Her new name is “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo.” It sounds kind of like a Native American moniker from “Dancing With Wolves.”
The new name is always accompanied by a long “Mmmmm” and a sad face: bottom lip out, brows drawn together.
James probably says this 50 times a day.
He can be playing with Thomas and friends, happily chatting away about the Isle of Sodor and Sir Topham Hat, when he suddenly looks up at me and says “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo. Mmmmm…” like it’s a news flash. He might be watching Sesame Street or Curious George, staring at the TV screen in an addictive trance, when he jumps up to give me the news in an urgent voice. We’ll walk past an old picture, and James will grab it and start identifying the subjects: “Mimi, BigB, Amie, Gracie, Mommy-ha’-a-Booboo.” He picks up a phone and tells his imaginary friend, “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo!” Whenever anyone says the name, “Katherine,” his immediate response is “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo! Mmmmmm…" (Sad face.) We can be laughing on the swingset, racing to the treetops, and he will tell me as we pass each other on the way.
All. Day. Long.
This is how it came about: As I’ve mentioned, James is somewhat confused about the state of his universe. He’s trying to figure out to whom he owes his primary loyalty. Who is his #1 lady? This is a natural outcome for a 2-year-old who’s had so many caretakers. I think that he senses something is a little “off.” His confusion has caused him to occasionally display anger towards his mother, which, of course, adds insufferable insult to injury. On one of these occasions, I sat him down and gave him a serious talking-to. I said, “Listen. Mommy got hurt. She has a bad booboo. It makes me sad when you’re not nice to her.” He struggled out of my arms and ran off to play. But a few days later, he came up and told me, “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo. Mmmm.” (Sad face.)
As the weeks wore on, the phrase began coming out more and more frequently. Being in Athens, it has reached a crescendo.
I think a lightbulb has come on in that baby boy’s brain. He’s a smart little guy. He’s already taught himself the whole alphabet. I think he’s beginning to understand what’s going on. With all of the old pictures around the house, he can see the “before” and “after.” At first, I was a little surprised that he could correctly identify Katherine. In the “before” pictures, Mommy is usually standing up and smiling a great big smile. In the beginning, he hesitated. It was almost a process of elimination… “Okay, we know the big one is BigB. The short one is Mimi. The blondest hair is Gracie; Amie is the one laughing…so the other one must be Mommy! But it’s a different version of the Mommy I have now. Hmmmm…” The first time this happened, he looked up at me, and I promise, I could read his mind. He gazed into my eyes very intently, let out a little breath, laid his head on my shoulder, and told me, sadly, “Mommy-ha’-a-booboo.” “That’s right, James,” I told him. “Mommy has a big booboo. A bad, bad booboo.”
Ironically, “Booboo” is Katherine’s family nickname. The AVM rupture was not her first life-threatening medical crisis. When she was 6 months old (James’ age when her rupture occurred), Katherine became very sick. Further irony: It ended up being a serious urological problem requiring surgery. My father was a urological surgeon. He wouldn’t touch his own grandbaby with a ten-foot pole, so we headed to Egleston, Emory’s children’s hospital. It was a scary place then…still unrenovated. Tons of babies with cancer and other hideous malaises I didn’t even know existed. We had to share a room with another mother and her toddler who was severely retarded. The mothers slept on plastic reclining chairs on either side of the room. When the toddler couldn’t be comforted, the other mother would put her in one of those old rolling walkers we used in the 80’s, and she would play bumper cars with the walls. Dante’s Inferno.
Like James, Katherine was an exclusively breast-fed baby when this happened. I was too lazy to pump, so she’d never had a bottle. They had to tie her down after the surgery (“double ureteral re-implant,” with Brooks’ college roommate, a urological resident, assisting the primary surgeon!) to prevent any movement that might disturb the delicate procedure. I cried and cried, my tears plopping down on her little heaving chest as she screamed. I’ll never forget the look in those big eyes, staring into mine with questions: “Why are you letting them do this to me??? Don’t you love me anymore?” (There have been times when I’ve asked my heavenly parent questions like those.)
Both the staff and my family realized that if I didn’t get a hospital break, I might break. When Katherine was more stabilized, a cousin came to babysit while my husband took me out to dinner. My cousin told me later that Katherine began screaming as soon as I left. Missy walked her back and forth, back and forth the length of the little room, unable to comfort her. As they made the trek for the umpteenth time, Katherine snatched the sleeve of my bathrobe off the closet door and buried her face in it. Eau de Mommy instantly quieted her for the rest of the evening.
