The Princess and the Pea

How did I end up here? Our days can drift along as quietly as a slow, calm current ambling downstream. The branches overhanging the banks of our lives rarely vary; the view remains fairly similar – safe and familiar. But then… the river turns a bend and rapids appear. We find life is now dangerous, unexpected, frenetic, and challenging. How did that pussy cat purring river transform instantaneously into a untameable, uncontrollable beast? Or even more confusing – how can life be upended by one tiny pea?

I hope you are all familiar with the fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. If not, find a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and read it. You’ll learn…something. A princess in disguise is revealed by her sensitivity to unfathomably small annoyances – a pea tucked under thirty mattresses for instance. Her sleep was disturbed by the presence of this one little pea. The prince who loved her was overjoyed, his mother, who was particular about her future daughter-in-law, was satisfied, the princess was sleep-deprived. One weeknight, I empathized with this princess, for I learned the havoc that can be wreaked by one small pea.

My husband and I delight in sharing dinner around the table with our three children. Not only is this time an opportunity to connect and share about our day, we are also able to directly instruct them on basic life skills – how to cut meat, how to chew food with mouths closed, how to not gargle milk to see what happens. On this fateful evening, amidst the laughing and talking, our youngest daughter (four years old) asks, “What would happen if I put a pea in my nose?” Both of the adults, accompanied by both older siblings, immediately yell, “No! Do not ever put anything up your nose! That would be very bad!” Our youngest daughter looks so pale and concerned that I had to ask, “Did you already put a pea in your nose?” “Oh, no, Mommy,” she replies, “I not do that.” Dinner continued. Food was finished, plates were washed, we left for a walk.

Halfway through the walk, she announces, “I can still feel that pea in my nose.” “What?!” I cry, followed by, “Let me look.” Sure enough, pulsing with each breath like the largest, round, spring-green booger, was a pea. Our walk turns into a trot as we make our way home. Once home, I am faced with the prospect of what to do now. I try the “mother’s kiss” method – closing the nostril not blocked by the offending pea and blowing gently into my daughter’s mouth. A method akin to CPR. Am I really saving my daughter from a pea? Better not ask too many questions right now, I think. I try leaning her back on the counter, tweezers poised gently above her nostril, probing the pea ever so gently. It is wedged.

Nothing for it. This is the time for a doctor.

I try not to think of the pea obstructing her breathing through the long night. I force myself not to consider the pea getting sucked further into her sinus by her allergy-induced sneezes and snorts. In this case, morning cannot come soon enough.

As is the case with all major pediatric incidents in my childrens’ lives, they have occurred on a Monday night or Tuesday – Tuesday being the day our childrens’ pediatrician’s office is closed. Of necessity, we are forced to see the kindly pediatrician covering for his friend’s patients. I know him quite well; I wonder if I have seen him more often than our nominal pediatrician. After explaining to receptionists, nurses, and others at least four times that we are in the office because my daughter has a pea wedged in her nose, we finally see the pediatrician. I gaze enviously at his long, thin, perfectly-formed tweezers – ideally suited for extracting objects from toddlers’ noses. Within two minutes, the pea has been removed and discarded. Hours of waiting and wondering, all over in less than two minutes. All the sleepless night tossing and turning on her uncomfortable mattress resulted in the princess’ acceptance by the queen and a marriage proposal, all of which probably took less than two minutes also. Perhaps my daughter truly is a princess in disguise.

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