. She works, and he suffers silently with an occasional tiny grunt. In that moment I discover a surprising truth: silence is the worst kind of screaming.

She takes a break, unable to grab that horrible, cursed millimeter of black. We are going to leave here the same way we came in, I think. This splinter will be a metaphorical thorn in our side—a literal thorn in Wally’s middle finger. When he truly flips us off in anger during his teenage years it will be there, swollen to the size of his head, reminding us of how we failed to help our suffering son.

The doctor says she’ll try again. Wally braces himself, squeezing my finger as if to make me feel his pain. I picture nights of wielding needles, nights of Wally’s medulla oblongata in a rage, nights of my husband tearing up, nights of me feeling nothing.

I look at my son who is so small, who is not screaming while someone digs between his nail and his finger. My son, whose face is scrunched in pain, who is bleeding silently. I tell him to scream, that it’s okay to scream. I can’t stand that the pain is corked inside of him. He stays silent but squeezes harder. I want to feel it. I want all that pain to pour from him to me. I want to take it all away from him. I want the splinter to be mine, the suffering to be mine. I tell God that I will take a thousand splinters so that he can have none. I want him to squeeze harder.

“It’s out!” the doctor exclaims. Wally chokes out a final shudder of pain. I hug his face, kiss his cheeks that are salty with tears, I tell him I am so proud of him. I try to meet the doctor’s eyes, but I can’t. Mine are too full of tears.

Reward rockstar sunglasses, and a gesture at my request to show how I feel about splinters.

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