May is a uniquely busy month for parents with school-age children. As the school year ends, there are celebrations galore – from the athletic banquet to the spring concert, the father-daughter dance, the girl scout bridging ceremony and the end of the basketball travel team league. At a certain point, any sane adult simply starts going through the motions. My mental state was precisely there as I joined the line cascading around the corner for entry to the Spring Show, the annual song-fest where each of eight grades and kindergarten sings a couple of numbers.
Directly behind me in line stood R and her daughter M, the teenage girl burned in a home accident just weeks before. Thick white burn tape provided a necklace around her neck and her arm was tightly bandaged in the same special tape. Before I knew it, I had re-introduced myself to R and told them I too was burned as a child. As I said it, I like itching myself. It seemed to come from my stomach, which turned itself slightly at the thought. As we talked, M shared, “I itch all the time. It’s constant.” I remembered the feeling well. Insatiable itching that seemed to crawl inside with no good way to relieve it. M also said that her burns were second degree, which immediately relieved me and I told her how well she would heal. It’s the 3rd degree burns that leave the nasty scars — 2nd degree can heal with nary a reminder.
When they asked what happened to me, I told them about my burn accident, then gently rolled up my pant leg to show them a little of the scars. “Yours seems so much worse than mine,” M said and I immediately felt bad that she focused on my injury when hers was so recent and raw, itching as it healed. Her mother R looked and me, her eyes brimming with wet and said, “See M, look at Anne. She’s successful and pretty. We can make it through this. It didn’t stop her.”
Like me, M didn’t like it when people stared at her. We talked about “to tell” or not to tell strategies, to make eye contact or not to. M seemed remarkably mature for a teenager. She had a presence.
“M, it may not feel like it right now, but your burns are a gift. Look how they help you teach other people.” I believed it as I said it. It would not have been the gift I’d chosen for myself, but I always felt right with it.
The line began to disperse as we entered the school gym for the Spring Show. R hugged me tightly whispering, “thank you” as they wandered off to their places.
As the 4th graders began “Getting to Know You,” from the Lion King, I wondered: How much more difficult are these burns for a parent? R was there when M’s leaned over the gas stove and her scarf caught fire. She choked up as she told me about it. They are replacing the stove with a smooth-topped electric model. I understand.