Pediatric memory.

This is what I completed from the Memoir Writing class I not-so-recently finished. I’m not sure if it’s complete yet.

The pleather cushioning of the examination counter-tops in the patient rooms still call to me as an inviting yet risky place for a sick kid to sit. Carrying my infant son from the reception area towards ‘Room 2’ makes me realize the cast in this medical office hasn’t changed in 20 years. The patients are still either awkward teenagers or snotty toddlers. The nurses are still squealing over some red, wrinkled newborn. The doctor is still running late, and most definitely won’t be sorry about it.

I set S down on Room 2’s green version of the pleather counters and take in the mock-kid-friendly décor. As S polishes the counter top with drool and coughs up a demonstration of why he was brought here, I attempt to osmosis a mental warning to his seven-month-old mind.

Two decades ago, my two brothers and I endured these doctor visits as a group, lead by our mother. The three of us, cub-like, would squirm in the cramped patient room while waiting for our common foe. Together we were a recipe for a rumble, but we (mostly) heeded my mother’s warnings not to fight, lest the doctor walk in and see it. Collectively, we knew that equaled a bad start and little-to-no hope for surviving the checkup intact.

The cartoons on the walls gave us a little courage. They were stupid, and we knew we were better than they were. In the hierarchy of pediatrics, the doctor was at the top and the cartoon wallpaper was at the bottom. We were somewhere in between the height chart and the rainbow band aids.

My mother would make jokes to calm us in between scolding us for climbing up the cabinets. Just as we would start to laugh, we’d hear the thickly Boston-accented pediatrician barking down the hall and she’d shh us while controlling the smile breaking through her lips.

Waiting for the pediatrician, I notice the smell of band aids and tissues make a sterile contrast with the cartoon wallpaper. S is still perched on top of the counter cushion, held up with the light support of my hand on his back. Through the open door of our room, he’s flirting with a 14-year-old girl across the hall. She smiles at him, he smiles back. She coos, he squeals. More smiling and their conversation is a nervous patient flirtation.

I can still taste the intimidation like a wooden ‘aaah’ stick – raw, dry, with the fear of splinters. I stand next to S, mama now, and wonder what kind of mother I’ll shortly be in the face of terrible bedside manner. In my mind, the unsmiling, impatient pediatrician of my youth doesn’t wait for new mothers to make up their minds.

My mother watched closely from behind the doctor’s hunched shoulders as we were poked and prodded. This, while we were forced to answer inane questions in a mumbled jargon that as kids we had to learn to comprehend. It was that or ridicule. Somehow, my mother kept the pack dignified and kept us safe with her own bullish remarks or maternal brand of protective sarcasm. She’d crack a few sharp-witted retorts and we’d watch as sometimes – sometimes – the ice-cold doctor from Boston would betray a microscopic upturned lip.

There were other times when she’d manage to prove her industry intelligence and score an outright conversation in the patient room while we strained not to hear the crickets in between the lines. Sometimes, her coolness would actually match the doctor’s. It was a transformation that made me shudder inside.

The finish line was piling into the doctor’s fish-tanked office for the check-up ‘review,’ which actually meant listening to him and my mother spar about the latest kid-disease news. Contented not to be a part of it, we knew our tongues/ears/self-esteem were safe; we relaxed and enjoyed the fish. At the end of it, my mother herded us out of the office with our vaccine charts and dignities intact.

S is smiling bouncily and the pediatrician walks in. The childhood stuff stays with me as I pin my baby down at the doctor’s request, robotically listing symptoms. Doc is fairly quiet. Does my projected calmness disarm him? S lets out a yelp and my childhood pediatrician soothes him. He makes a remark about his lady-killer eyes. He adds that whatever is making S cough is viral and will clear up in a few days. I hold my face still.

He tells me to join him in his office after I finish dressing S. I take my son to the fish-tanked office, assuming there’s nothing much to ‘review’ since I don’t have much to say about the latest news in childhood diseases. Maybe it’s because I’m young, maybe because he heard what I do for a living, but my pediatrician gets to talking about YouTube and his latest internet venture.

“See, I’ve set up this entire directory of videos, interviewing medical professionals, built it from scratch – doctors talking to doctors. And this damn video start up is giving me hell getting it licensed out to them. Obviously they’re offering way below what this stuff is worth.”

I nod in faux earnest. “Yeah, you’re most probably getting ripped off for your premium content.”

“I mean, you search for this stuff on Google, and what, they think I don’t know about SEO? That I could easily post it on YouTube and call it a day? This stuff is pure value…”

I nod politely as he lectures me on topics that are my career; I don’t bother interjecting when he makes incorrect assumptions. His rant is a token of trust. A recognition. I hold on to it like some delicate trinket, something paper-thin.

And anyway, his ego is too big for me to break alone. If my brothers were here, we could have teamed up.