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Yesterday as I was pushing Zoe in the grocery cart across the parking lot to our car, she suddenly said “I can’t feel a thing.” I asked what she was talking about. “The cream that Dr. Gavaris put on my eyebrow worked. I can’t feel a thing. It didn’t hurt when he took the stitches out.”

Taking the stitches out, and the numbing cream that preceded it, happened last Thursday afternoon. I guess Zoe was replaying the event in her head, and she remarked on it as if it had just happened, or was happening again. This startled me.

Zoe has healed remarkably well from the surgery. Physically she was back to herself within a day, with only occasional moments of mild pain during the week that followed. She was energetic and eager to play. In fact, one of the week’s biggest challenges was keeping her (and me) from going crazy inside, since she was under doctor’s orders not to go out, at least anywhere where she could hurt herself or get sand or dirt in her eye.

What no one discussed with us, and what we hadn’t thought to anticipate, was her emotional healing. Randy and I have both had surgeries and know that they are both physically and emotionally draining. We don’t really know anything about how three-year-olds handle such things. But apparently we’re learning.

One way Zoe is handling it is by getting angry. A new and unwelcome phase of pouting began a few weeks prior to the surgery, and has escalated, in part I think, as a reaction to it. If something happens that she doesn’t like, she will walk away and fold her arms and make it clear to us that she is keeping her distance. She will often say “I’m not going to talk to you” or “I’m not going to do anything fun.” Last weekend after she had played with Randy for a couple hours while I was upstairs cleaning, she became irritated when Randy came upstairs to talk with me and we were no longer focusing our attention on her. For some odd reason she started licking a tupperware container that was in the room and I told her to stop, saying it was disgusting to lick things that aren’t food. A few minutes later she was back downstairs and yelled up to us “It’s disgusting when you don’t play with me!”

She is acutely aware of her anger and is trying to navigate it. Recently she said “it’s great when I’m happy and in a good mood and I want to do fun stuff, but when I’m really angry or sad I don’t want to do anything fun. I don’t know how to make those bad feelings go away.” Good question. We brainstormed with her about possible things she could do or we could do with her to make the bad feelings go away. The only option she seemed to like was we could play together. Certainly, that’s a good option, but not always possible. I don’t know if she gets so upset when we’re not playing with her because she’s three and wants the attention, or because she’s feeling extra vulnerable, or both.

Zoe has also asked a lot of questions about the surgery, including why she had to have it. We’ve done our best to explain. She frequently looks in the mirror to inspect her eyes and comments about how the left one opens wide and the right one doesn’t open as much. This is true. When we went to the doctor for the follow-up visit to get her stitches out, she absorbed everything. Afterward, she quizzed me about what the doctor had said. To take the stitches out, the doctor asked me to sit in the chair and hold Zoe, and he tilted the chair back. The nurse stood to assist and stroked Zoe’s leg while I held her. Zoe didn’t make a sound. The nurse said she was taking deep breaths. At least something I’ve taught her has sunk in. As we were leaving the office she announced in the waiting room “it’s fun to get your stitches out! I’m a brave little patient!” And she was.

Yesterday she was back at school, and I was volunteering in her class. She told her teacher bits and pieces about her surgery, including how the breathing mask smelled like a ring pop, and how it made her fall asleep after she held it on her face, and how she didn’t really want it on her face. Her teacher asked her how brave she had been and she held her arms out as wide as they could go and said “this brave!”

Last night I picked her up at my parents’ house and hugged her and kissed her. I guess I accidentally kissed somewhere near her left eye, because she said “Mommy, don’t kiss my eye. I had surgery.” Oh right.

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