October 2, ‘09
We’ve Got a Lot of Kids
‘S Up, Doc
by Kevin Pottinger
We announce our presence to the front desk and take seats in the half-full waiting room. Patients are coughing into wads of Kleenex or their elbows, restlessly flipping the wrinkled pages of a year-old Newsweek, or simply staring slack- jawed at the large institutional clock on the wall as it ticks over one more minute.
Our oldest boy, age eight, commandeers a brightly-colored play desk in the corner and instantly his three younger siblings try to wrestle control of the gaily painted midget chair from him, knocking over a small stack of ancient Highlights, grinding shards of broken crayon into the brown waiting-room carpet. Our youngest boy is squirted from the scrum like a watermelon seed, careening into a small book shelf.
The waiting patients stare at us dully. My wife Maria hovers over the kids, whispering forcefully and gesturing at our seats. All four of them abandon the play desk to sit quietly in an orderly row in the padded chairs. In a few seconds, our youngest boy, age five, starts fiddling with his older sister’s skirt; she slaps his hand, he hops to the floor giggling and tries to shove her off of her chair.
Number one son has folded a pointy paper airplane out of a ripped-out page from one of the ancient Highlights, and he sends it sailing the length of the waiting room. I retrieve the plane and return it to him with whispered instructions to not do that again, appealing emphatically to his sense of self-preservation.
The patients return to flipping through their magazines. An elderly
grandmotherly air leans over to ask our littlest girl her name. She shyly retreats between her mother’s legs to bury her head between her breasts, and then turns mutely to eye the grandma for several seconds. Maria conspiratorially fills the silence with our daughter’s nickname, and the grandma gamely tries again, “What a lovely name. How old are you, dear?” Our daughter squeezes a few fingers into position, and holds up five fingers: three on one hand, and two on the other.
Our oldest boy returns to the play desk in the corner, followed by number two son. Within a minute son number two is complaining loudly to his mother, as well as the r e s t o f t h e w a i t i n g r o o m , i n a whine, stylized, droning
complaining that his older brother has all the crayons and he won’t give him any. Son Number One sputters that he tried to give him the
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yellow crayons; his younger brother retorts that he doesn’t want yellow crayons, and returns to his chair to pout with folded arms. Over our oldest boy’s earnest protest, Maria instructs him to hand over a few of the green and blue crayons.
Our oldest daughter, age seven, suggests a game of I-Spy to pass the time, but as usual no one is interested. Often, when it’s his turn, number one son will spy something with his little eye that brings the game of I-Spy grinding to a halt, because he spies things no one can, or even wants to try to guess, such as I-Spying a passing car that’s now long gone, or one particular tiny speck of dirt on the floor. It’s guessing which speck of dirt that takes the fun out of it.
At last the nurse pokes her head through the side door, calling for our twins. The two older kids race each other to the door and we all traipse through the busy clinic to a tiny exam room.
We have a tradition of going to the doctor together, as if it were some sort of family picnic. It started when our oldest kids were small and there weren’t very many of them, and Maria and I would attend the annual physicals and vaccinations and ear ache visits together, so we could each pose our questions of the doctor, and both hear the answers. When more kids arrived, we didn’t bother changing the routine, plus when Maria is home with the kids during the day she has little choice but to bring everyone along. The clinic seems to be a pretty good sport about it; perhaps it’s worthwhile for family practice physicians to see complete families every so often.
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Once in the exam room, the kids turn the surgical light on and off and on and off until we suggest that they desist, appealing to their sense of self-preservation, and they blow up latex gloves into balloon chicken- heads, and examine the contents of the medical waste receptacle with the foot-operated lid. Soon, a harried but pleasant physician knocks on the door, and after a minute or two is showing the kids how an otoscope works, and listening to their chests and writing out a couple of quite legible prescriptions.
Maria and I take turns holding the little kids down for their
vaccines, and the kids howl in a mixture of pain, disappointment, surprise and outrage; an “I-can’t- believe-that-nice-nurse-would-take- that-needle-and-just-stick-it-in-my- leg-and-not-only-do-Mom-and/or- Dad-let-them-do-it-they’re-holding- me-down-what-kind-of-a- completely-messed-up-deal-is-this” kind of howl.
After the vaccines, it’s time to go. The sniffling kids pick out colorful consolation stickers and we pile the kids and the gear into the minivan and head uptown to fill the prescriptions at the pharmacy, feeling a lot better already.