Suspicious of the adult world, which so far had proved unreliable, dishonest and even dangerous, she focused all of her five-year-old attention on her mother. With the first needle, she catapulted off the chair, arms windmilling with closed fists and squealing in her squeaky but powerful voice, "You leave my Mommy alone!" I stepped out of her way, turned my head and desperately stifled a laugh, then realized this was not the first time she felt she had to protect her mother. Mom was embarrassed and yelled at her to stop.
The tough little girl stepped back and focused all her anger on me, fists still clenched, face pinched with wrath, fixing me with what my Old World Sicilian nana (grandmother) would have called the "Evil Eye." It did not cover up her fear. I stopped her mother from yelling at her and the three of us talked. She agreed to sit and did just that, watching every needle go in, her eyes boring into me with the concentration and stature of a prize fighter waiting for the bell to ring. It wouldn't be the first time her mother and other adults had lied to her about their actions. It probably wouldn't be the last, especially since her mother did not make it through the program. We never did get to be friendly. No matter how hard I tried, she would not smile at me. She tolerated the concept that what I was doing to her mother might be helpful and even acknowledged that her mother was feeling and acting better but never stopped viewing me with hostility. She always looked at me with the Evil Eye.
Children are often amazed their parents are doing something as radical as acupuncture. Sometimes parents will bring in a child to see them get a treatment. "Carmen," experienced every needle as painful, sometimes yelling "ouch" and jumping even before I pushed the needle through the tube. She brought her 8-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter to watch. There was a lot of collective "ouching" before she had them sit in the hallway while she finished her treatment. The next day, she showed up with the same two children plus her 15-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old friend of her son. The room was filled with fascinated scrambling to see each needle insertion and again collective "ouching," as well as agreement from the children that the whole process was "gross," It was also filled with a sense of pride on the mother's part and her children that she would do this strange treatment to get and stay clean.
There are little snippets that come to mind as I write this: the young boy who kept staring at me and finally got up the nerve to ask me in an awestruck voice, "Are you Santa Claus?" It was December and my beard has gotten very long and very white. The silly jokes and juvenile puns. The girl who sang me her favorite song from "The Little Mermaid." The children who called me "The Shot Man" and wanted nothing to do with me. The girl who sat and watched then said she wanted to draw me a picture. I sat her at my desk and gave her paper and pencil. She drew her mother with a smile on her face and three needles in each ear and one in her forehead, me smiling, standing next to her mother and another person in the chair waiting to get a treatment, all in simple stick figures except for her mother's smiling eyes.
There are some children with whom I had long-term relationships. Since funding kept getting tighter and services kept being cut, child care being one of them, I let clients bring their children into the clinic. I would watch them while the parent got a treatment or, if the child could stay quiet enough to not be too disruptive, the parent and I would share care.
I first met "Rudy" when he was too young to be safely out of a stroller in the clinic. He and I devised games with his stuffed toy that kept him busy while his mother was getting a treatment. He was a good-natured child and was mostly willing to wait to get back to the games we devised while I did treatments with other clients. It will come as no surprise to parents that his favorite game was "throw the toy on the floor for the adult to pick up," which eventually morphed into a form of catch. As he got older and it became more difficult to confine him to his stroller, his mother and I worked with him on sitting quietly in a chair until one of us could interact with him again. I keep a good supply of children's books and he would sit patiently (mostly) and wait to be read to by either me or his mother. The last time I saw Rudy, he was four years old. His mother was about 20 months out of the program and about to finish a vocational-school degree. She came by to say hi. Rudy didn't recognize me, which upset his mother more than me. He did smile at me and wave before they left which pleased me more than his mother who still wanted him to remember me.
Shortly after Rudy and his mother left, "Stillman" and his mother came into the program. Stillman was three years old when they entered the program. Stillman was an exceptionally confident child. The first time he came into my office, he just strutted in smiling and checking everything and everyone out.
After a while, his mother, he and I settled into a routine. He struggled to get the door open then came bursting in as his mother opened it. He would go directly to the wooden captain's chair in the middle of the clinic where clients sat to get needles before moving to the more comfortable high-backed padded chairs in the "Quiet Room." He would climb up and sit, waiting while I would ask him, every time, if he wanted "seeds." He would smile and say yes. His mother had already approved this so I would then put a seed in each ear. Mostly shen men since he was somewhat hyperactive, but also Lung point if he was getting a cold. One day, he pointed to yin tang and said, "Here too." He saw his mother and the other clients getting a needle there and didn't want to miss out. Our routine became: one "seed" in each ear and yin tang. His mother reported he was sleeping better and "Maybe had fewer meltdowns." He would get his seeds, then his mother would get her treatment. He and I would then sit and read books or talk until he decided to go sit in the "Quiet Room" next to his mother and they would both fall asleep.
Stillman, like most children in the program, became an integral part of the community. Unlike many children, he was not what you would call shy. Everybody knew him, and he acknowledged everybody. One day, while filling out the certificates that staff give out each month at the community meeting to acknowledge consistency and compliance with the program, I added his name to his mother's certificate. He proudly came up to accept it with his mother. The last time I saw Stillman and his mother was at graduation. It was one big party to him. He was almost five by then but still commanding attention with his joyous attitude.
Children. Don't we all just love them? We often find their observations humorous, naively insightful and occasionally profound beyond their years. Aren't we envious of their in-the-moment Buddha-like qualities and their limber ability to spontaneously enter into Yogi-like positions? Of course, when they embark upon less Buddha-like activities, you have the option of giving them back to their parents and doing a couple of sets of qi gong followed by meditation, to once again barely graze the child-like aspects of your nature that you once had. Perhaps it is not always envy we feel but, sometimes jealousy?
Click here for previous articles by Gregory Ross, LAc.
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