(A side note: This story came to mind when I was caring for James in the early days of Katherine’s residence in UCLA’s Intensive Care Unit. He’d never taken a bottle, either, so we were having some rough times adjusting. As he was screaming inconsolably, I thought I’d give the same method a try. I found Katherine’s “Hooter Hider,” a cloth cover used for discreet public nursing, and put it in his face. Like an instant opiate, it calmed him down. He immediately stopped crying. It’s interesting. Sometimes just a whiff of my Father can calm me down, too.)
Somehow, we survived our stay at Egleston, and took a lasting memento home with us when we left. Our favorite nurse adored Katherine, and snuck in to play with her whenever she could. She began calling her “BooBoo.” It stuck. We made up all kinds of silly BooBoo songs, which followed Katherine through childhood. She was accident-prone, which we now understand to have been a result of the location of the hidden AVM, so the nickname was appropriate. To this day, I call her “Booboo,” or just “Boo,” more frequently than I do her Christian name.
It’s impossible for any of us to go through life without accumulating some pretty nasty booboos.
Some booboos are external and obvious, like those that plague our own sweet Booboo. Some are more hidden. Spiritual cancers, deep, gaping, core wounds…the booboos of heart and soul. Writing those words, the refrain from a Vigilantes of Love (Athens band) song comes back to me:
“yeah, the thing we cannot speak of,
the secret we all know…
this blister soul
oh this blister soul…”
The harshness of life, the cruelty of other injured people, and our own destructive choices can rub some really nasty blisters onto our soft and tender spots. There are times when it is best to keep those suppurating blisters and booboos covered with medication and bandages. But after a time of stillness and healing, it is good to take the bandages off and allow the light and air to complete the healing. Sometimes we need to ‘speak of the secret we all know.’ Everyone suffers from blister soul at one time or another. It helps us and others when we are willing to share our deepest pains and wounds…allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Bringing things out into the Light always heals. Then we are enabled become what theologian Henri Nouwen calls “Wounded Healers.”
That is what Jesus is.
When James uses his new hyphenated-name-for-his-mother, I counter it with, “Yes, Mommy has a booboo, but she’s getting better. God is helping her get better every day.”
The Wounded One himself is washing her wounds, pouring his healing Spirit into her battered body. I felt this very powerfully the other day when a few friends gathered to pray for her. The Scarred One is bathing her scars with his tears, comforting her heart with his incomprehensible, unearthly comfort. He is equipping her to be a Wounded Healer, one who can “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort she herself has received from Christ.” (II Cor. 1:4) No one else can empathize with another’s suffering as passionately and lovingly as someone who’s been injured in the same way. It’s impossible.
I still have many scars from childhood booboos. A prissy tomboy, I was constantly falling out of trees and scraping huge chunks of skin off my bony little knees. My husband still teases me about these lasting reminders of how wild I was as a child. I have a 52-year-old star-shaped scar a few millimeters away from my eye…a memento of a dog bite at age 3. A thin line just above my eyebrow passes as a wrinkle, but is actually a souvenir of the time I busted my head open in a bathtub, requiring 20 stitches. Strings of old picked bug-bite scab scars still decorate my legs. My body is a booboo scrapbook.
So is my soul.
But I am not ashamed of my booboos and bruises, my scrapes and scars. In rereading the story of doubting Thomas, I realize that it is our wounds…and our openness in sharing them…that make us real. Our booboos are tools that God uses for healing in the lives of his other beloved children. We pour healing and comfort into others who’ve been hurt as we’ve been hurt, who’ve bled as we have bled, been broken as we’ve been broken.
It is an honor to be used by God as a Wounded Healer.
Jesus was a Wounded Healer.
That is why he came.
May we keep his wounds in our hearts as we celebrate his birth.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2: 24)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (II Cor. 1:3-5)
“Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.” (John 20:26-28)
God rest ye merry, gentlefolk/ Let nothing you dismay/ Remember, Christ, our Saviour/ Was born on Christmas day/ To save us all from Satan's power/ When we were gone astray/ O tidings of comfort and joy,/ Comfort and joy/ O tidings of comfort and joy…
Addendum, 1/8/10: I have just discovered an amazing woman called "Punk Rock Mommy." Here is the link to her blog: http://www.punkrockmommy.org/. On the entry dated April 21, 2008, the day of Katherine's AVM rupture, she talks about the same thing, only her testimony is more valid than mine. How strange is that??? Check it out. http://punkrockmommy.org/blog/?p=499