My Child, The Chronic Pain

05.11.11: Hey you with the recurring ear infections, sit in the corner

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Recently, I turned Leo over and read the fine print on the many warning labels that he came with. You know, the ones that say "do not remove unless you plan to keep this child for good." One of those labels, which I'd never really read carefully, informed me that it is possible for this child to have painful double ear infections three times in a row, and to act out, fall apart, get in trouble repeatedly, hit other children, and generally behave like a complete terror before mentioning that his ears hurt.

I know what you're thinking: LADY, HAVEN'T YOU LEARNED TO TAKE YOUR KID TO THE DOCTOR FOR AN EAR CHECK EVERY TIME HE HAS A BAD DAY? And I suppose if our pediatrician was located along the two block route from school to home, and if they saw walk-ins, and if Leo didn't seem to pick up a cold every other time he sat in their waiting room, maybe I would have been quicker to catch on. Certainly I've observed the phenomenon before: "bad" behavior, frustrated parents, early wake-ups, family meltdown...ear infection!

This time—now that Leo is on a third round of antibiotics, now that he does, eventually, mention that his ears hurt and he wants to go to the doctor, and now that I've seen him become the behavior problem kid at school so often that it's affecting not only how his teachers and classmates view him but also how we view him (is he crazy?! I occasionally ask myself...a violent criminal in training?!) and how he views himself—maybe now, finally, I will do what I did yesterday.

When I picked Leo up from school yesterday, the whole classroom was a bit of a mess, and Leo seemed to be the disruption. His teacher described a day of hitting, shouting and accidents. In the stroller on the way home Leo began to rant about wanting ice cream. Halfway through, he said "my ears hurt, take me to the dentist." It seemed like the tangent of a deranged, over-tired toddler. It seemed impossible after two rounds of antibiotics. But I stopped the stroller, called the doctor, dragged him in, waited until past dinner-time to see the doctor and learn he has a severe double ear infection, then waited till past bedtime to pick up one of the rare antibiotics he hasn't recently taken.

By the end of the night, I felt so bad for my sick little boy, and so grateful he was able to say something, and so relieved that I finally listened, that I just wanted to sneak into his room and curl up at the bottom of his bed for the night.

Henceforth, we will be bringing those ears in to the pediatrician so often she'll probably dream about them. And while we weather the storms that Leo's chronic ear pain brew, we'll be abandoning family dinner in favor of early bedtimes and the kind of thrown-together dinners that Leo ate back when cooking and eating with him before meltdown was an impossibility. So what if he ends up eating a random assortment of salami, cheese, avocado, cucumber and cornbread for dinner at 5 pm? It means Aaron and I can linger over bowls of chili and cornbread after Leo's in bed—a much-needed regression.

Recipe: Easy Skillet Cornbread

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.

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