My grandson had a minor accident at day care. It was a mishap that often occurs in a crowd of preschoolers: He fell.
At day's end, when his mother arrived, a check sheet detailing the incident was waiting for her.
Check sheets are necessary, of course. No parent collecting a child at day care wants to notice bruises, scratches or dried blood without an official explanation. That's why incident reports exist: because parents want to know, and children's accounts are as reliable as internet memes.
Speaking of children's reliability, here's a parable: My husband and I looked after our granddaughter for a couple of days recently. On our first day, we came across this joke:
Oh, you've heard it? So had we. But our granddaughter is 4 years old and, we supposed, not yet such a woman of the world as to be jaded by the knock-knock repertoire. In fact, my husband and I thought we were introducing her to the knock-knock phase of childhood. To that end, we practiced telling the joke in round-robin fashion, laughing uproariously each time we reached the punchline. We rehearsed. Then, at the end of the second day, with our encouragement, our granddaughter told her parents the joke.
She delivered it perfectly. Everybody laughed uproariously. Then my granddaughter said, "My mama, dada and I say that joke all the time."
Talk about letdown. My husband and I felt like attorneys who'd built an unassailable case only to have the defendant settle out of court. But that's my point about children's reliability. When it comes to critical details, their version of the truth wouldn't stand up to cross-examination.
We now return to the incident report. This report is as complicated as the alternative minimum tax. When I plucked the sheet from my daughter and son-in-law's kitchen table, I was agog at the range of incidents so common to child care.
"TYPE OF INJURY" was one heading. "Bit tongue/ cheek/lip. Bite -- human. Bite/sting -- animal or insect. Bump/bruise. Burn. Choking. Cut."
It goes on, but I was saying, "Wait, what? Two separate check boxes for bites?"
I understand children occasionally bite. My own children were nipped here and there, and my grandchildren haven't entirely escaped the whole biting issue either. Bitten or biter, children do learn quickly that using their teeth, whether in defense, fun or frustration, is out. Still, it unnerved me to see it in black and white.
Other injuries: "Object inserted into body part. Puncture wound. ... " Hold on, I said. Object inserted into body part? Immediately, the possibilities began scrolling like credits on my mind's movie screen: Beans in ears. Beans in noses. Grapes in noses. Pencils in ears and noses.
Oh, stop, I finally told my mental projectionist. I get the idea. In fact, I probably don't get the idea, but I get it enough to move on. "Something in eye. Stubbed finger/toe. Sunburn. Swelling/redness." And, finally, a truly catch-all word: "Illness."
You'd think that would be explicit enough, but the next section extends to body parts: "Arm. Back. Chin. Ear. Eye. Face. Fingers. Foot." It continues on: "Nose. Shoulder/collarbone." Then, in a grand gesture that under the circumstances makes a person's heart jump: "Whole body."
Then it's on to "Where did incident/injury happen?" ("Bathroom. Changing table. Crib.") to "Incident happened during?" ("Arrival/departure. Classroom activity. Indoor play.) and "Action taken" ("Bandage. Hug/pat").
I love that "Hug/pat," by the way. I loved it even more when I saw it was one of the "actions taken" in my grandson's case. He "bit tongue/cheek/lip" and suffered a "cut" and a "nosebleed." As a result, he received "ice," was "washed/soaped" and given a "hug/pat." Nicely done, day care.
And when I remember the checklist ("Object inserted into body part") you know what else I think? I think day care teachers probably don't get paid enough.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.