My daughter Aurora had a ‘brilliant’ and ultimately painful toddler idea today. Aria was watching Sofia the First and thankfully was totally oblivious. I thought Aurora was over playing with the big red ball which they bounce around the kitchen table. But she was, in fact, playing with the red container of cayenne she’d been able to get after dragging our other computer chair and retrieving it from the top of my spice rack then opened it, all without a sound. Her amusement was innocent at first. She dumped most of it on the floor but then she wandered over to me with the open container, proud as a peacock.
I noticed the spice in her hand immediately and I was already trying to nab it from her when she turned to run away from me (this is something of a sport in our house when they have something they aren’t supposed to; mostly it’s innocent stuff like my Camelbak water bottle or the house phone). And then it happened… she raised her hand as she retreated, with the pepper container open and slowly turning upside down. As it turned she looked directly into a big dusting of cayenne pepper falling at her face. I saw her flinch and blink as it made contact with her eyeballs and face.
I don’t even remember panic. I had her in my hands within seconds as the first wave of pain and terror hit. We were just hauling ass to the sink.
Mommy-auto-pilot is a really bizarre mode to go into — it’s based purely on knowing you have to react and how you’re going to react. Right. Fucking. Now.
A long time ago in a lab class far-far away one of the students had to volunteer to endure the eye wash station acting as a combative participant. Other classmates volunteered to make them get to the eyewash station and hold the ‘victim’ face first in the eye-wash station for a few seconds. In a real chemical emergency you have to hold their face in the rinse sink for fifteen full minutes. It was a taste of how terrifying chem-lab style emergencies could be. And while cayenne pepper isn’t exactly going to blind you it burns something awful and can scratch the fuck out of your eyes. My goal was to get all of it out of Aurora’s eyes ASAP.
I have never been so glad in my life to just have the wherewithal to pick up my toddler, restrain her arms, and haul her to the faucet. Part of mothering is knowing it’s sometimes uncomfortable what you have to do — that’s a guarded realization that the process of life is not always easy, nor should it be for the best outcomes. Aurora thrashed in pain and fear — trying to get her hands up to her face, her little eyes screwed shut but for a running gob of freshly spiced tears. I turned on a gentle stream of water with one hand, held her to the counter with my body and my other arm, then I got her head in the sink, eyeballs under the soft flow of water, into both eyes, down the sides of her face. Big gobs of cayenne flowing out of the corner of her eyes and off her eyelids. By some small miracle I didn’t have to hold open her eyes for her during the flush — she started blinking as soon as the water hit her face. We have a shower, not a bathtub, and that’s kind of our ritual when she gets soap in her eyes so I was glad for that (she thieves the handsoap on occasion and that is an immediate eye irritant I’ve forcibly flushed before and the girls, thankfully, always blink a bit then, too, and it helps me flush without being a total asshole about it). As the water ran over her face her screaming turned to just little sobs and more coherent protests of ‘DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!’. (The water flush was just in her eyes so we’re clear here; I wasn’t waterboarding her).
After giving as good a flush as I thought I could get without being too torturous, I righted her and we immediately scrubbed and rinsed her hands, and then I got both of us dried off. I wrapped her in a big blanket and gave her a cool wet cloth to hold on her eyes, then I cleaned the floor to give her a reprieve from me. When all was said and done I then came back over and sat down with her for some comfort hugs.
Her eyes cleared up and were white minutes later, no sign of any scratching or pain. I am glad I got to her before she ground that cayenne into her little eyeballs. Parenting is a constant attempt to not outright torture your kids and, simultaneously, doing often uncomfortable things that are in their best interest. It makes for eventful days when that’s all literally acted out and not merely a conceptual factor to parenting…