"Watch out for Mommy's tummy!" I'd yell in vain as my son came flying at me, preparing to execute a swan dive onto my prone and vulnerable pregnant belly as I dared to rest my feet on the couch.
"Who's my sweet little man?" I'd coo into my baby's face, only to have my cheek painfully introduced to the palm of his hand as he tested the principles of cause and effect. Even infants can get into the act, executing the classic "newborn head flop" that often results in a painful head butt of the unlucky parent holding him.
Illustration: Mickey Cyphers
These are but a few examples of the type of inadvertent abuse parents receive at the hands of their children on a daily basis — all part of the child-rearing process to be sure, but definitely a pain in the neck (eyes, teeth, arms, legs, back, and stomach, too).
What parent hasn't been kicked during a particularly challenging diaper change or pummeled by a recalcitrant passenger who resists being buckled in a car for safety. We have no choice but to take a licking and keep on ticking.
I've learned the hard way that a parent in repose is an irresistible temptation to a child. Getting horizontal — be it on bed, floor, or sofa — is to be done at a parent's own peril. One might as well be a piece of playground equipment for all the respect your skin, hair, and skeletal system are accorded. You may think you're taking a breather on your comfy couch, but your toddler views you as the perfect soft target to break his fall when he leaps off the coffee table again and again and again.
The soundtrack to daily life in our house would be a series of "owww”s, "get off of my . . . (insert body part)," "be gentle," and other such admonitions to preserve our physical well-being. If you cut us, we will bleed, and if you dig your elbow into our sternum on the way to giving us a hug, well, that will hurt quite a lot.
I was recently at a birthday party for a 2-year-old. I spotted a woman with two black eyes and asked a friend what the story was. Apparently, this woman had been sitting at home with her young daughter on her lap. The little girl threw her head back in excitement and smacked her mother right on the nose — and broke it in two places. As if this weren't bad enough, the poor woman also suffered a concussion to boot.
Last winter, I was delivering goody baskets for a school fundraiser. My plan was simple enough: drive to a house, put the minivan in park, and carry the basket to the front door. The kids would stay in the car, safely buckled in their seats. I had three deliveries to make.
House one, smooth sailing. I located house number two and got out of the car. I opened the trunk of the minivan and pulled out a basket. As I was pulling the trunk door down, one of my kids yelled, "MOMMY!"
"Huh?" By instinct, I looked up ever so slightly . . . and then, BAM! I pulled the trunk door down onto the bridge of my nose.
"Mommy, where's my red Power Ranger?" my son demanded yet again.
Completely dazed, stars circled my head while I staggered in pain. A little more power in my pull and I would have been laid out unconscious in a total stranger's driveway.
I managed to get back in the car and assessed the damage in the rearview mirror. The children were completely oblivious to the fact that there was blood on my face and a huge gash on my nose. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry, but I had one more basket to deliver and it wasn't going to deliver itself.
Back at home, my neighbor and I determined that I needed stitches. I left the kids with her and headed to the local plastic surgeon's office (whose number we have on our refrigerator — yes, that's the world I live in). Five stitches later (I'd cut through to the bone), I returned home looking like I'd either been in a fight or had undergone rhinoplasty surgery.
I felt incredibly stupid. This feeling was not helped by my husband asking me upon his return home, "Why did you do that?" Also not helpful to my mood was the fact that my kids were encouraging me to hurt myself again the next day so that they could go back and play at my neighbor's house.
I tried to console myself with the thought that perhaps there was some sort of legal remedy available for me under the state workers' compensation laws. How about homeowner's insurance? Collision?
Maybe I'll just invest in a hard hat. Something in a nice color, that matches my shoes.
JUDITH FRIEDMAN writes a syndicated humor column titled "The Motherload". Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.