Last month, when my eldest son was on holiday in Spain, he was scrambling across a scree slope and fell a considerable distance. He had breaks in both his leg and his jaw and had to be helicoptered to hospital in Malaga. It was Easter week and a holiday destination, a time of religious parades and bank holidays when everything that could close down did so. It felt like an obstacle course to get to Spain to be with him and took over a week of operations and discussions with insurance firms to get him back to England. On the plus side, his return journey in a tiny air ambulance was rather fun.
The Spanish doctors had simply wired my son’s teeth together to give stability to the broken lower jaw. Our lovely English consultant recommended that the wires should come out and he should have another five hour operation.
Observing myself, I noticed how this experience bounced me right back 30 years or more to when I was a young mother responsible for my infant. I wanted to protect him and I produced parallel symptoms as if we were still symbiotic. He felt dizzy on standing and so did I. He had bad dreams and so did I.
When he lost his baby teeth, his adult teeth had crowded to the front of his jaw and we spent a lot of time at the orthodontist. He was given metal braces on his teeth which hooked onto headgear that was strapped around the back of his head for 12 hours a day and night. This would pull his teeth back in his jaw. Getting the headgear home for the first time and putting it on, he decided, “I’m going to call it the Smiler because it makes me smile”. He was right, it did pull his mouth into a sort of grimace that resembled a smile. I asked him why he chose that name, and he explained, “I’ve got to think of it as something nice or I will hate it.” I was floored by this wisdom from a 10-year-old. Of course he was right, positive visualisation would get him through this experience much more smoothly than fighting it.
We thought the days of “metal mouth” were over, but some things come around in a full circle. He now has metal plates in his jaw holding everything together and he will need half a dozen or so teeth to replace those that were knocked out.
Sitting up in bed yesterday he explained to me the mindset of his chosen hobby, rock climbing. Climbers build up their muscles so that they can grip onto the tiniest of holds but if they over-tense they will use up their energy too fast. You have to be completely in the moment, in the now. You can’t let your mind wander to the climb that you have done so far or the difficulties of the climb ahead. You just remain in the present with what you are doing now. It is the perfect example of mindfulness.
After the climb, there’s no point in considering whether you have done a good climb or a bad climb. It is better to sit quietly and decide what you can learn from the climb. If it has gone well, you can think about what made it a good experience and if it didn’t go well you can decide what needs to change. This is reflective practice at its best. His fall was just one of those things, he said. He had been following all of the safety protocols and had been wearing his helmet. There is no point in brooding about it.
He should be coming home by the end of the week, if the last operation goes well. He’ll stay with us while he is convalescing and I’ll have to make a big effort not to smother him. I can soothe myself that he’s safe now and getting better every day. I can remind myself he’s no longer an infant but an adult. I can admire and appreciate his practice of mindfulness and self-reflection.