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April 21, 2024

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“Owww! My Tummy Hurts Soooo Bad!”

We are not insensitive, uncaring, ignoramus parents. We do get out the thermometer plenty, and we’ve written out our fair share of checks to the pediatrician just so he could pronounce our child perfectly fine.


Up at the crack of dawn, throw on some clothes, hunt around for clean socks, scarf down some cereal, brush teeth. Dad attempts to help get tangles out of child’s hair as she screams her head off. Ah, such a pleasant way for the family to begin a new day. On these early-spring mornings we’re still on the mad-dash rampages seen at the start of a new school year. And then, out of nowhere, a mere minute before the carpool honk, Elly howls, “Owwww my tummy! It hurts to bad!!!” She insists she has a terrible-horrible tummy ache.

Padding around the kitchen in my slippers, I roll my eyes. Her dad continues reading the paper on his computer, sipping his coffee. We are mean, mean parents, Elly cries, because we don’t believe her. Maybe that is because it’s the third morning this week she has claimed to have a terrible-horrible tummy ache. Her various physical ailments always pop up moments before she is to leave the warm and cozy home for her classroom where she allegedly gets a sore bottom “from sitting so long.” (“Sore Bottom Syndrome” is the name I have given to this condition when grammar school kids must confront real-life hardships. Call it “S.B.S.”).
Jay (that’s Elly’s dad) and I both realize that she is acting out continued drama against the demands of her changed school routine. We have moved to a new home and a new school, but this was weeks ago. We can’t play into her hand, despite the fact that our hearts do go out to our poor weary kid who we must shake awake five days a week, in the last darkness before morning.

Getting on her sweater, Elly wails, “My tummy is killing me!”
Her tummy never kills her on weekends.

We are not insensitive, uncaring, ignoramus parents. We do get out the thermometer plenty, and we’ve writing out our fair share of checks to the pediatrician just so he could pronounce our children perfectly fine, but at least now you know it isn’t strep or bronchitis or whatever.

Anyway, it got so that Elly was complaining about something every single school morning, and while I was sure it was an annoying phase that was going to blow over, it was really driving me crazy. I got the brilliant idea to write down all of Elly’s ailments on what we call our “Magic Marker board” in the kitchen (our family message spot). My thinking was that once Elly saw the list of the many physical problems she supposedly had, she would realize how ridiculous it all was.
I explained to her what I was going to do. She thought it sounded like an excellent plan, and she noted that making the list would surely help the doctor figure out what was wrong with her.
On our message board, I scribble the “ailments” she had just complained about: SORE TUMMY; PAINS IN MY HEAD; ACHY KNEES. Sure enough, next morning, she said her eyes were stinging. On the board I dashed off STINGING EYES. During the next couple of weeks, the board got all crowded up with her bodily woes. In addition to the above, there was: HURT ELBOW; LEG PAINS; STINGING IN THE NOSE; HEADACHE; TINGLES IN THROAT; EAR ACHE; BIG PAINS IN SHOULDER; ITCHY EYES; FOOT FEELS WEIRD; TOOTHACHE; NECK BOTHERS ME; BUZZING IN EARS; and of course the constant TERRIBLE-HORRIBLE TUMMY ACHE and the recurring SORE BOTTOM, or S.B.S.
But my plan backfired. Instead of thinking the list was a joke, she would come home from school and announce, “Mom, I have two things to add to the list: BURNING EYES and HAIR HURTS.” She was actually proud of the list. She liked that it was all about her, and that I was paying such careful attention to her troubles.
So one day, I just erased it. I felt a little foolish for thinking the plan was ever going to work.
But talk about being foolish.
Elly, the portrait of health and energy, is  nowadays trying to teach me one of the exciting things she has just learned at school: rap dancing. We put “Rap & Rhyme” on and she gets big laughs as I attempt to imitate the steps she demonstrates to me. She tells me my arms look really dumb. She tells me I’m not paying attention to how fast the feet are moving. I hobble over to the message board and pick up the marker to begin to assess my own condition: PAIN IN LEGS, I write on the board. SHORTNESS OF BREATH.

As of this writing, I’m still awaiting an official diagnosis.


This post originally appeared in Nashville Parent magazine in a column titled Booked Solid by Julie Bookman.

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